Despite so much interest in the sari, its regional drapes remain shrouded in oblivion
Despite so much interest in the sari, its regional drapes remain shrouded in oblivion

Ten unconventional sari drapes and how to make them work for you

Popular styles like the Nivi and the Madhubani drape can be tweaked to be more contemporary
PUBLISHED ON DEC 31, 2016 07:08 PM IST

In a world that celebrates the ephemeral — the fashion industry discards trends every few months — the sari is perhaps the best example of timeless fluidity. It is difficult to dispute the grace it lends to its wearer, and its popularity is not limited to its Indian patrons. Cases in point include silhouettes from Hermès 2008 spring-summer line, Alexander McQueen’s autumn-winter collection the same year and Chanel’s 2009 autumn-winter and 2012 pre-fall collections. At the New York Fashion Week held last September, American fashion brand Tibi also referenced the conventional sari drape as part of its spring-summer 2017 line.

However, despite so much interest in the sari, its regional drapes remain shrouded in oblivion. It is to bring this rich diversity to light that digital platform Border & Fall has launched a socio-cultural project called The Sari: A How To Drape Film Series. As part of this project, filmmaker Bon Duke will capture on film 84 sari drapes.

With the film slated to be screened early this year, HT Brunch brings you 10 unconventional drapes as demonstrated by three project contributors: Rta Kapur Chishti, India’s foremost authority on the sari, and designers Rashmi Varma and Sanjay Garg. Chishti, author of the book, Saris of India: Tradition and Beyond, shares with us each drape’s origin and how to wear it, while designer David Abraham, with whom we shared these images, tells us how they fit in the contemporary set-up.

Contemporary interpretation of the Nivi drape (Raj K Raj/HT PHOTO)
Contemporary interpretation of the Nivi drape (Raj K Raj/HT PHOTO)

1. Contemporary interpretation of the Nivi drape

Drape shown by: Rashmi Varma

History: Originally worn in Andhra Pradesh, Nivi is the most popular draping style today. In the early 1900s, an increased interaction with the British saw most women from royal families come out of purdah, thus necessitating a change of dress.

How to wear it: Leave a one metre long stretch on the left and tie the sari on your right. Pleat the loose end on the left and pull it from between your legs to tuck it into centre back. Now drape the remaining stretch in the Nivi style − (the regular drape). Finish by tying the pallu around waist like a belt.

Preferred fabric: Light cotton

Contemporary context: Abraham describes this drape as an ‘easy breezy one’. “You can wear this drape on the day you decide to wear a sari to college; moreover, it suits women of all sizes.”

Madhubani drape (Raj K Raj/HT PHOTO)
Madhubani drape (Raj K Raj/HT PHOTO)

2. Madhubani drape

Drape shown by: Rashmi Varma

History: Originating in rural Bihar, this drape derives elements from its namesake painting style which is also from the region. A working class sari drape, it offers practicality on a day-to-day basis.

How to wear it: Make four or five pleats; wrap the free end over the gathered pleats and tuck it in your waist on the left side. Show the gathers falling outwards. Bring the end piece over your head and right shoulder, and tuck the left corner of the outer end on the left side of the waist.

Preferred fabric: Though the drape originated in Bihar, the saris worn are typically lightweight ones from Odisha − ikkat cotton or silks.

Contemporary context: Abraham recommends this for when your own wardrobe seems tired and sparse. “This is a good way to dress up in your mother-in-law’s sari for an evening out; again suited for all women.”

Venukagundaram drape (Raj K Raj/HT PHOTO)
Venukagundaram drape (Raj K Raj/HT PHOTO)

3. Venukagundaram drape

Drape shown by: Rashmi Varma

History: This drape can be traced to the tribal agriculturist communities from Andhra Pradesh.

How to wear it: Wrap the inner end of the sari around the waist and tie the knot on your left. Tuck the lower border of the inner end piece in the front of the waist by making an above the knee fold. Pull the free end around the waist from the bottom and throw the outer end piece over your right shoulder, leaving enough loose cloth for pleats. Tuck the pleats in your waist at the back. Bring the outer end piece over the left shoulder, under the left arm and tuck it in at the waist on your right.

Preferred fabric: Light cotton, georgette or chiffon

Contemporary context: Abraham calls this drape a smart alternative to the LBD; he finds it flattering across age and size. “This can be dressed up with accessories, or kept simple and minimal.”

Hindu Kunbi drape (Raj K Raj/HT PHOTO)
Hindu Kunbi drape (Raj K Raj/HT PHOTO)

4. Hindu Kunbi drape

Drape shown by: Sanjay Garg

History: This drape was traditionally worn by women from the Kunbi tribe in Goa, before the advent of the Portuguese in the 16th century. These women were paddy field workers; hence, the sari drape was simple.

How to wear it: Drape the outer end piece anticlockwise around your chest. Tie the upper border of the front drape and of the outer end piece into a knot at the right shoulder. Wrap the remaining sari clockwise around the waist. Tie the free end piece from within the wrapped layers in the front with the free end of the uppermost layer on your waist.

Preferred fabric: Light silk or cotton

Contemporary context: Describing it as “cool loungewear”, Abraham calls it “a stylish alternative” to the printed kaftan for a weekend holiday by the sea.

