The Longest Fashion Story

Remember those erotic Bollywood numbers where the heroine is caught in a wet saree. For years it has been a success formula for Indian film directors to project

Remember those erotic Bollywood numbers where the heroine is caught in a wet saree. For years it has been a success formula for Indian film directors to project embarrassment, shyness, frivolity, sensuality as well as femininity. Isn’t it amazing how a simple saree can communicate a personality or even a mood through its subtle movements!


Saree is a unique garment, which covers all, yet reveals all. It is the longest running fashion story, which comes in a ‘Free size’…as it fits all… fat or thin, short or tall. And it’s probably the most forgiving garment, which conceals a woman’s imperfections and at the same time enhances the perfect figures.

The saree certainly is a multi-purpose garment. It adapts itself and completely understands situational requirements of a woman. For instance, it comes handy for wiping those tears, whether of a dejected women or an inconsolable child. Giving direct competition to umbrella brands it even protects several heads from bright sunshine and unexpected downpour.

Pallu, that extra yard of fabric that hangs on the shoulder has its own significance in expression. If carefully covering the head, it marks respect for elders. If purposefully tied around the waist it means business. If hastily pulled on the face means a shameful blush. If thrown quickly over the shoulder may mean anger. And of course a vibrant, colorful saree pallu thrown in the wind is the best expression of joy. It’s marvelous to see how much a simple saree can emote and speak.

Varija Bajaj with the Delhi Gaurav Award


The saree has taken into its stride centuries of support to women whether in times of grief or joy. It has taken such forms of expressions and human emotions that a ‘Webster’s’ would shy away. It’s a storyteller of an old women shivering in cold and of a young girl experiencing her newfound womanhood. It’s a hindrance to a young mans romantic clinch while he wonders how to cope with multiple folds of his beloveds dress. And it’s the inhibition of Nutan – the cinematic beauty of yesteryears who sang “chhod do aanchal zamana kya kahega”


As a designer, I am in complete awe of this simple piece of cloth, which has played and still plays an integral role in the life of an Indian woman. It has always been a source of motivation to experiment with silhouettes, which have never been explored earlier. Though metros are more forthcoming to adapt new styles in sarees, smaller towns and cities stick to the traditional. Lets see what traditional India offers in sarees.


What is a Saree? It’s an Indian fashion statement to the world. It can be shimmering silk, or fine cotton or an elegant chiffon or flowing georgette. It can have the most intricate embroidery or prints either running in the entire saree or as a border. And the colours can be bright, vibrant, floral or subtle, pastel and muted. There are several varieties of traditional sarees and they are usually categorized from the state or city they originate from.

Women have a rich array of sarees to choose from, including handloom sarees from Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, silk brocades from Varanasi and Kanchipuram, jamdani (fine, transparent cotton muslin) from West Bengal, patolas (elaborate, five-color design) and ikat (special dye process) from Gujarat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. There are the cool and crisp Kota sarees of Rajasthan. The colourful Bandhini saree, which is a fine example of the traditional, tie and dye craft of Rajasthan, and Kutch is a piece worth keeping.

Varija Bajaj with husband Jeetendra Dharewa

Then there are slightly expensive Chanderi sarees of Madhya Pradesh. There are Gadwals (cotton sarees with separately woven and attached silk borders and pallus) from Andhra Pradesh. Tanchois (pure silk with intricately woven pallavs and borders) from Varanasi. Bumkais from Orissa. Tangails (traditional Bengali fine cotton) from Calcutta. Valkalams(usually depicting folk art scenes) from Varanasi. Kanjivarams (Finest handloom silk) specialty of Tamil Nadu.

DRAPE- The way you like it
Though its true that different parts/states of India have different styles of draping the saree, I believe that Saree is an attire, which has a different meaning for every women and it reflects in the way she drapes it. It can cover a women’s body from head to toe making her look conservative, modest and coy. Or it can make the biggest fashion statement with a halter blouse or a stylishly worn pallu, giving a complex to the sexiest western dress.

