Wear a saree in the winter and stay warm

Just like sarees needn’t be occasion wear, they also don’t have to be just pleasant weather outfits and can totally be transitioned into the colder months …

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Photos: Vincent Boyer (Say hi on instagram @vincetravelbook)

A lot of you have asked me how I incorporate my six and nine yard beauties in my daily wear in the colder months and the only answer I have is that our mothers and grandmothers have been rocking the unstitched cloth with sweaters and coats for ages.

However, since so many women have asked me the same question over and over I have made a list of a few things that I do to wear sarees when it is really cold or I travel to sub-zero temperatures. In my opinion there is no such thing as too cold to wear what you want if you wear the right kind of layers.

  1. Merino base layers: Lightweight merino wool base layers are incredibly warm, soft against the skin and absorb sweat keeping you dry, don’t need to be washed very frequently and can be chucked in the washing machine. I shudder at the thought of  going anywhere near synthetic thermals.
  2. Use the pallu as a warm scarf: Wrap the pallu in myriad ways around your neck and torso to keep it out of the way and to keep you toasty.
  3. Don’t shy away from beanies: There is no reason to not wear cute beanies when there are tonnes of options to choose from and a lot of independent women owned businesses that will knit you cute ones.
  4. Heavy boots and sneakers look fabulous with sarees: Heavy duty socks along with thick soled boots and sneakers look amazing with sarees. I don’t understand women who wear uncomfortable strappy heels in the winter with their desi wear and get frost bite. I’d rather wear warm boots and dance!
  5. Buy good quality clothing in natural fabrics: Wearing the right fabrics will keep you looking great and feeling warm during the short days of the cold season. A good winter fabric should be strong, warm and natural, but should look amazing as well like merino or sheep wool, cashmere, pure silks etc.
  6. Incorporate down jackets into your layers: Down jackets have saved me from freezing in sub zero temperatures, I always add a vest under my final outer layer.
  7. Ditch the petticoats and wear wool leggings and skirts instead: I hate the petticoat in general and will never wear one in the winter. Merino wool is my choice of base on the lower part of my body as well.
  8. Play with drapes that work for the season and your lifestyle: I cannot stress how important it is to think beyond the Nivi drape if we want to actually wear sarees in general and especially in the winter. Customise your drape to your needs and screw the purists if they annoy you like they do me.
  9. Sarees don’t always need to be ankle length: Floor length drapes may not work in the rain and snow, so get creative with the length.
  10. Don’t hesitate to add a scarf: On really cold days I add my wool scarves and shawls or even dupattas to my sarees. The play of colours and textures is fun and it is functional.
  11. Winter outer wear like leather jackets, trench coats and wool overcoats work wonderfully with sarees.
  12. I love light merino or cashmere flowy cardigans in different lengths with everything I wear including saree.
  13. Thick and coarse sarees in silk, cotton, khadi work great as do the simple cottons. Just concentrate on your base and outer layer the most.
  14. Remember layers, layers and layers, you will be just fine. There is nothing that layers as easily as a saree.

I am wearing a hand block print mulmul cotton saree here on a cold day in Sydney, there is a merino base layer under my sweatshirt and a thick denim skirt under my saree. I have a massive collection of merino, cashmere and sheep wool socks & beanies that I love wearing on seriously cold days.

If you want to check out some of the other times I have worn my sarees out and about in on cold days, you can do so here, herehere, here, here and here.

 

 

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Reimagining the saree

Why can’t a saree wearer also wear bikinis or enjoy a drink or date someone out of their own race or religion?

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Photos: Vincent Boyer (Say hi on instagram @vincetravelbook)

I get a lot of comments and questions on my clothing, they are mostly appreciative, sometimes funny and at other times downright offensive.

I have been documenting what I wear off and on for over five years now and have always veered towards handcrafted ethically made/ sourced clothing. I wear sarees very often but I also wear a lot more than that. I hate labelling my clothes or accessories as desi or western or fusion, I wear what I want to wear in combinations that make me happy.

This blog and the accompanying Instagram is about draping the six and nine yards of unstitched fabric so here you only see my adventures in them but I am a massive believer in people wearing whatever they choose to. Rules, trends and opinions of others be damned!

A lot of people somehow can’t reconcile the fact that I constantly talk about handloom sarees with the girl who will happily frolic in skimpier clothes. I didn’t know that I had to be exclusive to any item of clothing or any specific school of thought on how a woman should dress.

