The new fashion trend in Bengal in the early 20th century was brought about by the women of the Thakurbari in Jorasanko which is an old residential neighbourhood in north Kolkata. The house was built by Prince Dwarakanath Tagore, grandfather of Rabindranath Tagore. The Tagore family was a group of progressive-minded members of the Brahmo Samaj which was a liberal spiritual order established by Raja Rammohan Roy. The women of this household led the fashion revolution in Bengal and established trends that spread across the whole of India.
The primary trendsetter of the Haute fashion in the Tagore household was the second daughter-in-law of Maharsi Devendranath Tagore and wife of Satyendranath Tagore, Jnanadanandini. Satyendranath was the first Indian to join the civil service and was a pioneer of women’s rights movements in India. He greatly supported and encouraged Jnanadanandini Devi in her contribution to women’s advancement in India.
Satyendranath, inspired by the freedom of women in Britain, showed keen interest in the poor condition of women’s fashion in Bengal and he wanted his wife to turn out to be an ideal for women’s rights. To experiment with women’s outfits, Satyendranath ordered an ‘oriental’ dress for Jnanadanandini in the style of the Mughal multi-layered outfit- ‘peshoaj’ but it turned out to be cumbersome for her to handle.
While staying for two years in Mumbai, Jnanadanandini created the modern style of wearing saree, much more convenient than the traditional style, with the ‘pallu’ (drape) thrown around the left shoulder with neat pleats. She returned to Jorasanko wearing this ‘Bombay Style’ saree and advertised it in papers to teach other women about this relatively convenient style. This came to be known as the “sarees of the Tagore family”.
The practice of wearing blouses, petticoats, chemises and jackets with sarees can be attributed to Jnanadanandini Devi. She also introduced birthday parties and evening outings in the Tagore household.
Kadambari Devi, the wife of Rabindranath’s elder brother Jyotirindranath Tagore, was the first woman in the household to ride a horse in the ‘maidan’ incomplete riding attire.
Several other progressive changes to the women of the Bengali society were brought about by several other prominent female members of this famous Tagore household.