Beginners Guide to Wearing an Indian Saree

As wedding season approaches us, DESIblitz delivers a beginner’s guide to wearing a saree, and its significance in South Asian culture.

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The garment is open to creative freedom.

With wedding season once again upon us, the need to deliver a solid outfit choice is all the means necessary. The Indian saree tends to be a popular choice but how does one go about wearing it?

The saree is a traditional Indian outfit, that is extremely elegant and flatters the figure no matter what shape or size.

Seen as a symbol of feminism, many Desi women wear this garment with absolute pride, as they should.

For years, it has been a popular choice in India and can be seen as a representative of the country and its culture.

As time has passed, it has also risen in fame throughout other South Asian countries such as Nepal, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

History of the Saree

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The word saree derives from the Sanskrit word which means “strip of cloth”. In the earliest versions of the suit, it was exactly that – one piece of unstitched fabric.

The garment originated in India and can be traced back to as early as the Indus Valley Civilisation.

However, as time passed, various adaptations of the outfit were created. The range of fabrics used expanded, alongside the addition of embellishments and embroidery.

A saree can hold sentimental value for a family and is even regarded as an heirloom. Many have passed through generations.

They can also be given as gifts to mark particular milestones in one’s life such as an important birthday or wedding.

In South Asian countries, its popularity soared among the older generations due to its functionality. Many would wear a saree to carry out their day-to-day tasks and often still do.

With globalisation on the incline, for the younger generations, sarees hold a lesser significance.

With a bigger shift towards the practical wearing of garments such as the salwar kameez for everyday wear.

Sarees are seen to be reserved for special occasion wear, especially due to their complexity in draping.

Despite this decline, they continue to be a fashion statement and hold great cultural influence on South Asians all over the world.

Many designers are taking up a creative opportunity to help re-invent the saree and keep up with the ever so changing fashion trends.

This can be seen in pattern, colour, fabric and embroidery choices- which have become a lot more minimal in recent years.

With India also being a powerhouse for clothing production, the process of making a saree is even more important to the country.

In an article by Google Arts & Culture, Malika V Kashyap, an expert in strategic fashion management explained:

“Textile scholars and craft advocates are in agreement that sari-weaving comprises a sizeable portion of the handloom and embroidery sector in India.”

With this being a big industry, it is consequently keeping a lot of the population in solid employment.

Saree Styles

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The saree itself is made up of three basic components.

Saree is the ‘strip of cloth’ itself which is used to drape around the body. Typically, this is 3 to 9 yards in length, however, this can vary given the diversity in saree styles.

A choli also referred to as a blouse, is a well-fitted crop top that is worn beneath the drape.

Again, the style can vary, however, a well-embellished choli tends to be a popular choice.

A petticoat is in the form of a long inner skirt and is worn on the bottom half of the body. Traditionally, the choli and petticoat aren’t required for the wearing of the saree.

During the Victorian Era, and the influence of the prude British Raj in India, the saree was considered “immodest”.

Therefore, blouses and petticoats were introduced to reflect the conservatism of the era.

Since then, the saree has altered and most people wear the garment as per its British influence.

Sarees can be made from a range of materials, but are most popular in the forms of linen, cotton, silk and chiffon. Given the flexibility of these fabrics, they can effectively curve around the body.

There are over 100 documented ways to drape an Indian saree. With many styles undiscovered, the garment is open to creative freedom.

The style of drape chosen for a saree can differ, depending on which area of India one originates from.

This could also influence which shoulder the saree is draped off, either the right or left. Some of the most popular styles have been seen as:

Nivi Drape

This is a widespread style and is most commonly associated with wearing the Indian saree. This is where the saree is wrapped around the waist, with the optional baring of the midriff.

The pallu, also known as the loose end of the saree, is then draped over the shoulder.

Seedha Pallu Drape

Another popular draping style, especially amongst the older generation. This style originated in Gujarat but is worn by women all over.

The style appears more comfortable, with the pallu being draped over the right shoulder. This can be left free, or tucked into the top left of the petticoat.

Parsi Drape

For this style to look the best, it is important to opt for the right saree which is the parsi gara saree. This is heavy on embroidery, particularly around the hems which help to weigh it down.

This is similar to the seedha pallu drape, except that when thrown over the shoulder, it sits closer to the upper portion of the petticoat.

Nauvari or Maharashtrian Drape

The word nauvari is translated to nine yards. Therefore, this style works best with a nauvari style saree that is typically 8 metres or 9 yards in length.

Very popular amongst old Bollywood, this style is often regarded as a classic. This drape works well with most materials, but best with silk.

This style allows more movement around the leg area, and can often be seen as a more practical choice for getting around.

Athpourey Drape

This style originates from Bengal and can be distinctly noticed by its incorporation of two pallus.

Traditionally, when sported by Bengali women, they would hang keys on the pallu that was draped over the right shoulder.

The keys are a statement, said to emphasise the authority of women in the household.

How to Wear a Saree

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Before actually wearing a saree, there are some important points to consider to ensure optimal wearing and feeling the most confident.

The perfect starting point for choosing an Indian saree is firstly to decide which draping style suits your body type best.

It is important to feel good, but also be comfortable, especially when wearing it for long periods.

Secondly, consider the fabric choice. Some fabrics work better with particular draping styles, therefore you will already have an idea of the flexibility you require.

Once the saree is chosen, try it on with the shoes that you intend to wear on the occasion of wearing the garment.

This way, you can avoid draping the saree either too long or too short.

Next, have safety pins on hand to help create pleats and ensure that the saree holds up in the right places.

The last words of advice are to take your time. As a beginner it won’t come naturally, therefore take time to practise and find a method that works for you.

Having an expert on hand is not always necessary given the accessibility of the internet.

There are various YouTube videos available, as well as online guides that provide step by step instructions towards achieving your desired drape.

Aforementioned, Indian sarees offer plenty of room for creative freedom.

So, explore and discover a drape that suits you. This could end up being completely personal to you and your body.

Naomi is a Spanish and business graduate, now turned aspiring writer. She enjoys shining light on taboo subjects. Her life motto is: "Believe you can and you’re halfway there."