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Mumbai/New Delhi: The humble lungi is the most popular outfit among major traditional attire that Indian men wear, beating the dhoti and the (male) kurta-pyjama suit by a wide margin, an analysis of unit level data from the last consumer expenditure survey conducted by the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) in 2011-12 shows.

The survey of more than 100,000 households showed that 52% households reported purchasing at least one lungi in the year preceding the survey. Two other traditional male attire for which NSSO collected data separately—the dhoti and the kurta-pyjama suit—were less popular than the lungi; 21% of households reported purchasing the dhoti while 13% reported purchasing the kurta-pyjama suit in the year preceding the survey. This comparison does not include cloth that may have been purchased for kurta-pyjama suits, for which disaggregated data is not available.

As with almost everything else in this diverse land, there are wide variations within the country. The lungi and the dhoti are both more popular in the east and the south than in the rest of the country. The kurta-pyjama suit is more popular in the northern parts of the country. Odisha leads the charts in the consumption of lungis, followed by Bihar, West Bengal, Tripura, and Tamil Nadu. Haryana and Delhi reported the highest share of households which purchased the kurta-pyjama suit (see chart 1 and 2).

Kerala leads the charts in the purchase of dhotis, followed by Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Bihar, and Rajasthan.

But while the dhoti’s appeal is roughly equal across different income (or consumption) classes, that is not true of the lungi and the kurta-pyjama suit. The lungi is more popular among the poorer classes than among the rich while the opposite is true for the (male) kurta-pajama suit.

Although the lungi seems to be used by a majority of Indian households, it is still much less popular than the most popular female attire—the sari, which is used in eight of every 10 households. The share of households purchasing at least one male kurta-pyjama suit (13%) is also lower than the share of households purchasing at least one female kurta-pyjama suit (21%), the data shows.

What about overall household expenditure on traditional attire vis-a-vis Western attire? The data shows that the median Indian household spends more on traditional attire than on Western attire but the difference in spending is much narrower for urban households compared to rural households. Traditional attire here includes dhoti, lungi, sari, cloth for shirt, pyjama, kurta, salwar, kurta-pyjama suits (male and female), etc. Western attire includes coats, jackets, T-shirts, skirts (/frocks), shorts, trousers, cloth for coat, trousers, suit, etc. Apart from these items, the expenditure on clothing also includes several other items such as school/college uniform, undergarments, etc. which can’t be categorized as either traditional or Western attire. The two categories are nearly mutually exclusive but cloth for shirts is considered in the traditional category since data on cloth for shirts is provided for the aggregate category of ‘shirts, pyjama, kurta, salwar, etc’. Also given the way the data is categorized, it is difficult to segregate the expenditure on male and female traditional (or Western) attire, and hence both have been clubbed together for this comparison.

Among 15 major states, northern states such as Punjab and Haryana reported high levels of spending on Western attire as a share of overall expenditure on clothes. Assam and Madhya Pradesh also reported a high share of spending on Western attire. Such spending was much lower in southern states (See chart 3 and 4).

There is also a sharp class difference when it comes to the type of attire purchased. Though the share of traditional clothing exceeds that of Western attire for all classes, richer classes spend proportionately more on Western attire than the poorer classes.

The median household belonging to the top decile allots 34% of clothing expenditure to Western attire, just 6 percentage points lower than what it allots to purchases of traditional attire. In contrast, the median household belonging to the bottom decile allots 18% of clothing expenditure to Western attire, 36 percentage points lower than the expenditure on traditional attire.

This is the concluding part of a two-part data series on what Indians wear. The first part examined the sartorial choices of Indian women.

Udayan Rathore is a research associate at the Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research, Mumbai, and Pramit Bhattacharya is editor (data) at Mint.

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