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.

 

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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?

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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.

 

 

Laying claim to the six yards: The saree as a beach wrap

Rocking a vintage handloom silk saree with woven in ikat patterns by the seaside as a beach wrap …

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

I’ve spoken about my love for ikats before (here) and have draped another vintage worn-in silk in a similar pattern (here), so today I won’t drone on about my low-key obsession with the textile.

I want to talk about wearing the saree, it is mostly viewed as a private affair and one doesn’t see a woman making heavy adjustments to her drape in public. And here I am wearing the saree over my bathers and basically using it as a casual beach wrap.

The saree has not always been worn in ways that are popular today. For example the women in my family didn’t always wear blouses or petticoats, they didn’t sew falls at the bottom or use safety-pins.

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.

A lot of people believe that the saree is the most graceful/ feminine garment a woman can wear and attach a lot of religious or cultural connotations to it. I call bull-shit on all of that. I am for women choosing whatever the hell they want to wear.

I have no qualms about wearing a saree to the beach, taking it off for a swim and draping it back on over my bathing suit. I also have no inhibitions about playing in the water wearing the unstitched cloth on me.

Does that make me an immodest, vulgar woman? If you think that about a person, it just shows your state of mind and does nothing to describe who I am.

Here’s the thing, I have no problems with any of those words. Labels are for boxes, I am a person, a woman and I will wear the saree in any way I want to. Does that make me an extreme feminist? Sure, I AM an extreme feminist, in that I believe in equality and personal freedom.

I am loud-mouthed with an opinion on everything, I take up space and refuse to back down when faced with nonsense.

Also, let me be clear, I am not the first person to portray the saree as some sort of swimwear. Countless women in the hinterland who live by streams and rivers swim across banks, tucking in their sari, wash parts of the sari while some of it remains draped, and emerge from the waters with not a pleat out of place.

Wearing a saree in my own way makes me feel like its mine. Not society’s to dictate, not men’s to find me attractive, not something to worry about or to define my femininity, just mine to play with and enjoy.

I am me and mine, I refuse to be anyone else or anyone else’s. I am celebrating the six and nine yards in my own way and hoping that other’s will also feel the urge to free themselves from the rigid rules of wearing the saree.

Indian women get a lot of unsolicited expectations on what we are and are not supposed to be and do. I find that terribly restricting and feel that a lot of us are capable of a lot more if only we break the made up shackles that bind us to outdated traditions.

My online presence is a form of resistance to the shaming and silencing we constantly face as women. This blog and its social media presence is a celebration of the spirit of freedom, personal style, the fluidity of the saree and above all choice.

Why do I wear sarees the way I do?

Immersing myself in breathtaking scenery and natural waterfalls is one of my most favourite things to do…Sometimes I do it in handcrafted sarees that make the experience even more fun.

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

We went over to Tropical North Queensland recently and these photos were taken on a day spent exploring the rainforests, chasing waterfalls and experiencing some of the best natural swimming holes Australia has to offer. I wore an Ajrakh block print saree over my bathers to go on the adventure. There was no petticoat worn as per usual and the swimsuit top made the perfect blouse, I don’t really care that it is not an exact match.

There are many saree wearing women and men who  have been wonderful in sharing their knowledge, sources, expertise and sometimes even their six yard beauties with me. I am forever grateful to them and love interacting with them online.

However, I have also been asked a lot of asinine questions by random strangers here on my blog and on my instagram in all manner of ways, some curious, some polite, some territorial and some downright obnoxious.

Normally I just delete the comment or block the person depending on how nasty or abusive their comment is. This post however answers some of the weird questions/ comments I get for wearing the saree. These are literally the exact words typed to me or someone else close to me.

If you don’t like opinionated women who use strong/ coarse language, this is the time to look away.

  1. Don’t you think you could have worn the saree a little higher or a little more modestly?

Bitch please! I’ve worn the saree this way and posted the photos online, do you really think your stupid, passive aggressive bullshit will make me question myself? Eff off!

    2. Why does she wear jamdanis with sneakers and jump around so much? I wouldn’t be able to do it.

Exactly auntyji! Aap se nahin ho payega. One, you limit the saree with your regressive thinking, two, you have no imagination and three, you’re too ungainly. So take your judginess elsewhere. What footwear I wear with the unstitched cloth is my business!

