Leather jacket and boots with a vintage saree?

Isn’t it time we took one of the oldest, continuosly worn garment and made it our own?

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

Leather jacket and boots with a vintage saree? Why not? Isn’t it time we stopped wearing things the way other people wear them? Isn’t it time we took one of the oldest, continuosly worn garment and made it our own?

Here’s the thing, I don’t care how you wear your sarees, I wear mine the way I like and the way I feel on the day. I love leather anything and I love sarees and sometimes I wear everything I like together.  Old world Ikats with perfectly worn in leather was the choice of this particular day of roaming about to get some brunch and walk around the neighbourhood.

I cannot get enough of material that has softened with time, aged beautifully and has character. I love the quality, the uniqueness, the stories and the images I conjure up of vintage garments. They are more than just used-clothes, they come with history, an old world charm, a sprinkle of magic and are what I think; clothing with a soul. And in my opinion the best kind of vintage item is the perfectly preserved saree, the old world craftsmanship, wrapped up in whimsy, its truly a handloom lover’s dream come true.

One is never too old or too young to wear vintage, it can be styled in myriad different ways but it still somehow retains its soul. And there is much more creative freedom in doing things in one’s own way, to cause one to grin from ear to ear in joy at the reflection in the mirror!

 

 

 

 

Saree love in the Netherlands

Rules like ‘fat girls shouldn’t wear light and starchy tangails just because it might makes them look even bigger’ are bullshit. Pick whatever YOU think is beautiful and my one styling/draping tip is not to follow any rulebook..

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

2014

Photos: Koel Banerjee’s family archives

From wrapping big gamchhas and shawls as sarees to mimic the older ladies of her Bengali household, to being a true connoisseur of handloom beauties, Koel Banerjee has come a long way in her saree journey.

We caught up with her on summer day in Netherlands for an adda about her love and celebration of the six yards as well as her thoughts on the various rules that people have around wearing sarees.

In between sumptuous food and endless giggles she said, “Born in a middle class joint family in Calcutta I have always seen all the female members of the family wearing only sarees, since my birth I have been literally surrounded by sarees”.

Her earliest memories include her Mother’s tomato colour organdy saree with spaced out small checkered fabric appliqué flowers on the body with very thin lace borders which she remembers vividly, a saree bought from New Market in Calcutta.

She said, “I used to love most of my mom’s sarees but this one in particular is engraved in my memory”.

Koel’s grandmother was endlessly entertained with both her grand daughters’ love for the six yards as well as playing dress-up in sarees and she bought them one kid sized saree each.

Her grandfather, a freelance photographer documented the saree shenanigans in the afternoons while the household was quiet during siesta, “I was his favourite muse and was about three or four and during my first saree photo session”.

As she left her idyllic childhood behind for studies and moved overseas it became harder and harder to continue with the saree love on a daily basis. But then Koel decided to to join the 100SareePact, a saree movement started by two friends who wanted to wear 100 sarees in 12 months and tell their saree stories.

Koel said, “Earlier I used to wear sarees for special occasions only, like birthdays/anniversaries/Durga Pujo, but ever since I started my 100SareePact journey last year and successfully reached the target in an year, it gave me immense motivation and strength to keep going. Geographical location, weather, profession, age, body type etc are all excuses we make up in our minds”.

She revels in wearing her saree loud and proud while globetrotting as one half of an expat couple, “I feel beautiful and feminine in a saree which usually doesn’t happen in any other attire. And also the fact that I am wearing my culture and tradition makes me feel proud too. Oh and not to miss that I love to be the ‘odd’ one out in a crowd…especially out of India”.

Her one buying tip to newbie saree enthusiasts is to go for handlooms to start with, “The most important piece of advice is to not let anyone else tell you what kind of sarees you should wear. Because you need to see and feel how a drape falls on your body rather than someone else tell you that”.

In her opinion, “Rules like ‘fat girl shouldn’t wear light and starchy tangails just because it might makes them look even bigger’ are bullshit. Pick whatever YOU think is beautiful and my one styling/draping tip is not to follow any rulebook. Just mix and match with any blouse/top/tees etc. with any colour you feel. Though I have never tried draping a saree without an in-skirt but I have seen a few who look stunning draped in a saree on jeans or trousers or dresses. So just be your own stylist”.

In these photos Koel is wearing a linen with different shades of thread in warp and weft which makes large checks of combination hues in the body with a lovely silver pallu and a thin silver border. She said, “I am crazy about silver zari and that is one reason i chose this saree”.

