A fun way to drape the saree as a dress

The saree is too fabulous and fluid to be defined by one drape …

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

Here is a glorious length of handcrafted bandhani saree that has been worn over a sweater in a fun and flowy drape for a rainy winter day in Sydney.

There are over 100 different traditional ways that sarees can be draped and those can be tweaked by a wearer as per their comfort. One can also just play with fabric to come up with drapes that are totally one’s own but a lot of us are told there is only one correct way that the unstitched cloth can be worn.

Textiles and crafts have played a leading role in defining India’s cultural and national identity for many millenia. What we traditionally wore and how we wore it were markers of who we were, where exactly we came from and our place in society.

However today the increasingly globally mobile diaspora blends a vast array of influences and in the process we are forging a style identity that is all our own but hints at our love for the Motherland.

A lot of us display our Indianness in non-obvious ways and that often becomes a contentious subject of discussion. You only have to look at the conversations on my instagram’s comments section to see the old guard at loggerheads with people who choose to think for themselves.

Apparently people are under the impression that sarees need to be saved or revived?! It is a free-spirited garment that never died nor does it need any saving, it is being re-interpreted by men and women everyday.

It is a subject of fraught conversations between those who want to hold on to tired ideas of how women must present themselves and people like myself who are happy dancing to the beat of our own drum.

Just as the apps we use, languages we speak, the food we eat and the customs we follow constantly get updated, the saree too, through contemporary drapes finds new ways of expression. Culture is defined by and belongs to everyone, it is continually changing, absorbing, accepting the diversity around it and that’s what makes it relevant.

Reducing the saree to one single drape is a travesty of tragic proportions. Trying to pin down the six and nine yards of unstitched fabric with regressive definitions of femininity isn’t just awful, it’s contrary to what the garment stands for.

It is one of the oldest, continually worn, unisex garment in documented history, too versatile to be restrained by sermons of propriety that seem to accompany draping it.

Also pan-Indian womanhood is not a thing. Historically the subcontinent has never been a wholesome unit but a collection of many cultures with dressing patterns that only loosely resembled each other in the regions that were close.

The saree needs to be a part of our everyday vernacular to thrive and it definitely needs to be separated from the formality it is currently associated with. Traditional textiles, personal style, experimentation, street fashion, everyday wear, culture and couture don’t have to all sit in separate boxes.

They are what we make of them, informed by our rich heritage but successfully fusing contrasting identities to make one glorious cocktail.

The uncut cloth is all about individual expression, agency and above all personal style. It is unfair to restrict it to one acceptable drape and call everything else incorrect.

If you want to see more drape experiments with similar gajji silk bandhani sarees, please click here and here. To see an ikat silk draped as a beach wrap click here, for a block print mulmul draped as an every day dress to walk the dog in click here and for a plain cotton handloom beauty draped as a dress click here.

My point is that there have never been set rules to enjoy wearing sarees, generations of women have adapted the garment to be what they needed the unstitched cloth to be and anyone who tries to tell me otherwise is plain ignorant.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Saree: The ultimate all weather garment

I firmly believe that the unstitched cloth adapts beautifully to varied weather conditions, and that the saree is the ultimate all weather garment …

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

Depending on how I drape my saree and what I wear with it, I can easily take the same handloom saree from work to hikes and really hot summers to really cold winters.

Take for example what I am wearing in these photos, we went for picnic by a beautiful lake and it was warm during the day so I wore this really cute cold-shoulder blouse with a hand-spun and hand-woven ‘Bavan buti’ (52  motif) saree from Bihar.

However, post sunset it started to get chilly and I added my cardigan on top of the blouse and switched the pallu up to keep me warm. Basically I can be comfortable all year round just by making small changes to the pallu and a few add-on accessories.

I have made a list of how I stay warm in sarees in the colder months on a previous post that you can read here.

Trust me when I say that the saree can handle a wide range of weather conditions. The insulation can be increased or decreased just by changing the drape on the upper body.

The winter drapes that I create for myself, along with merino base layers, jackets and the right footwear keep me warm and toasty. In the summer I wear my sarees on the beach over swimwear and keep the drapes pretty minimal and flowy.

I also have no qualms about wearing the saree shorter than the ankle length preferred by most. I just lift the sari hem up some inches to the calves, creating more legroom and improved circulation up the legs. And as the weather starts to bite I just wear a pair of leggings or jeans instead of nothing under my six-yards to keep myself warm.

