The day before my son’s Hindu wedding ceremony, his then fiancé’s aunt came up to me at the bridal luncheon and with a gentle and engaging voice said, “I am Uma. I will be your dresser tomorrow. May I come to your room at 2:00?”
Wow! Somebody was going to dress me? How nice.
Twenty-four hours later, Uma arrived and helped me put on my saree, a gift from the bride’s family. Soon after, I went outside and joined my son for the Barat. I was beaming; I felt like a princess. A saree will do that to a woman.
The Barat is the traditional Hindu and Sikh welcome procession of the groom’s family to the bride’s family, representative of a time when the groom’s village traveled to the bride’s for wedding festivities. In our case, the Barat took place in the streets of downtown Nashville. It wouldn’t have looked nearly as vibrant without the sparkle of the women’s sarees.
Shopping for a Saree
Last month, my husband and I traveled to India to tour the sites. Afterward, we flew to Hyderabad, the “City of Pearls” in Southern India, to see our daughter-in-law and her lovely extended family.
While there, we attended several celebrations. Parties sometimes mean opportunities for shopping. Although I didn’t think I needed anything when I arrived, after one-afternoon spent shopping for sarees, I was asking when we could go back to the shops! Part of the draw was all the colorful clothes made of fabrics that beckoned to be touched, but equally wonderful was simply being in the company of women who, along with giving me fashion advice, made me feel cherished. I don’t think I will ever forget this cheerful moment in Moksha Couture, a woman’s dress shop in Hyderabad.
What is a Saree?
A saree (or sari) is a traditional two-piece garment worn by women in India. It consists of one long decorative length of fabric in silk, cotton, or chiffon, and a coordinating blouse.
I laid my six-yard-long saree on the floor so you could see that one end of it is more decorative than the other. The decorative end is called the pallu and is the portion of the saree that will be draped over a woman’s shoulder where the design can be seen. The less decorated end is the part that wraps around a woman’s waist and covers her legs.
Notice the sensational pallus on the mannequins at Mandir, a chic saree shop in Hyderabad. What was once six flat yards of fabric has been transformed into a striking outfit when wrapped around the female shape. That is the beauty of the saree –it is versatile enough to suit any occasion and flaunt any figure.
Buying a Saree in South India
How a saree is draped varies geographically in India. In North India, for example, the pallu may be draped so you see more of it from the back side of a woman. In South India, the pallu is draped more commonly in the front, as seen in this post.
The first store we visited was Mandir. Their saree collection is pure eye candy. They have a saree for every occasion.
To a novice, a saree is a saree, but I quickly learned there are everyday sarees, party sarees, and wedding sarees. To my untrained eye, it seemed the party sarees had more silver or gold threads woven into them compared to the “everyday” sarees people wore in the home.
A wedding saree is full of sparkly gorgeousness.
Designing the Blouse
Woven into the pallu end of a saree is an extra yard of coordinating fabric that is left there to make the matching blouse. Note the solid red fabric the employee is holding.
The blouse is made by a dressmaker, so our next stop after purchasing our sarees was to go to Studio AJ.
Avani is the talented owner and designer at Studio AJ. She meets with her clients and discusses blouse design and how they would like the cut-off end of the pallu to be finished.
The cut edge needs to be finished to keep it from fraying. The threads are typically tied into knots, but can also be embellished with beads.
Additionally, a “fall” is often sewn onto the hem. A fall is a stiff strip of cotton fabric sewn onto a 2½-yard portion of the saree’s hem, on the wrong side, to give the pleats a better-looking drape.
The Blouse. