Banning women from wearing ‘nighties’ in public

An Indian village council has created a stir by banning women from wearing ‘nighties’ in public, with the threat of a fine for the women who do and a reward for informants who snitch on them.

Village elder Balle Vishnu Murthy told a visiting colleague from BBC Telugu that the ban was to stop women from exposing their bodies. “It is okay to wear nighties at home but wearing them outdoors could attract attention and cause trouble for the wearer,” he said.

Westerners might be forgiven for thinking of the ‘nightie’ as some kind of flimsy revealing item of nightwear that one sees in stores like Victoria’s Secret. Far from it. It is a one-piece tunic along the lines of a long smock that is slipped over the head and covers the body from the neck to the ankles. It is far more functional than the traditional sari for doing chores and getting around. It did originate as nightwear but expanded its role as its comfort and utility became more widely recognized, pretty much like how sweatpants and yoga pants are now commonly seen in public in the US.

Writing in the Mint newspaper in 2014, Shefalee Vasudev, editor of the recently-launched digital fashion portal The Voice of Fashion, said the nightie was “as shapely as a potato sack and as insipid as a stale marshmallow” and wanted it to be “dubbed as India’s Top Fuddy Duddy Garment”.

Designer Rimzim Dadu says nighties are so popular with housewives because traditional attire like the sari is not the best or most comfortable garment for doing household chores in. The nightie, she says, has set them free.

Designer David Abraham adds: “It’s not the most elegant garment but it has become a uniform of sorts for women because it’s convenient and practical. It meets all their requirements – it’s a single piece of clothing so you just pull it on, it’s ankle length and covers the entire body so it’s modest too.”

But what [Vasudev] can’t understand is the “patriarchal moral police” describing the nightie as “obscene” and trying to ban it.

“It can’t be called sexy or obscene,” she insists. “In fact, it’s one of the most desexualised pieces of crap that a woman can wear.”

She says the reason why some want to banish the nightie is because they believe it’s “more Western, more modern” and hence, it’s obscene.

David Abraham agrees. “Obscenity lies in the eye of the viewer,” he says, describing the ban as “totally illogical”.

The village council order, he says, is gender driven and all about patriarchy and power.

As usual, rules about what people can wear in public are almost always focused on women’s wear and is about trying to control their lives.


  1. larpar says

    Here’s a compromise. Ban men, who can’t handle the presence of women in ‘nighties’ , from appearing in public.

  2. says

    The nighties sounds a lot like the Kittelschürze (“smock apron”) my grandma used to wear. A single piece made of colourful cotton with pockets (!) that would be worn around the house (at most for visits around the neighbourhood, but never for any “formal” visit like an invitation for coffee or so).

  3. Onamission5 says

    So it’s basically a pop over or house dress, except it comes to the ankles rather than just below mid-shin? How scandalous.

  4. lorn says

    How would these men deal with what I see in Florida where booty shorts, crop tops and tennis shoes are one of the default outfits for young women around town?

    Sounds to me like the men are projecting the social need for self-control, both mental and physical, onto women. Yes, women wearing clothes that show more are stimulating for most men. But it shouldn’t really matter what women, or anyone else, wears. As an adult we are all required to maintain control. Failing that there are external controls through supervision and/or jail.

    There is also the simply dynamic that if you want people to obsess about something you should forbid it. You are never going to eliminate the desire of people to see a well formed body. I can say that the observation is much more casual and less obsessive on a nude beach. Particularly when compared to the stir caused by a ‘well turned’ ankle where women are required to be nearly completely covered. Take away the mystery and obsession evaporates.

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