Most pieces of traditional Indian clothing are immediately recognizable. Of these pieces, few are as iconic or as long-lived as the kurta. This classic garment has been adjusted and styled in countless ways, meaning that today there are kurtas for every situation.
Below, Lashkaraa will examine what a kurta is and why this ethnic fashion has been so long-lived, and we’ll review our favorite kurtas in every material.
What Is a Kurta?
A kurta is a loose-fitting, long-sleeved shirt that started as a garment for men. The variable amount of coverage and looser fit make them suitable for any number of contexts. A well-made kurta is practical, comfortable, and stylish all at once.
Another distinguishing characteristic of kurtas is the collar. Unlike Western dress shirts, the kurta lacks a defined collar. Depending on the design, a kurta neckline may be close around the neck or extend further, usually down the center of the chest. If the neckline is extended, it usually goes partially down the kurta, not the entire length of it.
A kurta can be worn as outerwear in informal settings. It can also bolster a vest or jacket on more formal occasions. At night, especially when it is hot, kurtas are frequently worn as pajamas.
Kurta vs. the Kurti: What’s the Difference?
Due to the age of the garment, it is hard to trace its evolution over time. However, the meaning of kurta translates as "collarless shirt."
The three defining traits of a kurta are a relaxed fit, long sleeves, and lack of collar. Though traditionally a garment for men, they have become more fashionable for women to wear.
A women's version of a kurta is called a kurti. Though they retain the same general shape, women's kurtis are markedly different from men's kurtas. Some kurtis are shorter, though they still tend to cover the midriff. If you are looking for garments that bare the midriff, you might be thinking of the lehenga choli.
The kurta is an essential garment in Indian fashion history, from festivals to daily apparel. Now that its shape and significance have been established, it's time to move on to the materials.
What Are the Best Materials for Kurta?
There are many different materials used for kurta. Generally, and traditionally, kurtas are made of a singular fabric type. Thus, pure fabrics are more common than highly blended ones. There's no single perfect kurta fabric since each has its own benefits and drawbacks.
Some of the classic kurta fabrics include:
Cotton is one of the most highly utilized fabrics in the entire world for several reasons. The fabric is lightweight, breathable, and can be woven into any number of textiles to great effect.
Kurta's made from cotton will likely be visibly matte, lightweight, and perfect for the summer. They are wonderful for daily use or as a piece to pair underneath formalwear.
The kurta has been around for countless centuries. Given this, it should be no surprise that rayon is the only synthetic fabric to make the kurta fabric list.
Compared to natural fabrics, rayon comes the closest to resembling silk. It is lightweight, does not retain heat, and has a subtle luster that can enhance any outfit when worn.
Silk is arguably the gold standard when it comes to historical luxury fabrics. In the global silk industry, the dominant producers are India and China.
Silk takes dye well, allowing for rich designs and color. It is lightweight and subtly elastic. Silk has a smoothness and shine, making it immediately recognizable.
This fabric is also fast-drying, which is excellent for washing (but keep in mind that silk often must be hand-washed).
Satin technically refers to the weave of the fabric rather than the textile itself. Traditional satin is made from silk and has a glossy shine to match.
The fabric is exceptionally strong, thanks to the nature of the weave. Satin garments can be tricky to construct, which is why this material usually appears in professionally made pieces.
How To Choose the Best Kurta for You
Some details influencing your choice of fabric are purely personal. Some may prefer the sleekness of satin, while others would rather have the breathability of cotton. Regardless, we're going to highlight a few kurtas of multiple fabrics below.
Join us as we showcase the best that every fabric has to offer:
The Best Cotton Kurta Options
At Lashkaraa, we craft our kurtas for the finest occasions using the highest quality materials. We begin with the humblest and perhaps most perennially popular fabric, cotton.
The Off White Kurta and Pink Nehru Jacket Set uses a contrast of materials to great effect. The piece features an off-white cotton kurta set, whose matte texture and gentle drape provide a subtly bold background for the defining Nehru jacket.
From a distance, the jacket appears pink, with some form of sequin and thread work embroidery. Get a little closer, and the intricate beauty of the article becomes apparent. The embroidery in question showcases roses in full bloom wrapped in winding foliage. Golden buttons further develop the silhouette and color of the jacket.
This piece proves that the comfortable kurta can transition to formalwear seamlessly. The neutral color is an incredible canvas for the floral Nehru jacket. This classic color combo makes it easy to match an entire family’s wardrobe for special occasions.
The Best Rayon Kurta Options
When rayon first emerged in the late 1800s, it was known as artificial silk. Some believe the term “rayon” is derived from the French “rayon,” meaning “ray of light.”
With a quick glance at rayon kurtas, it’s easy to see just how appropriate that name is.
Let’s begin with the Black Cowled Kurta Pyjama Set with Brocade Waistcoat. The kurta is made from rayon, the pajama from silk, and the elegant waistcoat is made from brocade. The end result is a piece that is meant to catch the light.
An examination of the piece showcases the light-colored gloss the kurta has compared to the darker pajama. These serve as secondary pieces to the warm glow afforded by golden brocade. Additional shape-giving pockets at the mid-torso and accent embellishments on the left chest define the piece.
Compare it with the Deep Maroon Kurta Pyjama Set. Here, rayon runs throughout the entirety of the kurta, which features an embellished neckline and cuffs. The kurta takes light in a way that only glossy fabric can, as compared to the more reflective sheen of metals. Light blue and red diamonds in the print pattern provide an elegant highlight to the piece.
The gloss of rayon infuses primary colors with a differing degree of richness. It provides an undercurrent of warmth to deep maroon and infuses black with a lighthearted mystique. In both cases, contrasting fabrics and tonally different garments provide a window into a more complex, modern kurta.
The Best Silk Kurta Options
We can't finish this guide without highlighting one of the most significant types of fabric to grace Indian fashion. We return to pink hues in the form of our Pink Nehru Jacket Set. This highlights an example of a kurta layered with a tonally-matching jacket.
The waistcoat itself is adorned with golden buttons and a strikingly unique digital print. The pattern consists of an "x-like" shape, with pink prongs in the kurta and pink-and-green prongs in the waistcoat. The result is a set that contains just the right degree of contrast to create something remarkable.
Our next kurta will highlight a type of silk especially prominent in the Indian community:
The Golden Ivory Kurta Pajama Set, made from Dhupioni silk, comes with a pair of white slim-fit straight pants.
To make Dhupioni silk, two silkworm caterpillars work together to form a single cocoon. This results in a double strand that’s stronger than the silk from a traditional one-caterpillar cocoon. Dhupioni silk is famously comfortable and takes dye well; it’s a favorite for a good reason!
The kurta above is a faint, airy gold color decorated with a pastel floral motif. Red and lavender flowers, as well as green leaves, are both represented here. Small, bronze buttons create an understated finish to this effective celebratory garment.
Silk has long been one of the most lauded materials for any garment, not just kurtas. The above pieces showcase why that has been and why that will continue to be the case.
The Perfect Kurta
The kurta is a fashion and cultural staple. It can be worn to bed, work, and social gatherings. Kurtas are even popular at weddings, depending on the design. With unmatched comfort and ease of wear, it's no wonder that it has become a generation-defining garment.
Even then, it still evolves. Two hundred years ago, we would not have had rayon kurtas. There is no telling what the next step is until it happens. At Lashkaraa, we aspire to be that next step.