She says that her biggest saree wearing inspiration is her mother, “She (Koel’s Mother) has always looked so classy and elegant even in the simplest and inexpensive sarees. And even now at this old age she looks the best amongst the three of us (me and my sister) when we all wear sarees for any occasion”.

 

Get in touch with Koel via her instagram handle @k_babushka

 

Handloom silk in the French countryside

I didn’t wait for a special occasion to bust out this silk loveliness and wore it to prance around a tiny village set in the picturesque French countryside, surrounded by sandstone cottages, miles and miles of fields and lush green forests.IMG_2555IMG_2565IMG_2567IMG_2595Photos: Vincent Boyer (Say hi on instagram @vincetravelbook)

For sometime a few stray comments (meant as compliments) have been weighing on my mind and I’ve been meaning express my thoughts on them but since we’ve been away I didn’t get around to doing so. However, this past week a video came to my attention and I found the reaction to the video appalling on many levels.

I won’t bore you with the details but it was a video about five women in India accepting a challenge to wear the saree to work for five days. Let’s just say they weren’t exactly pleased but what really surprised me was the rabid nastiness of the online response I saw.

Here were these grown women who extolled the virtues of wearing handcrafted sarees, trolling a bunch of young girls because they expressed discomfort at wearing something that we apparently MUST respect as our cultural attire! Not to mention the body shaming in the name of feedback. I was asked to write an opinion piece on it and I politely declined because I don’t understand why I should have an opinion in what another woman finds easy or hard to wear all day.

Here’s the thing, I love handcrafted, ethically made clothing, I love wearing handloom-ed sarees, I love learning about them, I collect them and most of all I feel comfortable in the folds of something that I’ve been given with love. The saree in the photos above is something that my Mother painstakingly picked out on an incredibly hot afternoon in Chennai because she knew I would love it.

I didn’t wait for a special occasion to bust out this silk loveliness and wore it to prance around a tiny village set in the picturesque French countryside, surrounded by sandstone cottages, miles and miles of fields and lush green forests. I used to be intimidated by stiff silks till I learnt not to try and tame them into shape with safety pins but to just wear them in my own messy way.

I get a lot of messages telling me people love that I am promoting wearing sarees, I would like to clarify that I am a saree enthusiast and I am not promoting any particular type of clothing. I share what I like not what I think someone else should like.

I also don’t think that telling me women look their best in a saree is a compliment. Women should wear whatever they want to wear and it is nobody’s business but their own, it is not my or anyone else’s place to tell anyone what constitutes appropriate attire.

My point is that I choose to wear whatever makes me happy, whether it is the skimpiest bathers, booty shorts, anarkali or torn jeans and a raggedly tee-shirt or a fabulous saree. I carried a bunch of sarees including this one on a trip to Europe because I knew I’d want to wear them at some point, I also carried a whole lot of other clothing. A peek at my personal instagram or blog will show you that my clothing preferences vary wildly from day to day.

Telling people what to wear implies that they can’t think/ choose for themselves, women don’t exist to satisfy someone else’s gaze, nothing outweighs her own autonomy over how she chooses to exist in the world and we definitely don’t need commentary on our bodies or clothing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Indigo dabu print by the lakeside

Here you have a garment that didn’t cause much destruction to the environment while in production, is ageless, fits any size or gender, can be worn in innumerable ways and lasts and lasts ..

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

Immersed in the patterns of Rajasthani tribes in India’s west, this hand blocked dabu print indigo saree is the very definition of softness created with natural colours and gets better with ever wash. In my opinion, garments that have been made following age old practices not only look fabulous, they have a long life, are good for the environment and for the wearer as well.

Indigo, the most commonly known natural dye, is traced back to the days of the Indus valley civilisation, is the only dye that bonds naturally with cotton fibre, so it does not need a mordant (dye fixative) and (in my limited knowledge) it is also the only dye that is done in a cold process and not in a hot bath. It is highly revered among the craftsmen and wearing indigo dyed fabric is thereby considered auspicious.

Gorgeous embossed designs have been found on the cloth scraps in the carcass of Mohenjo Daro proving that block printing in India was used as early as 3000 B.C. One of the main forms of block printing consists of the Dabu & Bagru Block printing of the Thar desert.

If I could, I would solely wear natural over synthetic dyes, apart from being more sustainable natural dyes are also less of an irritant to one’s skin. Researchers have discovered that, as clothing comes into prolonged contact with one’s skin, toxic chemicals are often absorbed into the body, especially when one is warm and skin pores have opened to allow perspiration.