I can reduce the insulation of a sari to pretty much my swimsuit and take it up to that of warm winter wear when I need to.

In general, my rule of thumb for cold environments is to get lots of insulation and devise a clothing system that allows me to shed layers quickly and easily. Therefore I prefer several thinner wool garments better than one bulky overcoat.

I wear my cotton sarees all through winter because my base and mid-layers are natural fabrics like wool and silk. Cotton is a poor choice for the base layer because it absorbs water and holds the water next to my skin where it will cool me off.

My wool and silk base layers on the other hand fit snugly against my skin and wick away water and keeping my skin dry. The right layers allow me to wear whatever kind of saree I want to wear and go about my life exploring the vast outdoors.

Also, I feel handspun and woven clothing like this saree has the special quality of holding heat in cold weather and cooling me when its hot.

This saree was sourced by Annie, a fabulous lady who goes exploring the deepest corners of India and Bangladesh to find locally made, hand crafted textiles that are a sight for sore eyes. I don’t wear a lot of saree blouses because I don’t have access to good tailors, but then Annie found a few ladies who were looking for gainful employment doing something from home.

And she’s now training these ladies to make the cutest blouses from the funnest fabrics like this hand blockprint cold shoulder blouse that encourages my twirling.  So, if you’re looking for fun, tailored blouses made by women in small town India looking to become independent get in touch with Annie via instagram and facebook.

Saree my way because rules are outdated

Saree the way I want, no rules, no safety pins, my own drapes and being comfortable because being elegant is overrated..

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

Here I am wearing a vintage Shantipur tant for brunch in the way I want, no petticoat, no blouse, just a swimsuit top and denim skirt…No big deal, right? But for some people it is a big deal that I prefer to be comfortable, like having fun in sarees and that I wear them in ways that appeal to me.

As women we a brought up being conditioned to think we are never enough, need to be sorry for everything and that we are responsible for things that are actually outside our control.

The multiple ways in which women who wear sarees are shamed by other women are subtle as well as obvious, small as well big and all of it is inescapable. This shaming is a result of arbitrary rules based on outdated notions that we should all be rejecting.

So here are some things I absolutely refuse to apologise for and/or be silent or embarrassed about:

  1. Wearing sarees in ways that no one else is wearing them: I hate wearing anything in the same way over and over again. The unstitched cloth is my canvas to drape, tuck, pleat, knot and have fun. I refuse to wear sarees in just the traditional ways and I don’t care what anyone else thinks of my experiments. There are no actual experts when it comes to wearing sarees, it is a fluid garment that takes the personality of the wearer. No one knows how I should be wearing my unstitched cloth — not the bullies nor the online trolls, not the rule-makers, or the writers of stupid articles online.
  2. Wearing blouses that don’t fit the correct notion of a saree blouse: I will wear anything with my sarees, bathing suit top work beautifully as blouses, as do tee-shirts, bandeau that I create out of fabric lying around or anything else that I feel like wearing. If it is offensive to your senses, look away from me and my photos.
  3. Not wearing a saree blouse at all: Traditionally women from my part of the country didn’t wear a blouse with their sarees, the six-yards did a perfect job of covering them up and then came the Britishers with their stupid notions of modesty that they forced on us. And women in India started to wear the petticoat and blouse under their sarees.
  4. Not looking elegant or graceful: No longer is the saree solely the domain of the traditional minded but by breaking all the tired rules of the garment I have ensured I can wear it when I want, where I want and how I want. I have no desire to be someone else’s idea of beautiful or elegant or graceful or ANYTHING, I style the fabric that clothes my body the way I want.
  5. My bra strap peeking out or wearing a bright bra under a light top: Seriously people, its the 21st century and I am a woman, therefore yes, there is a high chance that I’m wearing a bra. Yes, it’s visible through my sheer top and or the strap’s peeking out. No, that does not give you permission to point it out and make a scene. And if you’re so offended by it, just stop looking and everyone can be happy.
  6. Showing too much skin or wearing loose sweatshirts with sarees: Most people think that a saree must be worn modestly while respecting cultural traditions/ prohibitions. I have no time for that, I am laying claim to the six yards and refuse to wear it in any other way than what appeals to me. I will wear it with skimpy bathing suits top when its hot and with shapeless/ comfy sweaters when its cold out.
  7. Not wearing any makeup or wearing too much makeup: The fact of the matter is, I can look however I want when I wear a saree and when I don’t—be it with a full face of make-up or a completely bare face. I’m going to continue to choose whether to wear makeup—or forgo it—for as long as I damn well please.
  8. Sporting bad skin or having hair in the wrong places: Having bad skin days, stretch marks or hairy areas are all natural and there is no shame in that.Constant facials/ peels, shaving etc are painful chore and a duty which cost money, takes time and leaves your skin feeling irritated and scratchy. When life suddenly gets busy or stressful one ends up with a case of adult acne, stubble or unsightly areas. Its fine and there is no need to pretend to be picture perfect all the bloody time.
  9. Not wearing enough jewellery or wearing too much jewellery: There are no rules to how much jewellery a person should be wearing and that extends to when I wear sarees. Some days I could wear nothing, others I might go out looking like a fully decorated Christmas tree. I dress to delight the eight year old inside of me, people who look at me don’t figure into my plans.
  10. For being the size and shape I am: I’ve read my fair share of social media posts and open letters over the years that have generally agreed that skinny-shaming isn’t a big deal. The body positivity movement says that all body types should be celebrated, yet people are still shaming each other left and right. Even though it goes against the body positivity movement, society also tends to claim that skinny-shaming is okay because others would “love to be our size”. Screw that!
  11. Speaking my mind: The Internet is teeming with the vilest human characteristic of all: hatred. Bearing the brunt of these brutal virtual beatings are mainly girls.Those of us with opinions, those if us with independent thoughts or a bold sense of humour, those of us who dare to be different and above all those of us who attain the most precious freedom of all: freedom of the mind. I’m a girl who has always and forever possessed an opinion about what my eyes and ears so keenly observe; I actually can’t quite wrap my brain around the idea of apathy — I refuse to be shamed into being quiet.
  12. For not being the right balance of traditional and modern: A constant battle is being fought for the right to define what modern womanhood is. Some people would like to enforce what they think is culture, heritage and traditions by attacking those of us who refuse to conform. We are shamed for not getting the balance right. Screw that! GTFO!

I will never again be cowed by bullies or trolls and will never back down from my chosen way of living my life. More on the weave on my previous post on Shantipur tants from West Bengal.

Wearing a saree with a swimsuit top

Draping a saree over a swimsuit seems to generate a lot of strong sentiments in many women … Why is wearing a saree with a bikini top such a big deal? Why is that people’s pride and joy in their motherland is contained in someone else’s clothing? Why are women’s sartorial choices such a battle ground for those who indulge in moral policing?

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

Apparently, wearing a saree with a bathing-suit top is vulgar, an insult to my culture/ religion and a way to completely destroy what my country stands for!

Seriously? Is the Indian culture just so easy to ruin and destroy?

Why is it that a woman dressed comfortably is vulgar and men dressed in much less aren’t?  To those worried about ‘too much skin’ on show, I would like to point out all the Indian men with dad bods just lounging around shirtless or on the beach in their ugly ‘Rupa underwear/ baniyan’.

The severe scrutiny faced by women’s external attire and the moral policing of our bodies is not news to any of us. I call bull-shit on people trying this form of sexist disciplining on grown individuals like myself.

To the moral police, women’s bodies are a battlefield to hoist their flag of decency- body parts are provocative, female agency offensive, feminist actions an anathema and our collective living, breathing existence an abhorrence. Why?

I have no time for older women passing on the pearls of patriarchy to those of us who are viewed as younger or less modest. Let me remind all the ‘sankskari’ types who think all women should dress ‘modestly’ that there is no dress code defined by our culture or by our constitution. We are all free to dress however we like!

I wear what I like, go where I please, respond aggressively to sexism and misogyny coyly called eve-teasing, unlike the demure, quivering girl looking for a knight that patriarchy expects me to be.

Let me make myself clear, extreme forms of misogyny are flourishing in India, aided, abetted and perpetuated by the women who are self-appointed protectors of patriarchy.

And here’s my little message to women who victim blame, slut-shame or bully other women and police their choice of clothing or shove outdated ideas of modesty down other people’s throats: You are the cog in the wheel that is responsible for India’s rape culture and violence against women.

More posts of me wearing sarees with different swimwear here, here, here, here, here  and here .