Gol sari drape (Raj K Raj/HT PHOTO)
Gol sari drape (Raj K Raj/HT PHOTO)

5. Gol sari drape

Drape shown by: Sanjay Garg

History: In Chitra Deb’s book, Thakur Barir Andarmahal, it is said that Gyanodanandini, the wife of Satyendranath Tagore (elder brother of Rabrindranath Tagore), adopted the Parsi drape on her trip to Mumbai in 1870s. On her return, she popularised the style among society ladies, and it came to be known as Bombay Dastur.

How to wear it: Start with one end of the sari tucked into the waistband of the petticoat. Wrap the rest around the lower body once, gather the even pleats below the navel and tuck them into the petticoat waistband. After one more turn around the waist, drape the loose end over the shoulder. Fashion the loose end into a twisted sash and tightly tuck it in the waist.

Preferred fabric: Light cotton

Contemporary context: Abraham says that this drape is ‘kind of fun’. “It is for a young woman playing city-girl-meets-fisherwoman-chic, especially when she steps out for Sunday brunch in a handloom sari.”

Mekhela Chador drape (Raj K Raj/HT PHOTO)
Mekhela Chador drape (Raj K Raj/HT PHOTO)

6. Mekhela Chador drape

Drape shown by: Sanjay Garg

History: It’s unclear when the Mekhela Chador first entered the scene in Assam, but it is a traditional drape worn by Assamese women of all ages.

How to wear it:Two main pieces of cloth are draped around the body. For the bottom, drape the fabric like a sarong and tuck the pleats in the front, on the right. For the top, tuck one end into the upper portion of the lower drape, and wrap the rest over and around the body.

Preferred fabric: Rich silk

Contemporary context: Abraham believes this drape ticks all the boxes for an elegant occasion. “This is a good way to wear a mekhela, especially for someone not too young, but with a stylish edge.”

Boggilli Posi Kattukodam drape (Raj K Raj/HT PHOTO)
Boggilli Posi Kattukodam drape (Raj K Raj/HT PHOTO)

7. Boggilli Posi Kattukodam drape

Drape shown by: Rta Kapur Chishti

History: This drape is primarily worn by the Golla (shepherd) and the Gudati Kapulu (agriculturist) communities of Narasannapalle, a village in the Kadapa district of Andhra Pradesh.

How to wear it: Start with draping the sari in the traditional Nivi style, till you get to making the pleats in the front. Roll the pleats outward and secure them by wrapping them over with the innermost layer. Pick up the lower borders at the two extremes and bring them to the waist at the back from either side, so you can tuck the ends in.

Preferred fabric: This drape needs a heavy, stiff silk, one that’s strong enough to retain the shape for long hours.

Contemporary context: “With nine yards of sari sculpted into a strong shape, it is another voluminous drape. I would not recommend it for the vertically challenged,” says Abraham.

Mohiniattam drape (Raj K Raj/HT PHOTO)
Mohiniattam drape (Raj K Raj/HT PHOTO)

8. Mohiniattam drape

Drape shown by: Rta Kapur Chishti

History: This sari drape is traditionally worn by the Mohiniattam dancers of Kerala.

How to wear it: Wrap the inner end piece clockwise around the waist and tie the knot on the right. Make seven to eight pleats of the free end piece in the front. Pull the gathered pleats upward and hold with your chin while bringing the free end piece to the right side of the waist over the pleats. Let go of the pleats and bring the free end piece anticlockwise towards the right side of the waist. Throw the outer end piece over your left shoulder and bring the other end piece anticlockwise to the front to tuck it into your waist.

Preferred fabric: Light silk or cotton with contrast borders

Contemporary context: Calling it an unorthodox drape, Abraham points out that it will add considerable volume at the hip. “It’s suited for those who are happy to plump up the silhouette quite a bit.”

Halaki Vokkaliga drape (Raj K Raj/HT PHOTO)
Halaki Vokkaliga drape (Raj K Raj/HT PHOTO)

9. Halaki Vokkaliga drape

Drape shown by: Sanjay Garg

History: This drape is traditionally worn by the agriculturist communities in Karnataka. Like other working class sari drapes, it attaches importance to the ease of movement for the wearer.

How to wear it: Pull the outer end piece of the sari from under the left arm and on top of the right shoulder; tie it into a knot with the upper border of sari. Then take the inner end piece clockwise around the waist from left to right. Pleat the loose cloth in the front and make a knot around these pleats, leaving three to four pleats on the right. Tuck the knotted pleats inward at the front waist. Spread out the freed pleats and tuck them in the waist at the back. The outer end piece can be left at the back or brought in the front with the right hand.

Preferred fabric: Soft silks that can be easily draped

Contemporary context: “This is for the woman happy to wear an evening gown. Recommended for the slender of figure, and the young at heart,” says Abraham.

Odissi dance drape (Raj K Raj/HT PHOTO)
Odissi dance drape (Raj K Raj/HT PHOTO)

10. Odissi dance drape

Drape shown by: Rta Kapur Chishti

History: Originating in central and eastern Odisha, the Odissi dance dress sari is a Sambalpuri sari, a brightly coloured sari offset by a black or red blouse called the kanchula.

How to wear it: Wrap the sari around the waist from the middle, leaving the end piece a little longer on the right side. Knot it at the waist in the front and pull the left portion to the back from between the legs. Gather some of the left portion and tuck it in at the back on your right. Finally, drape the outer end piece over the left shoulder.

Preferred fabric: Light silk

Contemporary context: Abraham says that the dhoti pant achieved through this works best on a leggy wearer.

Follow @PrabhuVidya on Twitter

From HT Brunch, January 1, 2017

Follow us on twitter.com/HTBrunch

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