Traditional Indian apparel is about much more than just clothing your body. Ethnic wear of the Indian subcontinent reflects a depth of history and meaning, where each item of your wardrobe tells the story of your family, your religion and your pride in your heritage. And although clothing styles here as in any area tend to vary somewhat from one region to another, clothing that is native to Greater India, Nepal, Mauritius, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Burma, Malaysia, Bangladash and Pakistan represents a meaningful history, and often stands for certain aspects of Hinduism. Wherever in the world that you choose to make your home, you can still demonstrate your familial love, your faith and your own personality through your beautiful, creative and meaningful traditional Indian ethnic apparel.
The main difference in contemporary western garments and traditional Indian ethnic apparel is this simple idea of significance and meaning that applies to the various items of clothing. There’s really no historical or religious significance to wearing blue jeans, or Parisian haute couture, or any other representation of contemporary western apparel. They’re just clothes. However, traditional Indian ethnic wear reflects a pride in one’s heritage and to those who understand, ethnic apparel also tells a story.
Did You Know? …A Little History of the Sari
This long strip of cloth that is commonly between four and nine yards in length has been worn in this area of the world since nearly 3000 BC. The sari, also spelled saree, evolved out of the one-piece dhoti, which was worn by both males and females until about the 14th century, when the graceful and sensuously draped sari became the most fundamental item of women’s wear.
The significance of utilizing a single width of fabric as a covering relates to an ancient Hindu belief that piercing cloth with a needle was impure, therefore the faithful Hindu did not wear stitched clothes for many centuries. It wasn’t until Muslim rulers invaded India around 600 AD that the concept of stitched clothing was accepted in this region and items such as the petticoat and the blouse were included in the Indian female’s wardrobe.
Various Styles of Draping the Sari
Customarily a sari is worn over a short-sleeved fitted blouse with a low neck and bare midriff, and a petticoat (lehenga), but the style of draping the sari can vary in different regions throughout South Asia. In addition to regional differences in draping, the style also varies for different occasions and occupations, and they are usually draped differently for younger girls and mature women. In fact, there are so many different ways to drape a sari that a prominent French cultural anthropologist, Chantal Boulanger, has recorded 80 different styles (Wikipedia, Sari, Styles of Draping) and one of the most famous Indian fashion designers, Shaina NC, counts 55 sari draping styles in her repertoire.
Perhaps the most commonly utilized style of draping is for the long sheet of fabric to first be wrapped around one’s waist with one end tucked in and the loose end tossed over one shoulder, usually leaving the midriff bare. The popular Nivi drape starts with tucking an end into a plain skirted petticoat that wraps around the lower body once, and then just below the navel pleats are gathered evenly and tucked in to the petticoat waistband for a decorative effect that according to some Indian poets closely resembles the petals of a flower. The long, loose end, the pallu, gets draped diagonally over one shoulder. This style was really popular with Bollywood actresses during the 1920s and 30s.
Modern Sari Draping Trends
Liberalization and mingling with Western cultures has allowed the graceful, yet modest, sari to evolve into a tantalizing and sensuous garment that can reveal as much as it conceals. Thus, the low-rise sari. The space between the petticoat waistband and the blouse hem has expanded to expose more skin than the traditional couple of inches, drawing attention to the navel. Bollywood once again has influenced Indian ethnic fashions as actresses began taking advantage of this seductively attractive trend by adding navel jewelry.
More Sensuality in Saris
This versatile garment that enhances sensuality continues to evolve in modern times into more and more sexy, trendy and ultra-chic designs. In addition to the vagaries of draping styles, opaque and transparent fabrics like sheer chiffon have helped to transform the sari into one of the most exotically sensuous garments in a woman’s wardrobe. Wear a chiffon sari with Zardosi embroidered edges over a sleeveless, backless choli and a hip-hugging petticoat and the effect is instantaneously ravishing and provocative.
Keeping Up With Bollywood Sari Fashions
We’ve started seeing neon colors begin to infiltrate the fabrics of neutral saris and lehengas, usually as a single, accenting streak or splash of brightness in an otherwise muted field. However, neon saris have become the hottest trend for the modern sari during the summer of 2013, as demonstrated by beautiful Bollywood celebrity, Deepika Padukone during a promotion for her recent movie, Chennai Express. Padukone wore a brilliant neon green sari by Arpita Mehta, pictured on the cover of Vogue India. Her incredible style was illustrated with a transparent, chiffon neon lime-green sari trimmed in hot pink and worn over a dramatically jeweled and embroidered strapless bikini choli.
Neon was also the trend during fashion week in Delhi this past March, as the Satya Paul sari label debuted the latest collection from designer Masaba Gupta. Designer Ohaila Khan has contributed a spectacular new neon-and-floral print sari, and Manish Maholtra’s latest neon looks are being worn by trend-setting actresses, Kajal and Priyanka Chopra. The sisters were recently seen in neon saris, as Kajal elected for subtlety with a neon-accented charcoal colored sari, and her sister Chopra went for the whole eye-catching neon theme with neon from head-to-toe that was only slightly toned down with the pewter color of her slinky bikini choli.
From the purity of wearing only unstitched cloth, to the sensual beauty of transparency and neon, the sari remains the most graceful of garments, both modest and seductive all at once.