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!

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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.

The Dhoti style saree drape

A handcrafted beauty of a saree in the dhoti drape with a silk stole worn as a halter top for an afternoon of fun …

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

If you follow the Pleats N Pallu on instagram you will know that I rarely wear my everyday sarees in the usual Nivi drape. I get bored with things easily and feel there is so much more that can be done with the six-yards of fabric.

One of my most repeated drapes is the dhoti (or dhuti as we say in Bengali) drape that I customise a lot once the bottom is done. I find this style really easy to play with, especially with the usual saree length as I don’t have very many nine-yard sarees.

The saree I have worn here is a hand crafted beauty received as a gift from a woman I have come to admire and love. I wore it in the dhoti/ pant drape with a fanned out section at the back, no petticoat, no safety pins and no fuss for an afternoon of fun. The blouse worn with the saree is a silk stole that I wore as a halter top. I like using everything I have as separates and put them together in ways that are pleasing to my eyes.

A few posts ago I waxed eloquent about the global saree sisterhood and these photos are a visual representation of it. This saree is a Durga Pujo gift from one of the wonderful ladies I have met via the online community of women who love the six-yards. Deepa has fabulous taste and I am beyond grateful she and her wonderful M thought of me during the festive season.

I think the love for handcrafted textiles binds a lot of us in a bond of affection that is hard to describe. Deepa and I started talking about sarees but discovered one day that conversing with each other became a daily part of our routines. We can chat for hours moving from topic to topic and not tire.

There is tremendous support and strength in solidarity and I completely believe that women supporting each other can vanquish all negativity. I absolutely reject the idea that women inherently envy each other. Women competing, comparing, undermining and undercutting one another is just the prevailing notion of how we interact. It doesn’t have to be our absolute truth.

Women don’t hate each other but patriarchy does dictate that we should. It is a system ensures that we are in constant competition with each other. It is 2017 and we should stop seeing each other as rivals, and more as comrades.

Patriarchal and misogynistic systems will only collapse when women stop holding themselves and fellow women to its standards. So, can we just stop reinforcing this trope that women are inherently ‘bitchy’ toward each other? It doesn’t do us or other ladies any good and will hold us back in a system that is already doing its best to keep us down.

Women standing together is patriarchy’s biggest threat.

If you want to follow the saree Goddess that is Deepa you can find her on instagram.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

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)

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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