The dhoti is associated by many with Mahatma Gandhi, who invariably wore one on public occasions. The genteel Bengali man, stereotyped as a "Bengali Babu," is seen in popular culture as wearing expensive perfumes, a light kurta and his prized dhoti whilst feverishly discussing politics and literature.
The dhoti has status as formal wear in most of India, but is less and less popular among men in major metropolises. Indeed, even in Kolkata, where for the past century and a half it has been extremely fashionable, use of the dhoti as an item of daily-wear has decreased substantially. An example is in the posh countryclubs of Calcutta in which certain areas of the institutions require strict formal dresscodes: the two options are a semi-formal grouping shirt and pants or a dhoti-kurta. Nowadays, as opposed to recent decades, for the most part, men will be seen to be dressed in the former. In certain contexts (for many Indians those of a more 'Westernised' nature) it may not even be viewed as suitable for formal wear due to the prevalence of the international 'suit and tie', particularly in corporate business. Thus, the dhoti for many has taken on a more cultural nuance while the ubiquitous 'suit-and-tie' or, in less formal occasions, shirt and pants, is seen as the standard formal and semi-formal wear.
The dhoti is also very prevalent in the southern part of India. In the state of Tamil Nadu it is called veshti and is plainly wrapped around the waist by men. This way of wearing it is also prevalent in the neighbouring states of Kerala and Karnataka. Many politicians of the South India, such as the present finance minister, P.Chidambaram, are also seen wearing the dhoti, reflecting the gear of the common man. The dhoti is considered to be ideal for the hot tropical summer weather in India. In the south, however, a shirt is worn on the top in combination with the dhoti.
Unspoken rules of etiquette govern the way the dhoti is worn. Men will often fold the garment in half to resemble a short skirt when working, cycling, etc., but it is considered disrespectful to speak to women or one's social superiors with the dhoti folded up this way, revealing the legs from the knee down. When faced with such a social situation, the fold of the dhoti is loosened with an imperceptible flick and it flutters down to cover the legs completely.
Dhotis are also used by westeners; mainly by followers of the International Society for Krishna Conciousness (ISKCON) and other adherents of Gaudiya Vaishnavism such as those of the Sri Krishna Chaitanya Mission. The Lungi is a similar piece of cloth worn in the same manner, though it is used only informally and never formally. It is also primarily worn by people of the lower classes and particularly popular in South India as well as Sri Lanka, Malaysia etc.