Costume Society, Costume Society Ambassadors | January 28, 2017
The Nizam’s wardrobe in Hyderabad
While conducting my research in to the British influence on Indian menswear, and in the search for sherwani, I made a visit to Hyderabad. On this trip, I visited the Salarjung Museum and Chowmahalla, but I also came across the walk-in-wardrobe of the sixth Nizam of Hyderabad, HEH Mir Mahbub Ali Khan (1869-1911). The Nizam ruled Hyderabad, and his huge wardrobe is very impressive indeed and it surprised me that this marvel is not known to many. A truly phenomenal exhibit in its own right, the wardrobe is 176ft long and made of the finest Burman teak. It also has two floors (see Image 1).
The wardrobe is located in Purani Havelli, which literally means ‘The Old Palace’. It showcases menswear and womenswear items, representing the fashion choices of the Indian elite during the late 19th and early 20th century. It is believed that the items stored here include gifts from rich merchants and friends, as well as bespoke items made by a tailor who sat at one end of the wardrobe, poised to create new garments. I was also informed that the Nizam never wore an outfit more than once and after wearing he would give items away. This means that it is difficult to see what he actually wore, although pictures show him to be a remarkably modern man. He experimented with clothing, wearing items of both Western and Indian design (see image 2).
This was the time of Anglicization of the Indian elite. The Nizam could read and write in English, wore Western clothes and organised balls for his British guests. The chandeliers were made of Belgian glass and billiard tables were all imported from Europe. Narendra Luther, who has written many books on Hyderabad’s culture and who has a keen sense of the History of Hyderabad, presented a paper in 2008 on the merger of the British culture with the Hyderabadi culture. He remarked that Alexandra Road and Oxford Street in Secunderabad had the most fashionable European shops. They included confectioners, crockery stores, chemists, goldsmiths, and general stores, which were modelled on Western lines, and most of them were ran by British business men. The nobility of the old city went there for fashionable shopping. Among these shops was that of John Burton who was the most fashionable draper and tailor. The second son of Nizam VII, had his sherwanis stitched at Burton’s. He would buy the whole roll of cloth so that no one else would have a similar sherwani.
References: (1) Narendra Luther, "Bridging Two Cultures," in City of Hope: A symposium on Hyderabad and its syncretic Culture (Hyderabad: India-Seminar.com, 2008)
(2.) Colonialism and Its forms of Knowledge – Bernard Cohn
Links: (1) http://www.hehnmh.com/walk-in-wardrobe
Toolika Gupta, Costume Society Ambassador, 2016.