I wear my booty shorts with as much ease as I drape my nine-yard sarees and refuse to fit my personal style into a box to please a certain section of people. I will cheerfully wear my swimwear as well as sarees on the beach, I will drink like a sailor when I please and liking handlooms does not make me or anyone else a ‘behenji’. By the same token, wearing something skimpier does not make any of us sluts!

The last time I wore a saree as a gown/ maxi dress (you can view the post here) I got reported for being offensive and got tonnes of messages accusing me of insulting my culture.

Here is the thing though, culture is not static and changes with time. It is constantly evolving and being re-interpreted by different individuals in myriad ways. I might express, communicate and celebrate my culture in ways that are different to someone else but that does not make me or anyone else right or wrong, just dissimilar.

I don’t think of a saree as something staid or boring or even just traditional, the unstitched cloth can be whatever I want it to be, it is fluid and timeless. So here I am with another Gajji silk bandhani saree worn as an off-shoulder dress. A bunch of pleats, tucks, knot, a belt and one safety pin is all it took to create this dress.

I wanted to wear something fabulous for someone special on a day that meant a great deal to them. And this is what my sister came up with, a tweak from me here and an adjustment there and I was ready to spend a fabulous evening with a bunch of friends.

This drape lets me run, dance, jump, hi-kick and twirl while feeling really pretty. If someone fails to see the beauty and versatility of this hand tie-dyed beauty and all they notice are my bare shoulders or legs then the problem is with them not me!

Travel outfits that include sarees

Want to travel in a saree? Read on to find out how I manage to gallivant around the world in my six and nine yard drapes …

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Photos: Vincent Boyer (Say hi on instagram @vincetravelbook)

A few months ago, I went to Europe and met an amazing lady in Amsterdam ( Hey Koel!)who gave me this beauty of an Ajrakh saree that I treasure and wore non-stop on the trip. Here I have worn the saree in a little village in Picardie with an oft repeated top that you have seen worn in France here and here.

I get asked very often how and why I incorporate sarees on my travels across different parts of the world. Travelling is fun and dressing up while exploring a new country is even more fun. Do I just wear sarees when I travel? No! Do I wear sarees as frequently as my heart desires, travel or no travel? Hell yeah!

I am not looking to exude sophistication while I am on the go. I like to wear what makes me happy as well as be comfortable and I really believe that one needs way less than one thinks during travel.

I think every person is different but because I have been asked this question very often, here’s a list of what I do to travel with ease in my six and nine yard beauties:

  1. I carry comfortable, often used clothing when I travel and that extends to my sarees as well. I am not one of those people who buys new clothes to travel.
  2. I absolutely abhor the petticoat (underskirt) on normal days and there is no way I will wear one while travelling. Using denims and other skirts/ shorts/ pants I already am carrying saves space in my suitcase.
  3. I don’t mind wearing lighter/ translucent sarees without a full-length skirt underneath. However, if that is something you would rather not do, I would suggest carrying darker colours or thicker drapes that offer the coverage you want.
  4. It’s fun to get creative and use the same item of clothing in different ways and pair it with multiple pieces in the suitcase. Like versatile tops make great saree blouses, skater skirts make great tops and my cotton six yard stunners make great beach cover-ups.
  5. I would suggest not worrying about the perfect pleats or pallu, just concentrate on being comfortable and having fun.
  6. I never ever use safety-pins. Knots, pleats and tucks work way better than something that is likely to jab me while I nap on the train!
  7. Ignore people who say sarees should always be worn with heels. I carry four to five comfortable pairs of shoes that go with everything I wear. You will see me wearing the same shoes with jeans or skirts or sarees.
  8. The same goes for my bags, saree or no saree I carry bags that are roomy without being too bulky. I don’t have the space in my suitcase or patience to have a different bag for every outfit.
  9. Also, likewise for jackets. I wear my sarees with leather, denim or wool jackets/ cover-ups. Every piece of clothing I carry goes with at least four different things in my suitcase.
  10. I also don’t worry about carrying the right kind of jewellery for sarees or any other outfits. I carry a mad bunch of silver and beaded jewellery that I love to wear and don’t care about being matchy-matchy.
  11. Instead of carrying a whole heap of sarees, I change the way I drape, switch the tops and style the same ones differently. This same saree was worn with a Metallica tee-shirt while bumming around Paris and on the Metro with our luggage.
  12. If you are not comfortable with different drapes, I would suggest playing with the length of the saree to ensure comfort and enable movement.
  13. Avoid trailing pallus, I normally wrap mine like a scarf around my neck to keep it out of the way when rushing about.
  14. I spot clean my sarees and hand-wash and dry them in the bathroom after three to four wears. There is nothing more annoying than taking dry-clean only sarees and search frantically for a dhobi during a trip.
  15. I don’t think of a saree any differently than any other item of clothing, just wear them when I want to and do just fine.

