Neither the demand nor the supply side may be quoted, but the evidence is visible to all: the ultimate power garment in India is the handloom sari in pure cotton or khadi weaves.
Saris are broadly categorized into 'prints' and 'weaves' and Sonia Gandhi, the most powerful woman in India today, is almost always spotted in weaves. "She's more a weave person than a print person," said a Delhi style-watcher who refused to be named.
"You see her mostly in cotton weaves from Orissa, khadi and 'telia rumal' weaves from Andhra Pradesh, Chettinad weaves from Tamil Nadu, fine 'ikat' from both Andhra and Orissa, fine Mangalagiris from Andhra Pradesh and exquisite 'Dhakais' from Bengal - unlike Mamta Banerjee who wears inexpensive, rough-woven Dhonekalis," he said.
The consensus is that Gandhi sustains the template for power dressing set by her mother-in-law, Indira Gandhi.
Daughter Priyanka Vadra is also generally seen in Orissa, Bengal or Andhra weaves, often teamed with a white blouse. Both mother and daughter visibly shun fussy, over-embellished saris and prefer understated elegance. Vadra also wears her grandmother's rare saris. At the Congress rally in Amethi three weeks ago, she wore one of Indira Gandhi's heritage Orissa tribal weaves with a broad border.
The saris Sonia Gandhi wears hover in the Rs 1,500 to Rs 2,000 price range. She is never seen in gold-heavy Kanjeevarams or Benarasis or expensive Uppadas and Gadwals (AP) that cost Rs 15,000 to 20,000. Congress politician Selja Kumari and Gulshan Nanda, head of the Cottage Industries Emporium, are said to help the Gandhi ladies access saris or else, a few select shops in Delhi (all refusing to be named) send them 20 saris at a go from which they choose.
Other Congress ladies with impeccable taste in saris are Ambika Soni, Renuka Chowdhury and Delhi's Chief Minister, Shiela Dikshit. Dikshit wears chic tussar in winter and fine cotton prints in summer. Just after the Congress victory, she wore a white 'mulmul' sari contrasted with a blouse in Rajasthani 'Baghru' print.
Sushma Swaraj of the BJP also favours pure cottons but of no particular style. However, she is reportedly constant in wearing the astrologically prescribed colour for each day of the week, while J. Jayalalithaa of the AIADMK wears chiffons and crepes that "fall well" on heavier figures. Young MP Supriya Sule of Maharashtra also wears saris but is tight-lipped about this frivolous subject. There's no denying though, that in Parliament, power is personified in the cotton sari.