Perfect saree pleats feat. a vintage jamdani

A lot of people insist on the perfect pleats on a saree but I wonder why that is?





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

There are a plethora of articles online telling women how to wear sarees, with tips to get the neatest pleats to look slim, elegant, poised and who knows what else.

What these articles seem to forget is that women are living breathing entities who actually believe it or not run around and get sh*t done. And people who are doing stuff and living their lives don’t have the time or the inclination to perfectly pleat their sarees. Also, what I find most appalling about these articles is that they are almost always written by women.

The multiple ways in which women who wear sarees are shamed by other women are subtle but obvious, small but inescapable. What is the big deal about perfect pleats anyway? To be honest the stiff safety pinned look does nothing for me.

These articles get shared and re-shared and we’ve set up a world in which wearing a saree seems like an unknowable mystery and we all feel at least a little unsure and bad about ourselves while trying to sort it out.

I don’t know what is it but asserting some sense of moral authority, know-how, expertise at another’s expense seems like people’s favourite sport. We like rules and we like checklists and we are vulnerable to people who seem like they have it all figured out.

Rules about wearing a saree well are not actually real but a reflection of the institutionally sizeist/racist/ageist/misogynist stew we’re all marinating in.

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 you should be wearing your unstitched cloth — not the bullies, not the rule-makers, not the writers of stupid articles online.

Often people think there’s only one way to wear a sari – that is the ‘Nivi’ drape.

But the truth is that there are hundreds of different region specific ways to drape a sari.  Just like cuisines,  language and customs in India – the drapes are an outcome of context, geography, climate and function.

I would assume that there are other drapes that have died out or ones that haven’t yet been officially documented. And this safety-pinned neatly pleated look that most of us are told to aspire to is a very recent concoction.

So I say, wear whatever the hell kinda saree you want, in any damn way you want. We are all perfectly imperfect and our sarees don’t have to be impeccably pleated if we are happy running around chasing our dreams and having fun.

I strut around all day in this vintage jamdani, put it on over my bathing suit in the morning, road-tripped in it through tropical rainforests, danced in the said forests, took it off to swim and put it back on, had a picnic lunch, drank copious amounts of beer, hug and kissed my love and above all chased waterfalls with him all day.

I see no reason for neat pleats or to ‘secure’ the saree with safety pins while doing any of the above. Even at work, I refuse to pin my pallu up, instead I use it as a scarf to protect me from the freezing temperatures.

In fact, I feel most people overuse safety pins  and often make their sarees more rigid, which is not absolutely not how I wear my un-stiched cloth.

As women, we need to set new saree styling rules for ourselves, ones that have nothing to do with age, body types, colors or shapes but everything to do with how our clothing makes us feel.




Sarees: A link to the motherland

We all have black and white photos in our houses of our mothers, grandmothers, maashis and pishees in sarees that in equal measures intimidate and inspire us. For those of us in the diaspora these photos along with vintage sarees are a safe deposit box of family history, draping inspiration and a search for identity — a lifetime of gathering pleats and draping the pallu.

Nina and Gopa

Amrita’s mother (on the right) with her younger sister Nina both in saris though they would not have been past their early twenties

Gopa and Rimpa1

Amrita’s mother with her as a baby – staring curiously at the camera while she smiles at her child with love
Gopa and Sweta (2)
Amrita’s mother (on the left) with her younger sister Sweta
Teen BhaiiBou (2)


Amrita’s mother (on the extreme right) and her sisters-in-law on the roof of her ancestral home just after her parents’ marriage

This post is written by Amrita Dasvarma based in Byron Bay, Australia and the photos are a stunning repository of her family story taken by her camera enthusiast father Gouranga Dasvarma.

As a little girl growing up outside of the land of my birth, the sari to me was a mystical garment – yards and yards of cloth – silks, cottons or chiffons, block-printed or bordered with intricate zari work, which my mother, with a flick of her wrist and dexterous fingers, would drape around herself in a matter of minutes.   Not a button or zipper or safety-pin in sight, just pleats and folds and voila!

For my mother, saris were a coveted garment – she tells me stories of how at age 9 or 10, while other girls were running around in skirts and dresses, she would sneak saris out of her auntie’s wardrobe and put them on, racing to her friend’s house before getting caught.  And then by the age fifteen, saris became the school uniform.  

It boggles my mind even today how much she, my grandmother, and my aunties manage to do in a sari – from bending over a boti (an old-fashioned scythe shaped cutting knife used in traditional Bengali kitchens to chop vegetables) to running after an over-crowded bus on a Kolkata street to hop on as the driver slowed down (never to a complete stop,) to tending to the needs of family members, from toddlers to elderly in-laws.  

My mother for me is my most intimate link to the land of my birth – India.  She taught me how to wear my first sari, usually when dressing up for folk dance performances or one of Rabindranath Tagore’s dance dramas – Shyama, Chitrangadha, or for Saraswati Pujo or the week-long Durga Pujo.

I love looking at old black and white photos of my mother and her sisters in their saris – they stir in me a nostalgia for a time of glamour and femininity long gone.  And it saddens me that I am more comfortable in jeans and t-shirts than in my native sari.

The #100sarisin100days and #sareenotsorry movements flooding Instagram make me think – perhaps I could put on a sari now and then – why should I be intimidated to wear my heritage as countless women have done before me, as countless women still do?  Why should I only stick to special occasions – pujas, festivals, weddings, name ceremonies, dance performances, to pull out the saris I have been gifted?  And perhaps, over time, I too will be able to throw a sari on with the grace of my mother (and without the help of safety-pins?)