In the matter of dress and ornaments, Kerala presents through the ages a picture of astonishing variety. Simplicity and elegance of dress is a trait of the Malayali character. The common male dress is the white mundu or cloth which is worn around the waist. A small upper garment i.e torthu is also worn over the shoulder.
The women of several castes and communities have their distinctive forms of dress. The Hindu women used to wear Mundum Neriyathum. Usually the colour of the dress will be white or cream and the 'Mundu' will have a 'Kara'. 'Mundum Neriyathum' is an old form of Sari. Commemorating this Mundum Neriyathum, today women used to wear Set Mundu or Set Sari in functions like Vishu, Onam etc.
The christian women used to wear, 'Chettem Mundum'. The 'Chatta' is the top part resembles blouse. It is white in colour ans is very loose. The 'Mundu' is the lower part and it is also in white colour. The Muslim women wear a cloth called Kacha mundu or a colored cloth, a white loose jacket and a scarf on the head. The purdah system is still prevalent among the most orthodox Muslim women in some parts of north Kerala.
Today the dressing styles of women had some tremendous changes. Salwars, Kurthis, Jeans, Leggings etc are some of the favourite outfits of Kerala women. Though they choose trendy and casual dresses usually, on occasions they go behind saris – silk, kancheepuram, party wears etc.
Ornaments of different patterns are used by women of all communities and castes. These ornaments are for the neck, the arm, the nose, and the ankle. The oldest ornament of the Nair Women for the neck was the serpent's hood, so called after the shape of the pendant. Among other necklaces were nalupanti, addiyar, puthali, avil mala, patakkam etc. The ornaments for the nose were mukkuthi and nattu. The Nambudiri women do not wear costly ornaments. The Kasumala and the oddyanam were the most characteristic of their ornaments.
The traditional Christian women bore their ear in several places and wear a heavy gilt brass ring called `mekkamotiram' at the top of each ear. The ornaments common among them were the `patakkamala', `the vala', `elas', `aranjanam', rings on the ten fingers etc.
The Muslim women wore an incredibly large number of ornaments. They had five or six ornaments each on the neck like `puthali', `efakkathali' etc and for the waist the `arapatta' in addition to ankles, bracelets and bangles. As many as fourteen holes were sometimes bored in each ear lobe and a long string of ornaments was suspended through it.
In modern times there has been a change in the attitude of people towards the use of ornaments. The present tendency is to limit the number of ornaments to the absolute minimum. Modern day women love to wear trendy ornaments instead of gold or diamond. The only time, we will see them in ornaments will be during some special occasion like wedding.
Women take special care in the growth and preservation of the hair. They use plenty of oil to improve its growth and keep it smooth and shining. The Kerala women apply the kumkum or pottu on their forehead. At one time it was done only by the Hindus and hence it was considered a caste mark. But in recent times young women of all castes and communities prefer this and what was once a caste mark has been transformed into a beauty mark.