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This article is part of Mochi’s Winter 2021 issue, celebrating Cultural Capital. In this issue, we highlight ways that we, as Asian Americans, have embraced our identities and culture, and ways that our culture has been appropriated by others. Check out the rest of our issue here! And if you like what you are reading, please support us by buying us a boba through Ko-fi.

When we look at ethnic styles for Indian women, there is one attire that tops all others with its elegance and beauty: the saree. Also known as “sari,” the word “saree” means “strip of cloth” in Sanskrit. This vibrant ethnic attire is one of the oldest forms of clothing in the world, and although it’s mostly worn by Indian women, it’s also common in Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and many other South Asian countries.

The saree is wrapped around the waist, with one end draped over the shoulder and partly baring the midriff, and the saree is worn with a fitted blouse and a petticoat to provide structure. It can be worn every day for different occasions — you can find any woman, from the average person to the most influential people in the country, wearing a saree.

The saree is undoubtedly incomparable and has been a part of Indian culture and traditions for many years. Within a family, the saree is something that’s passed down many times and worn throughout different generations. Recently, it has gained global popularity, even influencing fashion designers around the world, as people from different cultures have started to love and appreciate the beautiful attire. As a result, its sales in the global market have also increased drastically.

What many non-Indian people don’t know is that sarees are worn differently in different regions of India. Regional sarees are often hand-spun, hand-woven, and hand-embroidered. These come in different embroidery techniques and styles, such as zari, zardosi, and aari. Though all sarees look similar, the pricing varies based on the type of fabric (such as cotton, silk, crepe, georgette, chiffon, velvet, net, and lenin), designs, and patterns. There are three parts to a saree, namely a field, borders, and a pallu. The field is the main part that is draped around the wearer. The border runs the length of the saree along the edges, not only adding beauty to the attire but also allowing the fabric to fall nicely into place. The pallu is the end piece of the saree that is embellished and draped over the shoulder. As a decoration, tassels can be added to the end of the pallu.                                            

Wearing a saree is considered to be a sign of maturity as per Indian traditions. There is no substitute to a saree during important ceremonies, namely religious events, weddings, or parties. In a traditional Indian wedding, which consists of a series of rituals, the bride is expected to wear a different saree during each ritual. The bridal saree is cherished by all Indian women and is kept safely as if it were a treasure. Red is the most favorable color for bridal sarees as it is considered to be an auspicious color. 

Intro to Saree Styles

One of the most commonly worn drapes is the pleated saree, which is exquisitely pleated and pinned to the shoulder. The design of the saree highlights the beauty of women in a very unique manner. For special yearly occasions, such as Ganesh Chaturthi, Janmashtami, Navratri, Deepavali, Makar Sankranti, and Pongal, women wear silk sarees to present a fashionable and elegant aesthetic. A matching silk blouse is a good choice for a traditional silk saree for such occasions.

The floating saree style is one of the easiest ways to drape a saree, whether it’s made of chiffon, georgette, or net. We drape the saree in the traditional way with pleats in front while keeping the pallu open along the shoulder and arm as well. 

Ready-made sarees have become more popular in recent times because they are easier to wear compared to traditional sarees, which require more time and skill in draping. As their name suggests, ready-made sarees come with sewn-in pleats, zips, and elastic waistbands that make them more comfortable to put on and wear without any difficulties. To suit the desires of the wearer, they also come in a wide range of colors and fabrics. 

In fusion saree styles, women wear western tops or T-shirts under simple sarees. In the past, the majority of sarees were made with natural fibers, such as silk or cotton, but synthetic fabrics like nylon and polyester have become more popular nowadays.

Some new sarees that are trending today include the blazar saree, winged drape saree, ombre saree, and metallic saree (pictured). The blazer saree is a coat or blazer that is incorporated over a saree. In a winged draped saree, the pallu is either left loose or pinned on the shoulder, making it appear like a beautiful waterfall flowing from the shoulder of its wearer. In the ombre saree style, blended shades of colors are used throughout the saree. Pastel shades are preferred during the summer time whereas darker shades are preferred during the winter time. Last but not least are metallic sarees, which are the topmost trending saree in South Indian fashion. This recent style is a blend of the traditional and modern looks, and is available in a wide range of colors. 

Even though draping a saree takes a little extra time and effort, it represents the beauty and richness of our Indian heritage and culture, and with the variety in styling options, there’s a style for everyone.

Cover photo credit: Souvari Sinha/Unsplash
Photo credits: Jayashree Krishnan

Author

  • Jayashree Krishnan is an educator and jewelry designer based in Dallas, Texas. She is the founder of “Arts by Jaya,” an art studio where children learn a variety of creative arts and crafts. She has also conducted several Asian arts and crafts workshops for young children in camps, schools, and community centers.

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