Indian Summers Costume Recap: Episode 1


Did you watch Indian Summers last Sunday night on Masterpiece (American viewers, that is — European viewers, you’ve probably seen the whole thing)? I certainly hope so, because hot damn, this looks like it’s going to be great. Set in India in 1932, the series focuses on a bunch of different interlocking characters, from English (and American) colonials to Indians who both work for and against the British Raj. And from what I can tell from the previews, it looks like Exciting Stuff(TM) is going to happen!

I’m excited enough about this show that I’ve decided to write a costume recap for each episode, so we can dish about what we liked and didn’t like. Keep your eyes peeled each Friday for a new post!

Alright, let’s get this party started:

After a brief introductory scene with some Indian children, we meet Alice Whelan (Jemima West). She’s on a train headed to Simla, in the foothills of the Himalayas, along with all the other Brits who are escaping the summer heat. Everyone’s sweating, but Alice still looks great in a crisp cotton poplin dress in a bright shade of orange. There’s no missing who is the central character here:

2015 Indian Summers

Alice in orange. That’s a great deco print on the right, in back.

This dress has a great cut. It’s almost 1940s wartime in a sense, with a very utilitarian, menswear cut — until you see the 1930s length with fabulous kick-pleats. She wears it with a side-angled straw hat with a pleated ribbon in a complimentary color.

Indian Summers (2015) 2015 Indian Summers

We then cut to Cynthia Coffin (Julie Walters), the very-not-poshly-accented owner (?) of the Royal Simla Club, center of British society during the winter months.

You get a great close-up of her pleated skirt, which is in an amazing Indian, yet angular and deco, cotton print. It’s absolutely stunning in motion:

2015 Indian Summers

The full ensemble is interesting — it’s almost 1920s in terms of loose fit, except for that skirt length. So now we’ve got one fashion-forward character (Alice) and one looking-slightly-backwards character (Cynthia).

2015 Indian Summers

Cynthia, checking out her not-yet-ready-for-prime-time club.

2015 Indian Summers

That’s a very 1920s lack-of-a-waist silhouette!

Back on the train, Alice is (unfortunately) stuck chatting with Sarah Raworth (Fiona Glascott), an obviously narrow-minded and sour Englishwoman. Compare her pale pink, ruffled dress to Alice’s strong orange above:

2015 Indian Summers

Sarah Raworth

We also meet Sarah’s husband, Dougie, and Leena Prasad (Amber Rose Revah), an Indian woman who is some kind of companion to Dougie (a co-worker?) — and now we understand part of Sarah’s sourness. Dougie is going for full whiskers in what (to me, anyway) is a very Victorian look — although I think that perhaps the filmmakers are trying to show that he is less concerned about appearances as his wife. He’s also shown not wearing a jacket. I don’t know how the etiquette varied in Indian heat, but I would think that would be a no/no. Leena is in gorgeous, dark green sari — and wearing a crucifix necklace. HMMM.

2015 Indian Summers

Dougie and Leena.

The two rescue a boy who is found on the train tracks, poisoned, and they rush him off in search of a doctor (leaving Sarah and child behind and none too pleased).

2015 Indian Summers

After a ride in a Rolls Royce, Alice ends up at her brother’s house. Ralph Whelan (Henry Lloyd-Hughes) is the Viceroy’s assistant (or something else important), and the two haven’t seen each other since they were children.

When we first meet Ralph, he’s clearly master of his domain, and wearing a SHARP, dark, three-piece suit.

2015 Indian Summers

Ralph, master of his domain.

2015 Indian Summers

And looking sharp!

Next up is Aafrin Dalal (Nikesh Patel), who works as a clerk in Ralph’s office. He’s all English assimilation on the job:

2015 Indian Summers

Aafrin in the middle.

But then starts stripping down all the ridiculous layers (okay, just his jacket) on his way home.

2015 Indian Summers

We meet Aafrin’s family, in particular sister Sooni (Aysha Kala). All the women in his family are wearing printed cotton saris.

2015 Indian Summers


2015 Indian Summers

It turns out that Aafrin is in love with Sita (Ellora Torchia), who his parents don’t want him to marry because she’s of a different religion (she’s Hindu; I guess Aafrin is Muslim?). Sita gets a beautiful blue sari.

2015 Indian Summers


There follows a gorgeous scene where Aafrin follows Sita through some hanging pieces of cloth, where they kiss.

2015 Indian Summers

Sarah has no idea where Dougie (and Leena) have gone. While she’s waiting, she sends off a dress to be cleaned and is hyper-concerned about it being treated delicately. This comes up again later…

2015 Indian Summers

Back at her brother’s house, Alice meets his houseguests: American brother and sister Eugene (Edward Hogg) and Madeleine Mathers (Olivia Grant). Eugene is already dressed in white tie for their forthcoming evening at the Royal Simla Club:

2015 Indian Summers


And so is Madeleine, who is all Wallis Simpson elegance in a black and white printed, sheer silk dress:

2015 Indian Summers

Madeleine (Olivia Grant) is a dead ringer for Lotte Verbeek (Geillis Duncan in Outlander, and Giulia Farnese in The Borgias). I spent the whole episode trying to decide if she was or wasn’t Lotte, and had finally decided she was by the end, only to check the credits and find out I was wrong.

At the club, Julie Walters has been wearing black silk pajamas while polishing (?) a saddle and reminiscing about her deceased husband. She strips those off when it’s time to open, leaving them on the floor and completely ignoring them, knowing without a doubt that someone will take them away in true colonial bliss. Underneath, she’s already dressed and ready to rumble for evening in a blue, paisley (another Indian print) ensemble:

2015 Indian Summers 2015 Indian Summers 2015 Indian Summers 2015 Indian Summers

All the Brits start turning up at the club, including Alice who is now dressed in a lovely printed silk dress. Both the color and print are super harmonious with the vegetation around her, a strong contrast to Madeleine’s modern, geometric print.

Indian Summers (2015)

Madeleine is super elegant, but incongruous with the background and everyone else.

Indian Summers (2015)

All of the ladies sport some fabulous 1930s hairstyles, with low, nape of the neck arrangements:

Indian Summers (2015)
2015 Indian Summers

Alice has messy curls pinned up, while Madeleine has a low bun, braid over the top, and pearls.

2015 Indian Summers

Cynthia has a marcel wave, with low bun.

Two seemingly slutty ladies try to hit on Ralph. He’s unmarried and clearly a hot commodity.

2015 Indian Summers Indian Summers (2015)

Sarah is there in another pink dress:

2015 Indian Summers 2015 Indian Summers

And Sarah discovers that one of the flirts is wearing her dress that she sent off to be cleaned — apparently the cleaners run a side business, renting out the nicer pieces that they have on hand! Sarah does not handle it well, trying to literally disrobe the flirt (but you see her later, still in the dress, so clearly the flirt wins):

2015 Indian Summers

Just as everyone sits down to a formal dinner, through a semi-complicated series of events, Aafrin gets shot in place of Ralph. Alice witnesses it, and stays with Aafrin until he gets to the hospital. I would like to commend her lipstick brand for staying perfect throughout the crisis.

2015 Indian Summers

2015 Indian Summers
What did you think of Indian Summers‘ costumes? Will you be tuning in for episode 2?


About the author



Kendra has been a fixture in the online costuming world since the late 1990s. Her website, Démodé Couture, is one of the most well-known online resources for historical costumers. In the summer of 2014, she published a book on 18th-century wig and hair styling. Kendra is a librarian at a university, specializing in history and fashion. She’s also an academic, with several articles on fashion history published in research journals.

13 Responses

  1. mmcquown

    I’ll stay with it for awhile, at least. This is what my ex refers to as “well-dressed people behaving badly,” and is usually good story material. India, ever-fascinating, was Britain’s last gasp of empire (if you exclude royal-watchers in America) and was pivotal to their future development. The film “White Mischief” is a great tale of the African outliers during WWII. I can’t decide if Aafrin’s family is Hindu of a different caste or Muslim

  2. Susan Pola Staples

    Unfortunately, I missed it and I am trying to see it before Sunday when episode 2 airs. Olivia was in Lark Rising. She played the squire’s wife. Also are you fashion reviewing Home Fires?

  3. J Lou

    I enjoyed the costuming and the story line, but I’m having difficulty telling the difference between all of the pale-skinned, dishwater-blonde English roses. Aside from the ginger American, all of the western women look alike. I suspect that the color schemes that you have highlighted (pink for Sarah, and geometric prints and bold colors for Alice) will help me keep them straight in future episodes.

  4. avantgarbe

    Thanks for posting about this, I wouldn’t have heard of it otherwise and thorough enjoyed the first episode! It’s also making me want to sew 1930s dresses, which I have no occasion to wear, but we can work around that…

  5. Becca

    Excited to see you recapping this! I don’t know much about 1930s fashion but I loved how Madeline looks like she just stepped out of a period society portrait.

    To shed a little light on Aafrin’s family, they’re Parsi, an ethnic group who are Zoroastrian, and whom the British favored because they considered the Parsis more “intelligent and enterprising” than other Indians. An interesting focus for the series, because of their conflicted feelings about colonial rule.

    • Kendra

      INTERESTING! I had originally put that maybe they were Muslim OR Sufi, but then I thought if they were Sufi they’d be doing long beards and turbans (I think??) so I ruled that out.

  6. LindaS

    I just have some more about Parsi, also spelled Parsee, a group of followers in India of the Iranian prophet Zoroaster. The Parsis, whose name means “Persians,” are descended from Persian Zoroastrians who emigrated to India to avoid religious persecution by the Muslims. I had a Parsi friend in design school who had been working with an Indian print company. She said that the Parsis originally worshipped fire and that they carried their dead to a wilderness area where vultures could strip them clean.

  7. ladylavinia1932

    All of the ladies sport some fabulous 1930s hairstyles, with low, nape of the neck arrangements.

    I’m having a problem with the Western women’s hairstyles. I get the feeling that whoever does the actresses’ hair try to pass a low nape chignon for a 1930s bob. I can understand older women wearing this kind of hairstyle, but the women in their 20s and 30s?

    • Kendra

      Except that the bob was out of fashion by 1930, and most women starting growing their hair out then. What’s funny is that in season 2, Alice has shorter hair, which is the opposite of what would have happened historically!