    3. She’s so bold naah? (Btw WTF is bold? I mean seriously its 2018.)

Yes, I am bold and ferocious. Apparently much more so than you. Do you know what you’re doing is using a positive word in a slut shamey/ body shamey way? Go home and read about how women like you internalise misogyny.

   4. I don’t like. Why you wear the sadi like this?

I don’t remember asking for your opinion?! If you don’t like it/me, look away. Its that simple! I wear my sarees the way I want, now go be your ignorant self elsewhere.

   5. Why you wear saree if you don’t be with Hindu boy?

One, none of your business who I am with. Two, I wear sarees because they are fun and not because I am trying to be a good Hindu. My faith is my own and won’t be plastered online. Also, please take a look at your grammar and/ or spelling before you hit post!

   6. Are you too poor to get proper saree blouses made?

Are you too stupid to understand women can wear whatever they want?

  7. Why don’t you wear make-up and/or show your face?

Because this blog is about sarees, not my face with or without make-up. Now, why don’t you go educate yourself about the perils of asking redundant questions?

  8. Why did you say no to a collab with me/ my brand?

Because I am not here to sell sarees. If I mention a brand, it is because I have high regard for them, not because they gave me a saree or offered to pay me for a post. I choose to be picky and don’t partner with everyone that asks. I refuse to be the person who just posts to shove a brand down their readers throat.

  9. How do you pee/ poop in a saree?

Are you f**king kidding me? Just like the women in your family have for generations. Now go annoy your mother with this question.

 10. How can you say nine yard sarees are fun? Do you even really wear them or is it just to attract attention?

I actually think that nine yard sarees are heaps fun and the extra fabric is great to play with. Yes, I really wear them a lot just like women before me have for centuries. Please take your idiocy elsewhere.

  11. How can you talk about wearing sarees on this blog and instagram and then have pictures in bathing suits on your other blog and instagram?

Are you for real? I didn’t know one couldn’t wear sarees as well as swimsuits. Its simple really, if I go swimming I wear a swimsuit and when I want to drape my six yards I do so. Now you do something actually useful with your time!

These are just some of the gems that come my way and I am sure a lot of women with an online presence get this and much more. I wish 2018 is the year when the world finally realises that women just get to be who they want and that the saree has no religion.

 

Nine yard sarees as everyday wear?

Wearing a nine yard saree is actually quite fun if we think for ourselves and give it our own spin beyond the dos and don’ts. I think I could wear sarees every single day of my life and still be able to interpret it in new ways …

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

It really bothers me that nine-yard sarees have been relegated to as occasion wear for a very select few.

A lot of us have traditional nine yard Nauvari or Madisar sarees wasting away in our wardrobes at home as they seem too overwhelming to try and drape. Often times we’ve only been shown the more accepted traditional ways of draping them which might not really be the most practical.

I believe longer sarees are heaps fun as there is more fabric to play with. If you are keen to experiment with seven or nine yard sarees, here are some things that have worked for me to keep going in my longer saree journey:

  1. Soft cotton sarees preferably vintage work the best for the first few experiments. Leave silk sarees alone especially for the first couple of attempts and even if you do want to try wearing a silk saree I would suggest older, softer silks.
  2. I don’t let myself get overwhelmed with the availability of fabric and genuinely try to have fun with my drapes.
  3. I love delving into regional drapes that maybe unknown to most and with the sari series now available online there is no excuse not to try them.
  4. I believe in absolutely avoiding the petticoat as it is annoying to me in general and intolerable with my seven and nine yard sarees.
  5. Avoiding safety pins and keeping myself un-restricted really assists in wearing longer sarees. The drape in the photos has been worn with no safety pins at all and it just helps me be comfortable and stay mobile.
  6. Not limiting myself to what is conventionally acceptable as a saree and a blouse opens up heaps of new possibilities.
  7. Styling the nine-yard saree as per my personality and preferences helps me use these sarees and also enjoy them. I wear the accessories, shoes and jewellery I want not what I’ve been conditioned to think is correct.
  8. I believe anything over six yards makes for wonderful winter wear as there is extra fabric to keep me warm.
  9. Not limiting myself to the traditional even less known regional drapes. I love playing the with the unstitched cloth to do different things like creating two pallus, draping longer sarees into stunning lehengas and much more.
  10. Getting a saree customised to my liking. Any saree doesn’t have to be what is available in shops, unstitched yardage in weaves that one prefers usually looks amazing. I was very keen to play with nine yard sarees but didn’t have access to one, what I am wearing here is actually four dupattas sewn together to make one.

