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50 ways to drape a sari

Draping the six-yard was complicated enough, now designers are making the garment still more eccentric. Explore your options here!

brunch Updated: May 25, 2013 18:03 IST
Yashica Dutt
Yashica Dutt
Hindustan Times

Draping the six-yard was complicated enough, now designers are making the garment still more eccentric.

Question: Since when did draping a sari become so difficult?
Answer: When just about every Indian designer and every other international designer suddenly discovered the ‘Sari 2.0’. Worn with jackets, tucked under belts, stitched with pleats, worn with jeans, cut till the hips, draped over skirts, and thrown under waistcoats, the sari is draped in so many different ways today that your grandmother would have had a stroke. Because she pretty much wore her sari the usual way. Not that that was easy to begin with. So what do awkward, stepping-over-pleats youngsters do when it’s time to wear a sari?

Answer: Attend sari draping classes, of course. It’s not as weird as it sounds. Especially since sari-draping lessons are now being offered by more than the neighbourhood auntiji. Enterprising people like textile historian Rta Kapur Chishti or sari-draper-to-the-stars, Kalpana Shah, offer lessons too. Shah has been dressing stars like Katrina Kaif, Deepika Padukone and Kareena Kapoor; the women of the Mittal, Jindal and Hinduja families and top corporate women for more than 30 years. She also worked on The Whole Nine Yards, a coffee-table book on the art of draping a sari correctly. "It’s essential to drape a sari well, since it’s an open fabric," says Shah. "Care should be taken not to hide the embroidery or the crystal work on the border or the pallu."

Six yards on a Red Carpet
After being shoved into dark, naphthalene-filled corners of the closet, the sari is having its moment in the sun again. With increased sightings on the red carpet (most recently at Cannes) and a renewed ramp focus, there are designers like Masaba Gupta and Sabyasachi who are encouraging fashion-conscious twenty-somethings in the throes of a vintage moment to take the sari out for a spin.

And evidently no one wants to do it the old way. “The fashion world is now looking inwards, ever since they started showcasing on a wider international platform. The world wants to know what we can give that’s related to our roots. And the sari is the best answer,” says Chishti, who has written three different books on saris, the latest being Saris: Tradition and Beyond, in which she lists 108 ways of draping a sari.

A sari is more than just a rectangular piece of cloth – it comes in different densities of fabric and the body of the sari is often lighter than the pallu so as to let it wrap around the body easily. “Its versatility and uniqueness allow for adjustments at all times and it can transform itself according to the need and function of the moment,” says Chishti, who points out that experimentation with the garment is probably as old as the sari itself. “Women once rode horses in saris in Jhansi in Uttar Pradesh and swam in rivers and ponds with their saris tucked between the legs, much like an unstitched pair of shorts.”

Over the decades, women have tinkered with saris, making them into short dresses and gowns or changing the length of the pallu. At one stage the pallu became so short that it could not cover the head and thus, a mukut (crown-like topi) was worn with a flowing backcloth. “Suniti Devi, the Maharani of Cooch Behar, preferred to have a scarf over the head, worn like a Spanish mantilla,” says Chishti. “Some of these styles can be tapped for contemporary needs.” At her workshops or sari school, Chisti teaches students as many as 25-30 ways of sari-draping from different parts of the country, over four classes.

All Tied Up
Apart from skill, the one thing that determines how a sari will look when wrapped around a woman’s body is the fabric. “Working with light silk saris is not a problem, they fall very gracefully on the body,” says Shah. “But other fabrics like chiffon and net need a lot of handling, especially with the stomach pleats. Kanjeevarams too require a lot of pinning and setting since it’s a very tough fabric. It’s the same for starched cotton.”

Shah believes in using safety pins and clothes pegs. "You have to use high-quality safety pins that do not damage your sari," she says. She also advocates securing pleats with a clothes peg, before setting them with regular pins. "It’s important to know where to insert the pin, so the sari feels comfortable, and how to do it, so it doesn’t show from outside," Shah adds. Oh yes, do remove the pegs before leaving home. Chishti, on the other hand, discourages the use of safety pins. "They harm the fabric," she says. "The sari is supposed to be secured with knots or by tucking it in. If it’s tucked in at least 4-6 inches, it is very secure."

But pins and pegs apart, the only way to drape a sari well (after you’ve learnt how) is to practice, practice, practice. That’s how your mother did it in under a minute – because she wore a sari so often. Shah’s tip: Always wear your sari in front of a full-length mirror.

Do The Sexy Drape

Women who have great bodies – flat stomachs, slim waists and curves in all the right places – look sensational in well draped saris

The Bollywood style:
The sari has very tiny pleats and the border shows clearly as it drapes around the waist. The pallu is very narrow and covers only a part of the torso, going between the breasts and leaving most of the midriff exposed. It works best if one has a toned, hourglass body.

The retro style:
That’s the way in which award-winning costume designer Bhanu Athaiya draped Mumtaz in the iconic orange sari for the movie Brahmachari. “It’s the opposite of a basic sari, where first you drape the sari and then form the stomach pleats. For the retro style, you tuck in the stomach pleats first and then drape the sari on top of them, keeping the pallu extremely narrow. That’s a big trend these days,” says expert draper Kalpana Shah.

Four dare to wear saris
If we still haven’t managed to convince you to try the six-yard wonder, then test the waters with these variations by Indian designers. Note: almost every major fashion house in the world (Chanel, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Balenciaga et al) has their own version

Sabyasachi’s Chhotu Sari: It wasn’t surprising that this sari caught everyone’s imagination the moment it debuted on the ramp. Stopping short at the lower calves, it’s about six inches above the ground and supposed to draw attention to sexy ankles and even sexier footwear. Sabyasachi was apparently inspired by indigenous women from the country’s tribal belts.

Anamika Khanna’s Sari with Pants:
If restraint is not your strong suit, this unique sari is for you, which, to quote the cliché, looks as vintage as it does modern. It’s been teamed with strong shoulder pads, chic embroidered blouses, long jackets and waistcoats.

Tarun Tahiliani’s Sari with Obi Belt:
This one comes with a big Japanese obi belt to hold your pleats in place and gives you that one essential accessory that will turn your sari from a sloppy mess to a razor-sharp power outfit. Works for the workplace too.

Wendell Rodricks’ Sari Gown:
The way this sari looks, we’d hardly call it a sari. It’s more like a swimsuit with pleats in the front. But you can’t ignore the carnality that this outfit exudes. Slit all the way to the mid-thigh on both sides, the blouse is swimsuit style, cut on either side of the waist, with a pallu attached to the shoulder. Try this when you have a body like Jesse Randhawa’s.

You Can Go Wrong With A Sari

How can a sari be unflattering?
Isn’t it the most universally versatile garment put on earth to save women in times of fashion stress? Yes, but only if you know how to make it work for you. Here’s what you should avoid or opt for depending on your body shape:

A narrow pallu can make you look odd-shaped if you mostly find it difficult to look at your feet, and are blessed with big breasts. According to sari draper Kalpana Shah, you should avoid transparent chiffon saris. If you do wear them, make sure your blouse is stitched extremely well.

Heavy middle/ Pear-shaped:
If your problem areas lie a little lower on your stomach, then huge, multiple pleats will make you want to ditch the garment forever. Pear-shaped women with big hips and stomachs should try and opt for a Gujarati-style seedha pallu with minimum pleats on the stomach. Tighten the sari well so it skims your body, instead of making it look heavier.

From HT Brunch, May 26
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First Published: May 24, 2013 18:23 IST