And for those of you wondering why I wear sarees during my travels … I wear what I want, when I want, where I want and how I want.

I have never not carried a few sarees while travelling and really don’t think it is a big deal to travel in sarees. My Mother and GrandMother as well as countless other women from the sub-continent have traipesed across the globe in their sarees and I am just following in their foot-steps.

That is it – this is how I travel in sarees and it works for me. What are your travel outfit essentials?

 

My love affair with linen sarees just got serious with this Jamdani

Customised drape for a linen jamdani saree that is light as a feather and drapes like a dream

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Photos: Vincent Boyer (Say hi on instagram @vincetravelbook)

I am an absolute hoarder of linens in any form and have an ongoing love affair with the fabric. Shirts, tops, dresses, pants, sarees, bed clothes, you name it and I adore it in linen.

I know a lot of us are intimidated by the thought of ironing the creases but I feel linen can make for great outfits when one knows how to get the best out of it. It is one of the oldest fabrics known to mankind and really comes into its own after a period of rigorous wear. It tends to get softer and shinier with each wash as flax fibres don’t stretch a great deal and are resilient against damage caused by abrasion.

To wear linen confidently is to embrace the material’s relaxed crumpled-ness. I carry a lot of linen while travelling as well and I absolutely refuse to iron my clothes. I just hang any crumply item of clothing in the bathroom on a hanger while its steamy from a shower and that usually eases out the creases.

What I also like about linen is that it is a natural fabric which breaks down over time and causes little harm to the environment. It is also easy on the environment during cultivation and production. Unless organically manufactured, cotton production requires a lot of water and is heavily reliant on pesticides which impacts the health of farmers in developing countries, pollutes waterways and soil.

Linen on the other hand consumes much less water and needs fewer chemical interventions during manufacture. I find it best to stick to organically produced natural fabrics, they come with a higher price tag but leave a smaller environmental foot-print.

I don’t think any other form of clothing does as much justice to linen as a saree. The fabric inherently lends itself to drapes beautifully, is very flattering to form without being clingy and doesn’t stick out in stiff folds. I find linen/ linen-cotton mix sarees to be malleable to my draping experiments.

In these photos I am wearing a wonderful linen-cotton with a temple border and Jamdani motifs on the pallu that was hand-woven in West Bengal. The drape has been customised to make the best use of the stunning aanchol/ pallu with a tulip opening in the front, pleats at the back and a long pallu.

This saree is a brainchild of a fabulously talented woman I am honoured to call my friend, Amy Aribam. She is the tremendously inspiring lady behind the indie label based out of Delhi: Amaria. Check them out on Instagram here and you can visit their website here.

Saree clad skateboarder

I know that not many people associate skateboards and sarees together but here I am skateboarding in a handwoven and hand embroidered beauty in two drapes that have been concocted by my sister and I to facilitate my movement and be comfortable …

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Photos: Vincent Boyer (Say hi on instagram @vincetravelbook)

For some reason wearing sarees is synonymous with being coy, conservative and a whole lot of other stereotypes, which is absolute rubbish! A saree wearing woman is whoever she wants to be, the six-yards of fabric don’t wear the person, the wearer wears the drape.

Before I started this blog and its accompanying instagram, I was just plain annoyed with the online photos of women in sarees, same kind of bodies wearing similar kinds of slinky sarees, looking pretty in a studio. I found photos of real women doing fun stuff missing from the narrative and here are a few photos of me having fun while wearing the same saree in two distinctly different ways.

I know that not many people associate skateboards and sarees together but here I am skateboarding in a handwoven and hand embroidered saree. Both the drapes I am wearing have been concocted by my sister and I to facilitate my movement and be comfortable. The first drape was worn on a drizzly cooler day with a merino wool top, my trusty converse and a pair of baggy cords and the second drape was accompanied by a hand block print wrap around skirt worn as a top plus my beat-up vans.

A lot of people seem to be under the impression that sarees can only be worn with tight bottoms, I beg to differ. Sarees can be worn with whatever the hell takes one’s fancy and they can be worn to make the best of any adventure you want to undertake.

The saree I am wearing in these photos is a Chikankari on handwoven mulmul, I know it looks nothing like we expect a Chikan textile to be. It is a concept creation that blends of two schools of thought that have influenced the craft, Mughal & Nawab and the motifs used are typical of Mughal fresco art, instead of the more regularly used Nawabi motifs . Some rarely used exotic stitches can be seen on this saree including ghaspatti, shadow, ulta bakhiya, phanda, etc.

