We Tried To Pick Out The Most Iconic Bollywood Costumes From The Last 5 Decades

Bollywood would be nothing without its costumes.

From the dramatic and bold to the grounded and every day – there’s nothing quite like it that captures the essence of India’s style progression. Because while not too many keep up with designers and fashion trends, everyone religiously goes to the movies.

So we tried to look back and pick out the most memorable costumes from each decade beginning with the 60’s and moving through to 2018.

Note: Firstly, this is subjective. Secondly, it focusses on actresses. We might take another crack at it for the gentlemen. 

#1 The 60’s


The film has a staying power unlike any other in the nation’s collective psyche. And for good reason.

K Asif had a notoriously hard time trying to get it produced but the film came through and changed the way India approached filmmaking.

The costumes, like every other aspect of the movie, were painstakingly made by Makahlal and Company who specialized in the rich zardozi embroidery that adorns many of the film’s costumes. With shoes specially ordered in from Agra and goldsmiths from Hyderabad lending a hand with the jewellery, there was no lack of detail.


But it the movie’s big production number “Pyar Kiya To Darna Kya” that really showcased a culmination of the film’s unique style. Anarkali’s outfit featured contrasting colours embellished with gold and oodles of jewellery.

The outfit is so iconic in fact, that it stands out despite not being in line with the skintight sarees and wing-tipped eyeliner that dominated the rest of the decade.

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#2 The 70’s

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If there was ever a shortage of eyeliner in the world, it was because Bollywood used it all back in the 70’s. Elegant and complicated updos and the influence of disco made the 70’s far more interesting and diverse for costume enthusiasts. So diverse in fact, that we picked out two.

Dimple Kapadia’s polka-dotted front-tie top with Bobby and the iconic Zeenat Aman in Dum Maaro Dum.

Polka dots were the greatest import for Indian fashion in the seventies, showing up on just about everything from men’s fashion to bikinis to shirts.

And there was no film quite like Bobby that immortalized the tie-up top and skirt combination.


On the other hand, Dum Maaro Dum borrowed elements from hippie fashion and condensed it into a simple yet instantly recognizable look. Putting together Janis Joplin shades and swapping out a flower necklace for a Rudraaksh mala remains one of Bollywood’s coolest style choices.

#3 The 80’s


We’ve observed that very often, fashion reaches India about a decade late. The flower power – hippie style of the 60’s, for example, showed up in India during the 70’s. Likewise, the slim silhouettes, chokers and weirdness of the 90’s made its way into Indian cinemas by the early 2000’s.

But the 80’s saw India and the rest of the world on the same wavelength with big, bright monstrosities occupying every inch of the screen.

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And nothing did that better than Sridevi’s stunning cerulean chiffon saree in Mr India.

With an instantly recognizable colour and a sultry form without being too revealing, the saree’s appeal lies in its simplicity and fluidity as the number required her costume to capture the windy exterior where it was being shot.

No wonder it’s so memorable in a sea of over-the-top polyester and feathers.

#4 The 90’s


If Yash Raj ever had a claim to a moment in time, this was it. India cinema in the 90’s is best remembered by the unfortunately evergreen rom-coms, DDLJ and Kuch Kuch Hota Hain. These films combined foreign fashion with Indian wear at different points in their runtime aiming squarely at the NRI market.

But there are far more choices to go through, even when looking at the most popular films around at the time. Pretty much anything Madhuri Dixit wore in Hum Aapke Hain Kaun would make the cut, as would the wardrobes from films like Rangeela and Dil To Pagal Hain.

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But for the sake of brevity, let’s go with Kajol and her maxi dress paired with boots and oversized glasses. Just because we could put it on today and be right on trend.

#5 The 2000’s

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Bust out the butterfly clips and lip liner because Bollywood had never been and will never be nearly as bizarre. With crimped hair, materials that verged on plastic and lip gloss oozing off of actresses’ mouths, the 90’s blended the weirdest global trends to create a cocktail unique to Bollywood.

But it was also a time for Indian festive wear to have its big moment on screen. There was a shift from costume-y designs to outfits imported right off the runway. Shorter cholis and bikini blouses for sarees brought daring choices to the table and turned risky choices into pure elegance.

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But we can’t help embrace the initial zaniness of the 2000’s with Kareena Kapoor and her fire-engine red ensemble from Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham.  Those pants, that to and the extra emphasis eyeliner emblazons this into our collective memory.

#6 Now


Social media has moved the focus away from what celebrities wear onscreen to what they’re donning in real life.

From Deepika Padukone to Alia Bhatt and Ranveer Singh, they’re busy showcasing their stylist’s daring choices to create a fashion signature that’s uniquely theirs.

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With films moving increasingly away from the rich and glamorous to socially conscious and periodic, costumes are reflecting character motivations and setting more than ever before.

Which will stand out as time goes on? We still have 2 years to go.

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Mehernaz Patel

"Not as funny as she thinks she is..." -Facebook Comment Section

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