 

Trekking in the mountains in a saree

Whether I am wearing a saree at a formal event, for an event at the pub or trekking in the mountains chasing waterfalls—details matter …

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

I posted one of the photos from this set on instagram recently and had a lot of people ask me how I wear sarees while trekking deep in the forests, while climbing or descending mountains.

I also had someone get very upset that I was setting dangerous precedents!

I didn’t know that wearing a saree on a trek was something that would elicit such a lot of response and garner such intense reactions. This is not the first time I have posted about hiking while draped in unstitched fabric, it will certainly not be the last. Case in point here, hereherehere, here, here and here.

For me wearing sarees is enjoyable, I don’t feel restricted in the saree because I don’t follow the arbitrary draping rules that govern the garment. I am no saree evangelist, I wear whatever I want, however I like. I just always ensure that my clothing doesn’t restrict my activity and believe that nothing can hold me back from doing what I truly want to do.

I have been hiking for years and truly know my fitness levels, prepare my gear based on the intensity of the climb and dress according to the weather.

When gearing up to head out on a hike, I make sure I have all the right equipment, such as the proper backpack, maps, footwear and other gear, I also wear the right clothes.

Wearing the right hiking clothes whether I choose to wear a saree or not is based on the same logic—knowing the type of trail I’ll be on, what the temperature and climate will be, and how long I’ll be outdoors.

The day that these photos were taken was quite cool, I wore multiple layers that could be taken off easily, the saree was draped to aid my movement plus worn at a length that I was comfortable with, the boots could easily handle the terrain, I was carrying everything I needed in my backpack and we knew exactly where we were going plus what to expect.

In these photos, the sweater I am wearing is merino wool, the saree I am wearing is super comfortable cotton with hand crafted bandhani motifs and the backpack I am carrying was handwoven by artisans in South America. Everything I wear and carry on a hike like this has a purpose and aids my activities.

I am no expert but I do know to invest in the right gear before embarking on a hike and I don’t push myself too far beyond my comfort zone when I am in the middle of the forest in the mountains.

The saree is just another clothing option I have that I find quite flexible and suited to the many outdoors activity that I choose to undertake. I am not asking anyone to follow my lead, I am quite happy marching to the beat of my own drum and wearing what I feel like.

 

Saree for the 21st century woman

What does the saree mean to a 21st century woman like me, a global citizen with very strong ties to India?

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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.

 

Walking the dog in a nandana print saree

Sarees can be a fuss-free but vibrant clothing option if only we eschew the popular edicts that govern women’s clothing  …

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

After a month of showcasing various weaves from West Bengal, I am ready to explore other states in my sartorial journey…

These photos were taken on an afternoon spent with the furbaby, playing in the park, walking around the neighborhood and getting yummy gelatos. Wore a Nandana print cotton saree draped in a fun way with a gajji silk bandhani blouse, no petticoat, no pins just easy breezy relaxed comfort.

Nandana is an elaborate style of hand block printing practiced by local Chippa community in the Tarapur village of Madhya Pradesh. It is a time consuming and labor intensive process involving about 16 steps to get to the final design.

Traditionally these prints decorated rough thick fabrics used for making ghagras by the women of tribal communities in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. These prints have a limited number of block patterns, mostly flowers and fruits and printed in the same manner all over the fabric.

I believe there are just five designs ranging from small buti to big buta known as mirch, champakali, dholamaru, amba and salaam are the signature motifs for these prints.

I love easy lengths of fabrics like this saree with handcrafted fun patterns because I don’t have to worry about them too much and can get on with my monkeying. I chuck them in the washing machine and never bother ironing out creases.

In the last decade my wardrobe has seen an addition of these kinds of fuss-free clothing over the harder to maintain pieces.

In my opinion the unstitched cloth can be a wonderfully practical garment that really adapts to the needs of the wearer if we remove the baggage of rules and  traditions.

The saree is a purely functional garment that has been saddled with too many do’s and don’ts.

We must remember that anyone can wear sarees (if they want to). Anyone can have fun with sarees, you don’t need video tutorials just an open mind and the willingness to play with them.

No one, I repeat no one is the wrong shape or size or age for them, and we must stop stressing about the nonsensical rules tied to the wearing of sarees.

Don’t believe me? Here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here are a few of my older posts where either my sister or I concocted a drape on handcrafted sarees.

None of these are the result of any one else’s tutorials, just the outcome of enjoying playing with the six yards of fabric.