I get tonnes of queries a day asking me where I get my sarees and where I’d recommend someone go and buy a certain kind of saree. I have consciously  stayed away from naming sources here because this blog is about hand crafted textiles especially in their six yard avatars and not about where one should buy the latest trending item.

But I also know a lot of small independent businesses all over India that are trying really hard to keep some of our arts and crafts alive. So, from now on if I am wearing an extra special handcrafted saree or blouse/ top or even jewellery or other accessories from an independent craftsperson or business I admire for their ethics I will tell you the source. I am even more likely to love a brand that is woman owned and has predominantly female artisans.

This saree was created by an amazing lady called Vidhi Rastogi who started dabbling in textiles along with a day job with a corporate giant. She says, “The need to make a difference for our artisans was so strong, that I worked an extremely demanding day job and came home to  work on ethically sourced handcrafted textiles.”

Earlier this year she quit her day job and decided to work solely on her fabulous brand Meiraas that can be found online, on Facebook and on instagram.

The magic of Bengal handloom sarees

Handloom sarees from West Bengal never cease to amaze me with their unique designs and stunning craftsmanship …

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Photos: Vincent Boyer (Say hi on instagram @vincetravelbook)

My love for Bengal handloom knows no bounds and I will always invariably reach for them no matter what the occasion.

These photos were taken on a beautiful pre-spring day in Sydney when we wanted to go for a leisurely walk along the coast and chill on the rock-pools. And in my head this vintage taant seemed like the perfect outfit to wear. No petticoat, broad pleats like the Athpourey drape and a long pallu/aanchol that acted as a fabulous scarf.

I can never have enough of the spectacular taants, the awe inspiring Jamdanis, the fabulous Balucharis, the earthy Dhonekalis, the uncomplicated Begumpuris or the easy-to-wear Fulias. I get a lot of questions specifically on where I source my W Bengal handlooms, unfortunately most of mine including this one come from my GrandMother’s extensive wardrobe. But I LOVE what Biswa Bangla and Tantuja stock, weavers from Bengal are easy to find at exhibitions, the khadi emporium at Dakhinapan is a treasure trove and the Gariahat market in Calcutta is a handloom lover’s paradise.

There are multiple weaving clusters in the state with Shantipur, Hooghly, Nadia, Bardhaman, Dhaniakhali, Begampur, and Farasdanga being the main cotton weaving centres involved in the weaving of fine-textured saris and dhotis. There is a rich tradition of weaving handloom cotton textiles among the tribal and semi-tribal people n the districts of West Dinajpur, Jalpaiguri, Maldah, and Cooch Behar in North Bengal.

So if like me you are tired of all the blingy sarees clogging your social media feeds during the festive season and your eyes need a break, give your simple Bengal cottons a go. In my opinion they go with everything and are suitable for all activities.

 

 

Do’s and don’ts of wearing a saree

What a saree gives you is, the freedom to interpret it in new ways or happily be comfortable in the tried and tested..

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Photos: Vincent Boyer (Say hi on instagram @vincetravelbook)

I have come across an article that talks about what not to do when wearing a saree, a well-wisher (read asshole) sent it to me in the murky world that is Instagram direct message.

I am definitely not sharing a link to the article because I think it is absolute nonsense of the worst kind but here is what I will share: A list of dos and don’ts when wearing a saree:

  1. Choose the right blouse

Wondering if you should wear a matching blouse or a contrast blouse with your saree, or about the neckline or design at the back or sleeve length? That skimpy choli you saw on a celebrity, could you wear it and look great? Should it be fitted or boxy?

How about just wearing whatever the hell you feel like and whatever is within arm’s reach on the day? Its a whole different kind of fun to design one’s blouse and feel fabulous in it. But you can also wear whatever top YOU thinks looks fabulous and if the blouse police has a problem with it, it is THEIR problem.

2. Choose the right pallu length

This is one of my favourites! You know what they say? The pallu length is crucial to the final look of the saree. Too long or too short pallu will just make one look, hmm what exactly?

How about wearing the length that seems right for you, on that day? I like my pallu long, but you might feel completely different about a long pallu, so you do you my friend, you do you!

3. Choose the right petticoat (under skirt)

Asking yourself questions like: How can one have a matching petticoat for every saree? What if the petticoat you’re wearing is wrong for the saree? What if the petticoat kills your entire look?

