Sunday, July 15, 2012

We interrupt this pity party to talk about fashion

Instead of feeling sorry for myself I am going to do what usually helps me and write/talk about something totally unrelated. (The more light-hearted, the better.) And in typical western style, I'm going to write about something I know very little bit about and pretend to be an authority. Yay! Today's topic: saris.

What encouraged this post? Shortly after meeting my now-husband, I began to obsess over Indian wear. Specifically saris, but if I had an opportunity to wear a lehenga, I'd jump at it. Sadly I do not; Still, not all is lost because a.) I totally <3 saris and b.) I've got a rockin collection of them now; mostly fancy, but some everyday ones too.

My collection of books has taught me about styles, patterns, history, and even the social life of a sari, but provided little on how to actually wear one. Thus I had to tirelessly search the internet for instructions and videos; let me tell you, there are a lot of confusing and poorly done videos/instructions in interweb land. To save you some time, I'll list some basic how-tos at the bottom of this post to get you up and running.

The other day, I came upon this new book called: Saris: An Illustrated Guide to the Indian Art of Draping (Spiral bound). Actually it is not new at all (1997), but man is it informative! 130 pages of different ways to tie the sari (usually by region), illustrated images, and generally a page or two worth of information for each style.  It's quite fascinating and helped me get a better understanding of why the nurses in Gujarat quickly redid my sari right before my sonogram (never-mind I might mess my pleats up in the stirrups.) Apparently the Eastern style of Bihar can be quite different than its Western counterpart in Gujarat.

The book is awesome. Page after page of different ways to wear a sari with surprisingly clear illustrations. You can tell that much research when into the book and I have seen where it's contents have been lauded by Indians and Westerners alike. The only major problem is that it IS a fashion book and as such the styles of draping may have somewhat changed since it's publication. Still, it shows a plethora of information that I see is currently worn in my travels throughout India.

One thing I didn't find in the book is on pleating the front part and pallav/pallu (prounced palloo); collectively sometimes called mundanai. This seems to not only be the hardest part to master, but consequently the part most often ignored. I've gotten better at it, but it takes practice, practice, practice. I've yet to find a good source on this besides family and friends.

Most westerners wouldn't even notice the difference, but trust me, the well-dressed Indian woman does. Quite frankly a poorly pleated mundanai/pallu can look sloppy when done wrong. If you are in a place where pleats on top are the style (like Gujarat), than you might want to sheepishly ask for someone's help. In my experience you will be greeted with excitement at the request. Take pictures when it is complete so you can blow it up later and analyze by the truckloads. I prefer the styles that drape down my arm, but it's always good to know how to switch for weather, location, or convenience.

As promised, I am going to give you my very non-experienced opinion on things to look out for when wearing a sari. Most of these suggestions originated from my own mistakes and women whom I respect impressing upon me certain protocols.

1.) Never let your petticoat show - especially across the bottom. Not even a teeny-tiny bit. It's bad form and is akin to letting your underwear hang out. Which leads me to #2

2.) Watch your bra strap. Despite what you may see on occasion, bra straps should be hidden at all times. Lots of cholis have bra ties on the underside of the  shoulders, but if the back style on your choli is fancy, you may want to incorporate some safety pins into the game.

3.) Buy a crap load of safety pins in various sizes. Not only will you need them for the top, but as one of the videos at the bottom points out, there are some great uses for them for the bottom. TRUST ME - you'll want to use them. And for those tricks, get the GOOD large safety pins, not the flimsy large ones. (Ones for western jewelry making suck.)

4.) Personal pet peeve: usually the top covers both breasts completely. Too often I see women let is slide down on the side (where it goes under the arm) and it doesn't look right; basically it looks sloppy. We've all made the mistake, but unless you have a sari where the choli is supposed to show all over, keep the side pulled up. There are certain styles where it is fine, like here and here, but if you google images for sari, you will notice that most of them have the "girls" covered. Inexperienced sari wearers (like myself) should heed; you can even put a tiny pin on the side to help it stay in place.

5.) When dressing in a sari, put your shoes on first. That will let you know what length to adjust it to. Typically feet are covered.

There is a sample section here and here. The latter also has a place to order it for $30.00 if you live in the US. The former has a link from the publisher, but Google will give you some warnings if you click it. I went to the Google detail page and saw that there were no current problems, but that was at the time of this writing. I personally bought mine from Barjon's Books, which is what the publisher website recommends anyway for US ($30 + $7 for S&H). You will have to call them as they do not have an online order form, but the gentleman is very nice and I got it within days.

I would avoid Amazon (US) as only individual sellers have it and they are charging way too much for it ($55-$210). Unless you live in a city with a top fashion school (e.g., New York, London, Paris), don't count on finding it in a library either. My cursory check of libraries only found them at these places. 

INSTRUCTIONS (feel free to list more):
Good basic short video

This is a great video to show you pinning tricks that other videos often miss. One compliant I have of this video is the sloppy way the original speaker has her sari where it goes under the arm and crosses the chest. In my experience with some of the most elegant sari wearer's I know, this is a serious no-no.

Basic instructions (you will see the same ones all over the web):

The APP!
Great basic app. In my experience, the pleats (on the bottom) go more towards the center, but this helps you with some finer details that most of us have trouble with.

Happy sari wearing!


  1. this is an lovely post and made me smile and giggle :) the first time i wore a sari was after i got married, my mom showed me the basics and i was lucky enough to have a great lady who lived next door, she would help me get dressed when we had parties to attened! i still struggle to this day (its been 6 years) i must say i have become a little cheat as the last few saris i have purchased just wrap round your waist (pleats are all ready sowen in place and there is a hook on the waist the sort of thing you would find on a skirt or lengha bottoms (usually 3 hook holes so you have a choice of im having a slim day or bloated day, ate to much need to let it outabit today lol)

    1. LOL. There's a sari pleat maker I saw online that you can use for any sari. I was tempted to buy, but it wouldn't really help with the pallu and across the chest part. I think I have the other down pat (finally!) (Course my in-laws my disagree. lol.)


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