A Brief Intro to Indian Tunic Tops – Kurtis

What is a Kurti?

A kurti is a long-sleeved, collar-less tunic worn by women throughout Southeast Asia. The kurti, which usually rests just past the hips, is a slightly-shorter version of the kurta, which falls to the knees. Kurtas have been worn in India for centuries, and both kurtas and kurtis still feature heavily in everyday Indian dress. Historically worn over traditional trousers known as churidars, many fashionistas now like to pair their kurtis with jeans or leggings.

The kurti’s simple construction makes it incredibly versatile. Not only is it comfortable and relatively loose-fitting, but a kurti can also be fashioned for just about any occasion, with more elaborate designs boasting fine details like metallic threads, embroidery, and sumptuous motifs. Kurtis also work for a number of different seasons depending on the materials used. Breezy kurtis of lightweight cotton are an especially popular choice for navigating India’s hot summers.

Where Did Kurtas Come From?

Kurtas have been worn throughout India’s history, though were initially meant only for men. Historians believe kurtas migrated into the country from Central Asia via Muslim conquest and became a common wardrobe staple during the Mughal period. Their popularity later rose during the 19th century when a number of philosophers, scholars, and artists became known for wearing simple kurtas of plain cotton. Eventually, women started wearing the design and the kurta shortened into the feminized version we now call the kurti.

Kurtas found an international audience during the 1960s and 1970s when Indian culture became a huge source of inspiration across art, fashion, and music in the U.S. Kurtas and kurtis not only fit the current trend, but the garments’ loose fit and fluid silhouette melded easily with the hippie movement’s carefree and open-minded attitude.

Their popularity died down in the 80s and 90s but slowly gained momentum again in the 2000s. Thanks in part to the prevalence of yoga and meditation, these Indian Tunics are once again a widely-embraced garment in the United States, available in any number of styles and materials.

Want to try on this comfy staple for yourself? Head to Cultural Elements, where you can dive into our selection of colorful tunics and sumptuously patterned tops inspired by Indian kurtis.