Fashion: The neo-saree saga
Celebrating the neofeminist movement with seven innovative saree drapes. Here’s how you can try them out and style them at home
Designers say that a woman who would choose to experiment with a saree is a neofeminist, driven by a sense of fun. Indeed, India’s most traditional garment has proven time and again that it need not go out of fashion as we move ahead with the times. Younger women today are loving it, experimenting with drapes, making Reels about it and fully embracing the versatility that it offers.
Greco-Indian Gandhara sculptures give us the first evidence of elaborate drapes resembling a saree. It may have been a forerunner of the saree since, in ancient Indian sculptures, women’s clothing was restricted to a cloth wrapped around the waist, more like a sarong with an occasional shoulder cloth.
There is a word palla, from ancient Roman women’s costumes that consisted of tunics, stola, and a palla; some believe that the modern saree resulted from this Roman influence. The indigenous antarya and uttariya were combined with the palla to give rise to the saree as we see it today.
We can all agree though, that draping the saree traditionally with neat pleats tucked in at the front is now old-school. Here are seven new ways to tie it, bordering from the prim and practical to the purely aesthetic.
Sidha pallu drape & Khada dupatta drape
The Gujrati-Parsi drape is one of the most popular sidha pallu styles. The pallu drops down from the right shoulder, sometimes to a free fall or is tucked into the waist.
The free ends of the dupatta are worn under the right shoulder and over the inside of the right elbow.
Recreate: A Manipuri look with the sidha pallu drape
1. Drape a sidha pallu saree with loose cowls at the waist.
2. Wrap a silk or linen horizontal-striped saree like aManipuri phanek (a wrap-around skirt found in flat colours or stripes).
3. A belt keeps the drape in place.
Recreate: The athleisure look for a poolside brunch
1. Wear floral pants and a sports bra
2. Take a chiffon saree in a similar print. Try giving it a khada-dupatta look or use a Nivi drape.
“Opt for hassle-free pre-stitched draped sarees that are easy to wear and can be slipped on like a skirt. These can make heads turn when paired with a smart blouse and a statement belt,” says designer Bhumika Sharma.
The ghagra skirt drape
Ghagra and choli were two mainstays of Indian attire before the Mughals brought a luxurious version of it: the lehenga-choli.
From Asha Parikh to Madhuri Dixit, Hindi cinema has always used this attire in its village-inspired scenes.
Recreate: Ghagra drape with a classic white shirt
1. Drape two traditional sarees in ghagra-style, such as a Banaras brocade with a kanjivaram saree.
2. Wear it with a slightly loose satin or linen shirt.
3. Finish the look off with a leather belt, scarf, multi-stringed neckpiece, and a lush red clutch.
“Team the saree with a shirt instead of a blouse. Pick a complementary shirt and knot it at the waist. Add a choker and a bracelet and you have a fresh look,” says fashion designer Nida Mahmood.
“Pair heavy jewellery with simpler drapes and light pieces with generously embellished sarees. It’s all about making one combination of balanced colours, textures, and patterns,” explains fashion designer Ridhi Mehra.
The classic Nivi drape
This is the most common style worn by women today. It is wrapped around the waist, with the pallu worn over the left shoulder. This drape once influenced painter Raja Ravi Verma and continues to influence fashionistas today.
Recreate: The Nivi drape with a luxurious train
1. Drape a tissue saree in the Nivi style.
2. Wear a bustier in the same fabric or print.
3. Add a cathedral train using another organza saree and use a belt.
“Use an odhani tucked into the back of the petticoat or adjoin a second pallu with the pleats; that could be a double pallu sari with a train,” says Karan Torani, founder and creative director of Torani India.
Odisha Folk dance drape
Sambalpuri folk dancers wear a tribal drape that is great to experiment with. The local ikat saree is folded and worn with a long pallu draped around the waist to the knee. It can be seen on Saira Banu in the song Dil Vil Pyar Vyar from the 1967 movie, Shagird.
Recreate: Folk-inspired drape for a cultural night
1. Try a Sambalpuri ikat saree and drape it in the Odisha Ghumura dance style.
2. Wear a silk skirt and top over the saree.
3. Take the pallu out from the top or shirt and complete the look with a pair of mules.
“Tribal dance drapes are dynamic and add a lot of drama to the saree. One can create a unique style statement using tribal dance drapes,” says Nida Mahmood.
A half-saree with a pleated scarf pallu
A traditional draping style belonging to Tamil Nadu, the Pattu Pavadai is a half-saree made of silk. Another cloth, dhavani, is attached to the skirt and thrown over the shoulder like a pallu. The pavadai and dhavani have thick, bright borders and are woven with contrasting colours.
The southern half-saree drape can be worn with a skirt or a pair of jeans and a blazer. A statement can be created by draping the pallu around your neck.
Recreate: Be chic for an office party
1. Take your favourite skirt, jacket, and saree in the desired colour combinations.
2. Wear the saree over the skirt and jacket in half-saree style and drape it around the neck.
3. Make multiple small pleats and tuck them across your waist. Pleat your pallu with the saree and drape it over your shoulders.
4. Highlight it with statement jewellery.
“Experiment with various styling techniques. For example, tucking the pallu that is falling on the front to the left side of the shoulder, so it has a U-shaped fall on the neck, would look interesting on younger clients,” says designer Khushi Shah.
“To achieve an elaborate lehenga look, pair a blouse with a can-can skirt in a neutral shade. Then play with two different sarees in contrasting colours,” suggests fashion designer Archana Jaju, adding that, “Silk is classic and goes well with a flared ghagra or lehenga-style drape.”
Reinventing Gupta Glamour
The later-Vedic clothing for women was called Sattika, a three-piece ensemble comprising the lower half of the garment—anariya, a veil worn over the shoulder or the head—uttariya, and the stanapatta, a chest band.
This style has always remained a designer’s favourite. Legendary Bollywood costume designer (and India’s first Oscar winner!) Bhanu Athaiya used these three pieces to create immortal looks in Amrapali (1966) and Chandni (1989); Rekha revived the glamour of these three pieces in Utsav (1984), designed by Jayoo and Nachiket Patwardhan.
Recreate: A Gupta lady in a Byzantine cape
1. Take an embroidered saree in a white or neutral shade, and drape it like a lungi or dhoti.
2. Team it with a fully embroidered mirrorwork bustier.
3. Complete the look with a medieval cape as seen in Alexander McQueen’s Byzantine-inspired collection in 2010–gowns with bejewelled floor-length capes inspired by a paludamentum.
“Drapes keep evolving, and we have to keep reinventing them. Sometimes we use the classic, and sometimes we don’t. That’s the beauty of the saree, that is the reason why it is more than a piece of cloth,” says celebrity stylist Isha Bhansali.
From HT Brunch, July 16, 2022
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