Friday, May 07, 2010

Saris and Other Indian Fashions

Another post about India? Yup. It's a hard place to shake I tell you. I've had people ask if I bought myself a sari and the answer is no. Though who wouldn't feel that much classier pushing her cart through Walmart while wearing one of these??

Indian SarisActually, these are some of the fanciest saris in a high-end boutique on Commercial Street in Bangalore. Because all of the gorgeous colors and fabrics may look the same to untrained western eyes, there are some things you may not know. . . . These particular saris have a close-fitting top called a choli and the skirt is a ghagra, then there is a scarf that goes over the whole ensemble that allows you to see the decorative beadwork beneath.

Indian Saris
This, however, is a sari in the more wrapped-body sense. Apparently (as my good friend Jane Hamilton educated me) the sari was born in the southern-most state of Tamil Nadu where she lives and we traveled. You can see the choli underneath but the ghagra skirt is hidden by about 9 yards of silk. In this version it's an underskirt with a draw-string waist that is more like a heavy slip than a skirt.

We'll get back to that in a moment. . . .

Indian ChudidarHere is Lillian in her chudidar (just because I won't wear Indian gear in public doesn't mean my kids can't--it's the beauty of being seven) which is another traditional Indian outfit. In the south we saw saris and chudidars, chudidars and saris with only one or two women wearing jeans.

The chudidars are made of a long overshirt, usually with slits on both sides, and a pair of pants that are made so long they bunch at the ankles. Then a jaunty scarf tops off the ensemble. Lily was quite the international queen when she wore this to church with her purse from Thailand, her shoes from China and none of them the same color.

Indian WomenMy father took the rest of these photos and they give you an idea of the variety of dress you'll see. I think these women are from the northern part--I'd guess Jaipur?--where the climate is a little cooler and the influences from Afghanistan and Pakistan are evident.

Indian SariBut you'll see saris everywhere. And the answer is YES, all that fabric is terribly hot. You get the impression from all the breezy, flowing fabrics that they're a cool fashion option in 100 degree weather but that would be incorrect. As my mother wrapped me up in her sari every layer of fabric was more and more stifling until I wondered how they can stand it. Indian women are amazing.

Indian SarisIf they're working they'll just scoop up the back hem of the sari and stuff it in at their waist so that it comes up between their legs and makes a sort of Gandhi-style set of shorts. Functional but still very warm.

Indian Saris
But going back to my own experience, what I found interesting was that I had the mistaken impression that you just wrap up your sari and go (shows how much I know) but just as with western fashions where women know exactly what cuts of blouses are in and which are not, how long stylish jeans need to be and the most vogue ways of wearing a scarf there are definite trends and fashions in wearing saris.

Indian SarisYou see how baggy the choli shirt is on my arms? Very tacky. Indian women wear their cholis as form-fitting shirts and they'll often wear them so tight around the arm that I wonder how they get them on and off. Fashion mistake number one.

Then you can't see it but my choli goes to my waist. Usually cholis stop just below the bustline, leaving your stomach bare (and let me tell you I saw a lot of stomachs in India--it was comforting to see how many other women have the same sagging, post-pregnancy battle scars I do. It was rather liberating). But when my mother had this sari made for her, not wishing to show off her own stomach, she asked them to cut it long. They informed her that only nuns wear them that way which made both of us chuckle. Fashion mistake number two.

And as for the actual wrapping process it's terribly complex. You knot one corner of the fabric, tuck it in the right side of the drawstring waist of your underskirt then wrap it to the left around you. After two wraps you reach for the other end of all that fabric and pleat it. Then you wrap that pleated end around the back, over your chest and over your left shoulder. Very tricky.

But the hardest part is yet to come because you still have yards of fabric in the middle unaccounted for. You pick up that section right at your waist and in this tricky rocking motion with your outspread hand you gather up the extra fabric in about ten eight-inch pleats which you tuck into your waistband as a group. Ready to go!

The process took us about 20 minutes for that photo of me though the woman in this video clip does it in a minute. However, there are professional sari wrappers whom you can hire if you have a special occasion--such as your wedding day--where you want your sari to be absolutely perfect and cutting-edge fashionable. I don't think I'll be applying for that job anytime soon.

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Flea said...

Good night Irene! What a job! But you look beautiful in a sari. I've always wanted to wear one. And hot's one thing - isn't nine yards of fabric heavy? Or is it a very lightweight silk? Still.

Mrs. Ohtobe said...

Simply gorgeous and I am grateful I don't have to wear one. I kinda giggled that your Mom ordered the Mom Jean Sari version!

Suzie B. said...

After all that pleating and tucking, everything stays in place? I'd be concerned that activity would cause the sari to come undone and to fall off - esPECIALLY if I had done the pleating and tucking! Although lovely, it doesn't seem that practical.

carrie / george bell said...


The women in the pic your dad took in the north are wearing some things that remind me very much of what I saw in Nepal ... the one on the left, in particular - that crossed/overlapping top is quite common in the Kathmandu valley & the cloth looks like some of the traditional Nepali fabric.

Another cool thing about saris: very handy for breastfeeding.

CountessLaurie said...

You look gorgeous in your sari! And Lillian is adorable.

I never realized there was so much fabric involved!!

Scribbit said...

Carrie--it might be Nepal then. They were there too.

Flea--yes, VERY heavy. You think it will be lovely, light and flowing and it's heavy and hot. THough you feel absolutely elegant. Even if I were cleaning the bathrooms in one I'd feel elegant.

Suzie--yes, I worried about it because I was a novice. I'm sure the INdian women know more of what they're doing. But everything tucks into the drawstring waist.

jacjewelry said...

How pretty are those! What a skill to have to put them on appropriately!

Jill in MA said...

You look gorgeous in that!

Viki said...

I suppose its a skill you learn but it seems complicated LOL. That's a lot of material but it is beautiful. You looked great in the sari.

J at said...

You look gorgeous in your sari!

I have one, which I wore for my wedding, but one of Ted's aunts had to wrap me. :) They're not easy for a westerner to keep on, so I prefer the churidar, or more correctly in my case, a salwar kameez (a churidar is a type of salwar kameez, in case anyone is boot cut is a type of jeans...though churidar are more the 'skinny jeans' look). Salwar are MUCH easier to wear, and require no wrapping.

My mother in law told me once about the time the end of her sari got caught in an escalator...NOT good. Thank goodness for that slip underneath, is all I can say. :)

JanMary said...

Another insightful post from India - thanks!!!

Good to know they are not as comfortable, cool and uncomplicated as we are led to believe!

cndymkr / jean said...

I watched that video 3 times and still didn't get it. Wow. It's a lot more work then I imagined. And I have a question. Do the Indian women wear a bra under their clothing or does the top act as a bra? Inquiring minds want to know.

Anonymous said...

That was so fun to read. Bright and fantastic! It makes me bummed out as I stare at the pj's I've worn all day (being sick). I'd love to be sick wearing some of THAT action! Ow ow!

Tracy M said...

I love that video of the woman in India putting on her Sari. How beautiful and effortless she makes it look. BTW, you look lovely in yours, too.

Shannon said...

In Indonesia the women wear something called a Kebaya for special occasions. i wanted one but couldn't figure where I would wear it, and also since I am a white woman with hips I would have had to have it custom made. I should have gotten one to wear to balls, maybe if I am ever in that part oft he world again.

Isn't it great how kids can get away with wearing stuff like that and everyone thinks its cute. My kids had a couple of Indonesian outfits when we left, they wore them everywhere.

Cagey (Kelli Oliver George) said...

I wore a sari once to model in a multi-cultural fashion show and yes, I was not comfortable in it. I preferred wearing the shalwar kameez.

J at did a great job of explaining the differences between churidars and shalwar kameez. There are also kurta pajamas, which add to the confusion!

Stephanie said...

I traveled to Bangladesh in 1997 and bought both a sari & a chudidar. I wore them thin when I was there...but now they're under my bed in a box. ;)

Krystle Parker said...

Very neat!! I love seeing the differences in culture and how it effects fashion.I loved this blog..I was watching fashion week in India..absolutely amazing to see.

Thanks for this blog!