What does the saree mean to a 21st century woman like me, a global citizen with very strong ties to India?
Photos: Vincent Boyer (Say hi on instagram @vincetravelbook)
For eons partiarchy has dictated what women should wear and deviating from the norm has had devastating consequences for some. As I watch my motherland descend into a violently misogynistic, fiery pit from the relative safety of another country, I wonder why the saree is so important to me?
The answer is that I actually find the unstitched cloth tremendously practical. I wear it to work, to hang with friends, to go to a pub, to go out dancing, to hike and sometimes just to chill at home. I wear it not to make a statement or to be different but just because I feel like it.
The saree is just another type of garment option I have, separate from the centuries of traditions. I wear the saree when I want to live my life as a living, breathing person not as the flag bearer of my culture or faith.
Things like societal rules, family values, race, religion and socio-economic status continue to impact clothing choices of Indian women. However, many of us are cultivating personal styles that are a reflection of our own personality, interests and identity.
The kind of 21st century woman I choose to be is fearless and willing to experiment. I wear whatever I feel like based on my mood and needs, naysayers be damned.
It is a personal choice for me to choose to wear clothing that is made sustainably with natural fabrics that don’t clog up landfills for the next thousand years. And sarees are only a part of the plethora of options I give myself.
Over time I have realised my desire to wear the saree has less to do with tradition et heritage, and more to do with the versatility of the garment. I love the sheer number of handloom weaves from each state in India and the innumerable ways I can play with them.
I love the fact that the six or nine yards of unstitched fabric is unstructured and I can knot, tuck as well as pleat away to my hearts content.
For some reason men have always described the saree-clad woman as a poetic figure, enveloped in the mist of the nation’s collective imagination. But in the 21st century we are very happy to be visible in a way that goes beyond the trendiness of the drape or the fabric. I wear the saree as I wish, in ways that are practical to me, not to pander to someone’s idea of a decent or beautiful.
No matter what people might say, the saree is not the national costume of India and its definitely not the religious dress for Hindus. For me it is just a fun way of expressing myself that connects me to centuries of women who have worn this garment.
However, I have no desire to dress as women from the past, I am me and I dress like myself.
The saree has persisted, transformed and continues to evolve, enveloping the changing world in its folds but also remaining consistently true to its innate fluidity. And remains as relevant to me, a fiercely feminist 21st century woman as it is to a girl in the Indian hinterland.
The saree isn’t burdened by the labels we put on ourselves, it is free and I am only trying to imbibe some of that freedom.
I wore this wonderful handloom saree from Madhya Pradesh on a long bike ride and then an arduous hike to get to this magical spot. It was bought from a fabulous lady who goes exploring the deepest corners of India and Bangladesh to source locally made, hand crafted textiles that are a sight for sore eyes. You can find her on instagram and facebook.