Gamcha – the Honourable Fabric

Saree fashion is at a beautiful place now. It has regained its rightful place in the minds of Indian women and designers. Not only, various traditional weaves and art forms are being revived, some traditional fabrics have made a comeback with a modern twist.

One such fabric is the Gamcha(or towel).

The word Gamcha, means to wipe the body. Ga as in body, and mochha as in wipe, in Bengali.

This piece of cloth is ubiquitous in the eastern parts of India and used for various purposes, like as shawl, or dhoti or scarves or even bandana.

In Assam, it’s called Gamusa, given as a mark of honour to an elderly or an esteemed guest.

Recall Kate Middleton and Prince Harry proudly donning it during their visit to Kaziranga and Panbari village.

HRH Duchess Kate Middleton and Prince William in kaziranga

Revival of the Gamcha

Bibi Russell, a renowned fashion model from Bangladesh has been instrumental in taking the Gamcha to the high fashion market of the western world.

Bibi Russell and ANTONIO BANDERAS

In India, Jaya Jaitly, through Dastakari Haat Samiti followed suit in India with ‘The Gamcha Project’. Through an on-ground visit into the interiors of Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal and Bihar and endeavouring to increase the weavers’ income, she had an ephiphanic moment. Why not extend the gamcha into a saree. Gamchas are fairly easy to weave and mainly executed mostly by the women weavers. By getting them to lengthen and widen the existing gamcha, the earning of the weaver escalates by 300%. Where they got 50/- per gamcha, with a gamcha saree, they could earn 150/-.

A simple intervention can lead to extra income.

Gamcha in High-fashion

In 2010, Rajesh Pratap Singh incorporated the Gamcha Jacket for his Spring Collection. He interlaced it with some linen and silk and this Gamcha Jacket made its way to Victoria & Albert Museum, London in 2015 and claimed its permanent position that year for being the ‘Fabric of India’.

Rajesh Pratap Singh, CREATION

Aneeth Arora, NID Graduate and Founder of Pero, made skirts, blouses, shirts, jackets, scarves and dresses with it.

The thing is that us middle-class folk take notice of something only when top designers pay heed to it.

Harsh, but true.

Are fashion shows the only way to revive a weave?

The Gamcha fabric is coarse, stays intact for years, the colour does not run and can be worn daily – literally. It doesn’t need starching and doesn’t wrinkle much. So, you can wear it, fold it, and wear it again the next day.

If you are a sustainability champion and a conscious shopper like me, this is the kind of outfit that would incur extremely low Cost per Wear.

The Many Iterations of Gamcha

Gamcha is worn by the working class – who wear it per force and not because they want to be perceived as stylish and socially mobile, but because it is easy to weave and procure.

A Gamcha Towel costs as low as Rs. 30-60.

The Assamese Gamosa, the Manupuri khudei, the Tripuri Rikutu, the Bihari angauchi, or the Malayali thorth, The Telia Rumaal are all versions of the Gamcha – a functional dhoti, lungi, scarf, shawl, towel, kerchief, napkin, turban and so on.

Internationally, the Middle Eastern Keffiyeh comes quite close to it. Although, I am also reminded of Gingham when I think of Gamcha.

The fabric is as commonplace as it is ceremonial.

It occupies a space at both ends of the spectrum. On one hand you will see a coolie in Odisha/Bihar wear it while labouring away at a bus stand or at a train station, on the other hand you find will brands like 145 East on Instagram who have taken the Gamcha to the next level and given it a cool twist – they even call themselves All things Gamcha. Extremely aspirational for the difficult to please millennials.

On one hand you will find it at V&A Museum London, on the other you will find it at a store in Bonolokkhi in Birbhum.

How far the Gamcha has travelled in its revival story is unknown.  Because powerlooms have taken over. Machine made gamchas cohabit the same shops.

Linking the rural weaver to the urban buyer

Jaya Jaitly’s Gamcha Project has this one major objective – increasing the rural weaver with the urban buyer.

This can only be made possible if we have more people wearing them – showcase possibilities and simple innovations.

So, here’s why you should get yourself a Gamcha anything:

Versatile, vibrant and visually arresting, the checkered pattern is refreshingly different from traditional Indian mnemonic.

Available in all possible colours, they are now available in various patterns – so much so that other saree types have majorly started using its characteristic checkered pattern on other types of fabrics.

Gamcha saree is capable of making a bold statement in any kind of event – be it for work, wedding or any festive occasion.

This classic piece is a must-have in your wardrobe. You needn’t work too hard in planning this outfit. Pair it with a simple white/beige blouse and you are sure to make a bold statement. You can wear it for any corporate event or family gathering.

Feast your eyes on how the Gamchas have been given interesting twists to appeal to the wider audience. 

Gamcha Linen – Linen and Gamcha is an obvious marriage. They are like each other’s cousins and they sit with each othe very well. This kind of union does not have to loud to make a statement. Subtle colours and bold patterns is the perfect balance for a classy outfit.

Dvibgyor.com – gamcha checks on linen

Gamcha Shirt worn by the ubercool SRK for the launch of his film Zero.

SRK for the PORMOTIN OF HIS FILM ZERO

Gamcha with floral embellishments – While this is a Sabyasachi creation on Rani Mukherjee the intricate embroidery work and borders are adding to the glory of Gamcha saree. The Gamcha weave is still the hero of the saree.

SABYA’S CREATION ON RANI MUKHERJEE

Gamcha- Half Saree – The checkered pattern of a Gamcha is so striking that you could balance it out with a plains very easily. It is the question of a personal preference of the wearer who might want to tone down the boldness of the Gamcha look.

Gamcha on Half Saree

Gamcha on Tant – Tant is beautiful in itself, but the Gamcha amalgamation in the borders, has suddenly given the saree a makeover.

Gamcha on Taant

Gamcha Shrug – Technically, not a six yards, but I couldn’t resist featuring it because of the smart rendition of the fabric.

Gamcha Shrug. PIC Courtesy – 145 East

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