The traditional national dress of Western European countries has generally given way to standardized modes, although traditional costume is still associated with national celebrations and pageantry. The typical costume—a gathered peasant skirt, a full blouse with puffed sleeves, and a laced bodice—is colorful and picturesque, often elaborately fashioned and embroidered, and augmented by kerchief, headdress, and apron.
Costume in East Asia has until recently remained unchanged for centuries. In the Arab countries both men and women have for centuries wrapped themselves in voluminous flowing robes that indicate the tribe and status of the wearer by means of style, color, and richness. The people of Malaysia wrap themselves in a loose skirt, or sarong. Chinese dress was traditionally distinguished by the use of magnificent textiles and embroidery and of pearls and jade—all symbolic of rank and wealth. However, from the years shortly after the Communist regime began (1949) until the 1990s men and women of China wore dark-colored trouser suits; in recent years the Chinese attitude toward dress has changed somewhat, particularly in urban areas, allowing for more varied clothing styles. On Taiwan a sheath dress with mandarin collar and side slits in the skirt was traditionally characteristic of women's clothing.
Japanese men and women have widely adopted Western modes of dress, but many women retain the characteristic kimono and tabi (socks) or geta (wooden clogs). India, too, has traditional costumes dictated by religion or caste. Women in general wear the long draped fabric, or sari, sandals, and profuse jewelry. Exquisite muslins and "painted" cottons have from antiquity been notable features of Indian garments.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.