The Ultimate South Asian Style Guide: Mekhala Chador

May 21, 2015 - by Nadya

The Mekhala Chador, or Mekhela Chador, is a traditional dress for women from Assam.  It resembles a less pleated Indian sari in many ways.  The mekhela is a long bolt of fabric which is tied around the waist like a sarong or tucked into a petticoat. The chador is another length of matching fabric which is draped over the shoulder and tucked artfully into the waist of the mekhela.  A blouse is worn under the chador.

Mekhela chadordesign width=

History

It's unclear when the mekhela chador first entered the scene but it is understood that it has been around for all recorded time in Assam.  As it is a fairly simple dress to put together, women of all ages and socio-economic groups had access to the style.

Culture & Community

Most of the mekhela chadors manufactured in Assam come from a small town called Sualkuchi, which is only a few miles away from the city of Guwahati.  Because of its high rate of manufacturing, it is sometimes referred to as the 'Manchester of Assam,' referring to the British city which, at the height of the British Empire, was one of the largest textile manufacturers in the world.

Assamese Weaver width=

Photo courtesy of Deepraj

The mekhela chador is worn by women and girls of all ages, with the exception of small children who find the outfit difficult to manage.

Styles

There are three distinct styles of the mekhala chador: the muga, the eri, and the pat.

Mekhala Chador 2 width=

Photo courtesy of Silk Mark India

The muga mekhela chador is made of beautiful and durable muga silk.  These dresses are valued and cherished since they last so long.  They're even believed (and often do) outlive their owners.

The eri mekhela chador are made of eri silk, which is soft and warm with a pretty sheen.  These dresses can be worn in all seasons.

Finally, the pat mekhela chador is made of pat silk.  This style is usually white or off-white since pat silk remains lustrous and purely white when it's woven.

Fine silk mekhela chadors are worn for special occasions but this dress also comes in cotton, silk blends, and synthetic fibers, making it the dress of the people.

Designs

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Photo courtesy of Rajmati Sarees

As the mekhala chador is generally woven from fine silk, the designs on the fabric are woven as well and never printed.  A favorite design is pari, a woven pattern which is stitched into the borders of the chador and/or along the bottom of the mekhala.

Inspiration

Vaishali Shadangule 2 width=

Photo courtesy of Weber Shandwick

At Lakme Fashion Week 2013, fashion designer Vaishali Shadangule sent a variety of mekhala chadors down the runway.  Her dresses featured interesting twists on the classic look like making the silhouette resemble an evening dress or accompanying the look with pants.

Vaishali Shadangule 1 width=

Photo courtesy of Weber Shandwick

The mekhala chador, as the national dress of Assam, is a living and breathing historical tradition.  It is constantly being reinvented and redesigned to fit new tastes and needs.  It is timeless.

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