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.