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