16. What did the Indus people wear and what material were their clothes made of?

The earliest evidence for normal weave textiles at Harappa is found in this impression on a Ravi Phase bead from Harappa, dating to around 3300 BC and discovered between 1995 and 1998.

Submitted by Gharial Abramnova from school student questions

Jane McIntosh
Textiles are rarely preserved and Harappan figurines are usually unclothed, so there is not much evidence of Harappan clothing. Small fragments of cloth preserved in the corrosion products of metal objects show that the Harappans wove a range of grades of cotton cloth. Flax was grown and may have been used for fibres (alternatively it was grown for its oilseed). Native Indian species of silkworm may have been utilised for silk (inferior to Chinese silk), as they were a little later in South Asia. It is not known whether the Harappans raised woolly sheep, but their trade with Mesopotamia probably brought them abundant supplies of Mesopotamian woolen textiles. The Harappans also probably continued the earlier tradition of making clothing from leather. Dyeing facilities indicate that cotton cloth was probably dyed a range of colours, although there is only one surviving fragment of coloured cloth, dyed red with madder; it is likely that indigo and turmeric were also used as dyes.

The limited depictions of clothing show that men wore a cloth around the waist, resembling a modern dhoti and like it, often passed between the legs and tucked up behind. The so-called "Priest-king" and other stone figures also wore a long robe over the left shoulder, leaving bare the right shoulder and chest. Some male figurines are shown wearing a turban. Woman's clothing seems to have been a knee-length skirt. Figurines and finds in graves show that Harappans of both sexes wore jewellery: hair fillets, bead necklaces and bangles for men; bangles, earrings, rings, anklets, belts made of strings of beads, pendants, chokers and numerous necklaces for women, as well as elaborate hairstyles and headdresses.

Richard Meadow
The only evidence we have is from iconography and figurines as far as dress styles are concerned, and it is not sure that these even represent what was worn by everyday people. Quite possibly dress may have been based on lengths of cloth that were folded and draped in different ways. Such cloth could have been made of linen, cotton, or wool/animal hair. Skins also may have been used for cold weather and to make items like belts, quivers, etc. Reeds/straw may have been woven for foot wear, although how often foot wear may have been used is not known. Evidence comes not so much from preserved textiles but from pseudomorphs preserved because of proximity to copper and from impressions made into clay. An early form of silk was used to string tiny beads and wound copper necklaces. (See Good, Irene, J.M Kenoyer and R.H. Meadow (2009) "New evidence for early silk in the Indus Civilization". Archaeometry 51: 457-466.)