Varija Bajaj and Meenakshi Dutt

We can broadly classify the drapes with various parts of the country. For example, in Gujarat the pallu comes over the right hand and the whole pallu is draped in front rather than behind the left shoulder. In the state of Maharashtra the traditional saree is nine yard long and it does not require a petticoat or under skirt. It is more like a pant-dress worn gracefully tucked between the legs. It’s probably the most comfortable drape, which does not obstruct the movement of the woman who is probably working in the fields or at home. In West Bengal, pallu falls over the shoulders in the front. The Southern style of wearing the saree is, however with pleats in the front and the pallu falling over the left shoulder. Then there is the Coorgi style – which is daringly worn without a choli and with the pleats in front. However, Gujarati style of wearing the ulta-pallu is widely accepted amongst women all over India.

Nowadays fashion changes every two months, but the only garment in feminine apparels, which has stayed ‘In Fashion’ for over 5000 years, is the Saree. Are you wondering why? Probably because it’s the longest piece of unstitched garment which has an immense scope of experimentation-giving it a fresh look every time. While the saree mostly lives in villages and cities, designers across the country give it a fresh look with each passing generation. Always inspired to experiment with this unstitched outfit designers have stylized the pallus giving a new look to the saree. Blouses have taken shapes of halters, backless, cholis, short collared shirts, bandh galas…back tie knots, and front tie knots, with long and short sleeves, puff sleeves, churidar sleeves, or even sleeves with drawstrings. For a more formal look, designers even design an additional stole or a matching shawl to match the saree. Then there are jackets or capes (like that of Minister Jayalalitha) that can be worn on a saree. But usually these are more for women at work who would prefer keeping the outfit conservative and intact than let it flow in the wind.

Today designers have also made available stitched sarees, which are readily draped for those who find it cumbersome to wear and carry this drape. For westerners who are often intrigued by the demure floor length garment it a perfect idea to pick up a stitched saree.

In a recent collection of Sarees my attempt was to take this traditional drape to the realm of modern day sensibility. Through “Six Yards of Cocktail”-my cocktail saree collection, I, wanted young women to club in a saree, dance the night away, feel totally at ease in this heritage dress style. The collection was all about vibrant colours, young silhouettes and unconventional concepts like denim blouses, crinkled or kalidar pallus, asymmetrical hem lines…for dressing young women in style with an attitude.

Saree-A Style Statement
Jayalalitha- Saree with a cape (“Don’t Mess around-am here to do business”)
Sonia Gandhi-In her pressed and crisp cotton sarees(“Am in total control”)
Sushmit Sen in Mein hoon Na-Seen in colorful sarees with halters and tie knots (“Sexy and full of life”)
Maharani Gayatri Devi- Usually found in pastel French chiffons Sarees (“Graceful and sophisticated-Am a Queen all the way”)
Mandira Bedi-In her saree with noodle strap blouse (“Am comfy even on a cricket field”)

Sandeep Marwah, Acharya Lokesh Muniji, Dr

Additional Tips
Women on heavier side should stick to sarees with good drapes like Georgette, Chiffon or Chignon. One tends to look slimmer in a Heavy Mysore Silk saree. Shorter women should stay away from sarees with borders-as it tends to make them look even shorter.Thinner women should buy sarees, which adds volume like Organza, Cotton, Tissue and Tussar saree. These sarees give a fuller effect. Dark skin women should look at darker shades like maroon, navy blue, green to reduce the contrast with their skin tone. In office Pinup your saree. It surely looks smart and is manageable too.

Cotton, Tissue or any starched saree should be ironed properly before draping and the pleats should be properly pressed with hands while draping. Put the pin on the back shoulder as this keeps the saree intact. Never wear a very flared petticoat …as it hampers the good fall of a saree. Today Sarees have stiff competition from western and other formal Indian dresses…yet it has retained its grace though with lot of changes. Blouses may have shrunk to halters or bra tops, but it continues to be the only preference of young girls for their trousseau. So it’s evident that a Saree can only evolve in style and stature…but never vanish. As long as women desire to look beautiful…this feminine outfit will continue to embody and grace them in true Indian style.

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