Saree my way because rules are outdated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 This shaming is a result of arbitrary rules based on outdated notions that we should all be rejecting.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.

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Bengal handloom: Shantipur taant saree

And the Bengal handloom love continues in the form of this vintage Shantipur beauty…

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

আমার এই পথ-চাওয়াতেই আনন্দ।

খেলে যায় রৌদ্র ছায়া, বর্ষা আসে বসন্ত ॥

কারা এই সমুখ দিয়ে আসে যায় খবর নিয়ে,

খুশি রই আপন মনে– বাতাস বহে সুমন্দ ॥

(This is my delight, thus to wait and watch at the wayside where shadow chases light and the rain comes in the wake of the summer. Messengers, with tidings from unknown skies, greet me and speed along the road – Rabindranath Tagore

When one thinks of Bengal handloom sarees the image that immediately pops into people’s minds is of a woman in a laal paar in the athpourey drape. Which is a little bit of a shame since there is much more the state has to offer than just jamdanis, laal paar and the fish dhonekhali.

My fixation with Bengal handlooms is no secret and I have shared my intense love for them many times (hereherehere, here, here and here). So today I would like to focus on the weave that I am wearing in the photos.

It is a vintage Shantipur tant saree with a jharna weave in the body and a broad border called mathaapaar in Bengali. I am fairly certain the design on the saree is called the ‘Brindabani Mour Par’ where the border is depicted by peacocks and cotton yarn is used for both the base and the border.

The drape is my own concoction worn to make the most of the wide border and it stayed put all through an evening out without a single safety pin.

The weaving centre of Shantipur in Nadia district of West Bengal, India, is just 90 kilometres north of the the city of joy. Neighbouring Fulia is often uttered in the same breath with Shantipur even though both the cities produce distinctly different kinds of sarees.

Shantipur has been a weaving centre for centuries and Fulia only came to flourish after the partition of Bengal.

Some of the first mentions of the long history of weaving in the Shantipur cluster began with the records of handloom artisans having settled down in the township during the reign of King Ganesha of Gaur, Bengal in the earlier part of the 15th century. Their work received wide national acclaim during the reign of King Rudra Roy of Nadia in late 17th century.

Weaving flourished throughout the medieval era, and the famed indigo-dyed Neelambari gained the Shantipur saree fame.

What I find really inspiring is that the weaving artisans of Shantipur united to agitate against colonialism of the British East India Company and even took their grievances to colonial courts during the 19th century.

For me there is a strange minimalism in donning vintage sarees like this one with broad borders as opposed to heavily embellished ones with sequins, baubles and diamante.

I am not big on surface ornamentation of the disco ball kinds and prefer the artistry to be embedded into handwoven fabrics like this one. I find weaves like this opulent but subtly understated at the same time.

And to me nothing defines understated splendour like elaborate taant sarees from amar sonar Bangla.

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.

 

 

Tips for buying handlooms online

This post is for those of you who live outside of the sub-continent and have asked me questions about starting your handloom journey. If you are already a handloom connoisseur, you don’t need me to tell you what to do …

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

I would love to buy all my sarees from brick and mortar shops, hole in the wall shacks in bazaars, sleepy Government emporiums or Khadi bhandars, directly from artisans at various exhibitions and on visits to weaving clusters …However, I live no where close to any of the above.

So, I often wear and re-wear my sarees, wait to go home to India to satisfy my buying fix or coax my friends with impeccable taste into picking stuff up for me. But there are a lot of you who may be new to the idea of handloom sarees and I do know that not everyone in the diaspora goes to India often.