If you are curious about nine yard sarees please know that there are ways to play with them for traditional as well as non-traditional occasions.

In these photos I am wearing eight metres of hand block print fabric in the Boggili Posi Kattukodam Drape, worn by the Golla shepherd community and Gudati Kapulu agriculturists of southern Andhra Pradesh.

The blouse is a vintage Kutchi choli that I bought ages ago to wear for Garba but now wear with jeans and sarees as well.

I hope many more of us will give longer sarees a go and explore the myriad possibilities of the unstitched fabric and the fun we can have with them.

 

Travel outfits that include sarees

Want to travel in a saree? Read on to find out how I manage to gallivant around the world in my six and nine yard drapes …

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

A few months ago, I went to Europe and met an amazing lady in Amsterdam ( Hey Koel!)who gave me this beauty of an Ajrakh saree that I treasure and wore non-stop on the trip. Here I have worn the saree in a little village in Picardie with an oft repeated top that you have seen worn in France here and here.

I get asked very often how and why I incorporate sarees on my travels across different parts of the world. Travelling is fun and dressing up while exploring a new country is even more fun. Do I just wear sarees when I travel? No! Do I wear sarees as frequently as my heart desires, travel or no travel? Hell yeah!

I am not looking to exude sophistication while I am on the go. I like to wear what makes me happy as well as be comfortable and I really believe that one needs way less than one thinks during travel.

I think every person is different but because I have been asked this question very often, here’s a list of what I do to travel with ease in my six and nine yard beauties:

  1. I carry comfortable, often used clothing when I travel and that extends to my sarees as well. I am not one of those people who buys new clothes to travel.
  2. I absolutely abhor the petticoat (underskirt) on normal days and there is no way I will wear one while travelling. Using denims and other skirts/ shorts/ pants I already am carrying saves space in my suitcase.
  3. I don’t mind wearing lighter/ translucent sarees without a full-length skirt underneath. However, if that is something you would rather not do, I would suggest carrying darker colours or thicker drapes that offer the coverage you want.
  4. It’s fun to get creative and use the same item of clothing in different ways and pair it with multiple pieces in the suitcase. Like versatile tops make great saree blouses, skater skirts make great tops and my cotton six yard stunners make great beach cover-ups.
  5. I would suggest not worrying about the perfect pleats or pallu, just concentrate on being comfortable and having fun.
  6. I never ever use safety-pins. Knots, pleats and tucks work way better than something that is likely to jab me while I nap on the train!
  7. Ignore people who say sarees should always be worn with heels. I carry four to five comfortable pairs of shoes that go with everything I wear. You will see me wearing the same shoes with jeans or skirts or sarees.
  8. The same goes for my bags, saree or no saree I carry bags that are roomy without being too bulky. I don’t have the space in my suitcase or patience to have a different bag for every outfit.
  9. Also, likewise for jackets. I wear my sarees with leather, denim or wool jackets/ cover-ups. Every piece of clothing I carry goes with at least four different things in my suitcase.
  10. I also don’t worry about carrying the right kind of jewellery for sarees or any other outfits. I carry a mad bunch of silver and beaded jewellery that I love to wear and don’t care about being matchy-matchy.
  11. Instead of carrying a whole heap of sarees, I change the way I drape, switch the tops and style the same ones differently. This same saree was worn with a Metallica tee-shirt while bumming around Paris and on the Metro with our luggage.
  12. If you are not comfortable with different drapes, I would suggest playing with the length of the saree to ensure comfort and enable movement.
  13. Avoid trailing pallus, I normally wrap mine like a scarf around my neck to keep it out of the way when rushing about.
  14. I spot clean my sarees and hand-wash and dry them in the bathroom after three to four wears. There is nothing more annoying than taking dry-clean only sarees and search frantically for a dhobi during a trip.
  15. I don’t think of a saree any differently than any other item of clothing, just wear them when I want to and do just fine.

And for those of you wondering why I wear sarees during my travels … I wear what I want, when I want, where I want and how I want.

I have never not carried a few sarees while travelling and really don’t think it is a big deal to travel in sarees. My Mother and GrandMother as well as countless other women from the sub-continent have traipesed across the globe in their sarees and I am just following in their foot-steps.

That is it – this is how I travel in sarees and it works for me. What are your travel outfit essentials?

 

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.