The fashion industry has been called the second biggest polluter on the planet and an average fast fashion garment does more harm than we can imagine to the environment. Think of the genetically modified seeds, harmful chemicals including synthetic dyes, pesticides and fertilizers, carcinogens, child labour, people losing their lives in questionable factories and pollution of water resources that are the requirements of the fashion industry.

Made from petrochemicals, polyester and nylon are not biodegradable, so they are unsustainable by their very nature. Cotton is a very thirsty plant and growing it in vast quantities can deplete valuable resources as well which is why I believe handcrafted/ hand loomed sarees that last generations are one of the most sustainable garments on this planet.

They are free-size so the fit is never a problem, if one doesn’t stress too much about matching blouses and fitted underskirts it is genuinely one of the longest lasting item of clothing a person could have.

Also this saree blouse and petticoat business is a Victorian British introduction which I have no fondness for. Don’t get me wrong, I love elaborate cholis and bright saree blouses as much as the next person but I don’t think the lack of those, impacts one’s ability to wear a saree.

Wearing different coloured tops and accessories along with a novel drapes can genuinely completely change the look. So basically here you have a garment that didn’t cause much destruction in production, is ageless, fits any size or gender, can be worn in innumerable ways and lasts and lasts.

Have I made enough of an argument about how ethical produced sarees are one of the most sustainable garments known to humans?

 

 

Print on print done the handcrafted way

Just do you! Whatever takes your fancy. There is no right size, shape, pattern, colour or drape that looks better on you because some rule book says so.

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

I love the feel of a light, soft cotton mulmul saree especially when it is hand block printed with lovely colours and paired with another block print flowy top. Often I knot the pallu multiple times on very light sarees so it stays in place and is easier to manage.

Also a lot of times I’ve been given (unsolicited) advice on what to wear with what and because I am on the skinny side I’ve often been told wearing loose clothes make me look shapeless. So here’s my two cents on what to wear with sarees: Whatever the hell you want to wear.

Don’t have a matching blouse? Wear it with a tee-shirt. Too hot for a tee-shirt? Wear it with a swim-suit top. Don’t like plain blouses? Wear print on print. Don’t like bright colours? Wear all the greys, browns and any colour you like. Like bright colours but worry that you look too colourful? Just wear every colour you like, all together. Hate wearing underskirts? Wear the saree with your denim shorts. Hate wearing heels? Rock your saree with your keds or motorcycle boots. Hate wearing flats? Wear your sky high heels to duck out to the supermarket.

Just do you! Whatever takes your fancy. There is no right size, shape, pattern, colour or drape that looks better on you because some rule book says so. One more time someone tells me, “Beta its great to see that you like sarees, but (I am sure you can finish the sentence) … I will genuinely throw a heavy rock at their face.

People come in all shapes, sizes, colours, genders and sexual orientations, there is no rule-book that can capture the vastness of the various kinds of people and we shouldn’t limit our imaginations. Tell me what is your favourite way to break the saree wearing rules?

P.S. This saree is actually three dupattas stitched together to form a length of fabric long enough to drape with pleats around me. Like I said, no rules!

 

Gamcha saree and Sydney autumn

Every piece in this outfit has tells a story, of the people who make it and the indigenous cultures that benefit from consumers ethically purchasing original pieces of hand-made clothing.

 

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

The saree I am wearing here is a coarse, stiff, handloom-ed cotton gamcha worn with a kediyu that young Bharvad girls wear paired with a Wayuu Mochila bag.

The gamcha is a thin, coarse, traditional cotton towel from the Indian subcontinent that comes in different sizes, colour schemes and complexity of pattern based on the width of the loom. They are a staple in homes where I come from in East India, are woven locally and I find the chequered pattern endlessly fascinating.

The Bharvad are a group of people who used to lead nomadic lives herding cattle, goats and sheep in Gujarat, western India. They wear the most amazing clothes as well as jewellery, all of which is hand-crafted in designs and patterns specific to the tribe.

I don’t believe in having matching blouses and petticoats for every saree, I like to make my separates work with multiple items. For example: This kediyu is worn here as a saree blouse, is also used as a jacket as well as a top with jeans and I am actually wearing a denim skirt under the saree.

The bag in the photos is a Wayuu Mochila piece made by the indigenous women of the Wayuu Tribe from La Guajira, Colombia. Each Mochila Bag is a unique piece of art on its own and takes about a month to be hand-knitted.

Every piece in this outfit has tells a story, of the people who make it and the indigenous cultures that benefit from consumers ethically purchasing original pieces of hand-made clothing. I am looking to build a more meaningful wardrobe comprising of pieces representing a deeper connection to the earth through natural fabrics and to cultures who make their clothes through artisanal crafting and design.