How about just having a nude petticoat that looks good under any saree? How about no petticoat? How about wearing your sarees with pants? And above all how about wearing a fun underskirt and not caring if it matches or peeks out from under? How about making what you already have, work for you?

4. Choose the right footwear

We’ve all heard things like wear your heels before you start draping or you’ll mess up the length. Asking yourself if you should wear heels with your saree as it will give you extra length and look great? Should you wear those high heels that you love but makes you tower over guys? Wondering if you could get away with embellished flats because it is going to be a long day and you don’t want to wear heels?

How about just wearing whatever you feel like? Wear the flats if you want to, wear heels if you feel like, wear sneakers if you’re running from pillar to post. 

5. Choose the right length for the saree

You know what they say? The length of your saree should be neither too long nor too short, just right. (Are we stuck in a Goldilocks and the three bears universe?)

What is just right length though? How about just wearing it the way you want? Mini-length, midi-length, dhoti style till the ankles, knee-length dhoti, anything you want!

6. Choose the right draping style

Have you been told any of the following: Stick to the drape that looks good on your shape, some draping styles makes one look bulky, others flatteringly slim, wear your pallu pleated and ‘flaunt’ your flat stomach, hide your not-so-flat stomach. Hmm?

Also don’t show too much cleavage and definitely no back cleavage! Yaar! back cleavage kya hota hai?

There are hundreds of draping styles in India and there are many more ways of experimenting with the saree. How about just playing with your drape till YOU feel great? Or just sticking to YOUR tried and tested?

7. Choose the right bra

Ooh! This is a big one. Have you heard something along the lines of, wear the right bra in the right colour for a saree/saree blouse and make sure the straps are not visible?

How about wearing the bra you like in whatever colour you like? Or going bra-less or wearing a fun bralette, sports bra or swimsuit top as your blouse? The bra that feels right for your needs is the right bra for a saree! I wear a sports bra if I feel like it, a lacy bra if I want to and if a strap peeks out, I make sure its a bloody cute colour!

8. Choose the right fabric and colour

Did you know there is the right fabric for every body shape? And suitable colour options based on the shade of your skin, age and marital status?? Mujhe toh pata hi nahi tha!

Rubbish like, skinny girls with no curves should wear certain fabrics, curvier ladies should wear another and who knows what else. Or one should wear cotton with cotton, silk with silk and of course only silk for pujas or weddings, you know because cotton is for the poor and silk means opulence and wealth?

How about just wearing the saree you want to wear, not the one THEY say is right for YOUR body type, skin colour, age, socio-economic status etc.?

9. Choose the right jewellery

Should you wear all the jewellery you have because you love them all? Should you wear nothing because jewellery isn’t really your thing? But your friend reminds you, not to look like a Christmas tree or that you’re going to a wedding and should wear some gold. Or that well-meaning relative says that you look like you’re going to a funeral because of minimal jewellery.

One, what’s wrong about looking like a Christmas tree because you want to?! I mean most people love looking at/ decorating Christmas trees. And what’s wrong with wearing plastic, wood or any other kind of jewellery you like with your saree? Or no jewellery at all, because you feel like it?

How about just wearing the jewellery you like, you want to wear and you feel comfortable wearing? 

10. Choose where and how to pin your saree

They say, securing your pleats and your pallu are a must, the pins shouldn’t show and definitely must be positioned right?

How about pinning or not pinning the saree based on what you prefer or wearing fun pins and not caring if they show? How about filling your saree with brooches? 

11. Choose the right hair cut/ colour/ style

Have any of you been told any of the following: Straighten your hair into sleekness when wearing a saree, girls with long lustrous locks look best in sarees, wear your hair in nice bun, don’t leave it wild and unruly!

How about just let your hair be the way it wants to be? Wear a saree with long hair or short, with thick unruly hair or a shaved head, tie it up or leave it down, whatever YOU want.

What not to do when wearing a saree?

Don’t be a misogynistic, gender roles obsessed, douche that wants to maintain shitty beauty standards and views people’s bodies as objects meant to please the viewer’s gaze!

Also remember saree is probably one of the first gender neutral clothing options meant for everyone inside and outside of one’s understanding of the gender spectrum.

The saree doesn’t have to come with a set of dreary rules, an expiry date based on trends especially if you choose timeless handlooms, it doesn’t have to have an age limit, or a body shape preference!

What a saree gives you is, the freedom to interpret it in new ways or happily be comfortable in the tried and tested! So if the saree police accosts you, ask them to get lost and choose to feel good about YOU!

Tell me what saree rule gets your goat, let’s keep the conversation going in the comments section.