So here are some things I have learnt about shopping online for handlooms as a beginner:

  • I prefer to buy from websites that have the the handloom mark or are government certified handloom resellers. Also, most of the bigger websites will have complimentary services to get the fall attached to the bottom of the saree and close the edges.
  • Remember to be patient and look for what really feels like you. Whether we like it or not, most saree websites stock what is popular among customers (i.e. bling-ey non-handlooms), so you will need patience to sift through.
  • Set your own budget, there is a handloom saree for EVERY budget. Don’t let anyone tell you that your interest is not legitimate because you are not buying the latest super expensive revival weave and/ or you are not a textile scholar.
  • Don’t let anyone else tell you what to buy and what to pair with what. Especially ignore cranky purveyors of saree sanctity on various saree groups.
  • Interact with people online who are passionate about sarees, they will be able to point you in the right direction.
  • When buying online, ask questions to know what you are buying:

– what is the material and where has it been sourced?
– is it from a weaver or a middle person? (imo stay away from resellers who refuse to call themselves that.)
-what exactly is handcrafted and what is special about the work? (A craftsperson or an honest reseller should also be able to give you some added information and knowledge of the weave/print/ craft.)

  • Enlarge the photos on display so that you can see the fabric clearly or ask for close-up photos if you need. Handlooms show up fine irregularities, handblock is easy to distinguish from machine prints and printed bandhani/ leheriya is discernible from real hand tied work.
  • Check the website/ online store a couple of times before you buy anything, speak to people who have already bought from them and check the reviews.
  • Research the various weaves, fabrics, hand block prints and embroidery styles available. There is a lot of information out there that will help you decide where you want to start.
  • Most of us have been exposed to hand crafted beauties in our families, our Mothers, aunts, uncles and grandmothers are sometimes the best people to guide us.

This saree is a budget handloom from Karnataka sourced via a website who I have had a fabulous experience with. They have a decent selection of handlooms for someone who is just starting out, offer complimentary finishing to make the saree read-to-wear, their blouse tailors have given me the best blouse I have ever had made plus the person I spoke to on live chat was wonderfully helpful.

I find this saree very versatile, it can easily be dressed up or down based on where you are planning to wear it. I have worn it here with a hand embroidered Kutchi choli bought from the community that wears these in their every-day lives, along with a massive flower head-band.

This was worn to go to a national park and float about in the backwaters for a few hours away from the hustle and bustle of the city. I don’t know if the photos to justice to the perfect colour of the fabric, it is bright but in an understated way and the checks are heaps fun.

I would wear something like this with some silver jewellery to a day wedding or I would wear a white tee to wear this saree to work. Styling options are limitless based on your ability to re-imagine simple cotton textiles.

Most of what I have in my tiny saree collection are gifts from family and friends therefore I have no idea about the source. But this saree was sent to me by Sareez.com, I have not been asked to review or write about the saree but I loved dealing with them and what they sent me, therefore I am choosing to share my views.

 

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!

 

 

 

 

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.

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

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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?)

 

Not your sati savitri

Being Sati Savitri is overrated, I’d rather drink some beer and have some fun.

This post is hopefully the start of a community where saree loving women from all over the world can have a little space to call their own.

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

This blog is a quest to find what the six yards of fabric means to women at home in the Indian sub-continent and abroad. A saree isn’t just something one wears on special occassions and then forgets, it is a living embodiment of tens of thousands of years of culture, of resistance, it is a celebration of womanhood, our strength and more importantly our imperfections.

To me there is a lot of meaning behind the fact that the saree is one of the few truly free size garments, one doesn’t have to fit any beauty standards to feel absolutely breathtaking.

My name is Tanaya, I live in Sydney and I am an avid saree collector as well as wearer. However, I wear my sarees mostly with things that I’ve been told are a no no. In these photos, I am wearing a vintage Jamdani that belonged to my grandmother with ripped jeans and a panda tee-shirt.

I almost never wear petticoats (under skirt) with my sarees, I prefer denim, shorts, skirts and full length pants and I don’t like matching blouses. It started with me not being willing to wait on a beautiful garment just because I didn’t have the matching top and bottom to go with it.

As time went by I got more and more happy with experimenting and now I wear my sarees with pretty much anything I can lay my hands on and wear them out and about everywhere, I really mean EVERYWHERE. In these photos, we were walking about on a warm afternoon drinking beers before going to a pub, playing Cards Against Humanity, drinking some more and enjoying a live band.

I believe there is no place or occasion to wear something that has survived centuries, it can and should be worn anywhere we want to. So my friends, lets wear sarees, be nasty and take up space. Being Sati Savitri is overrated, I’d rather drink some beer and have some fun.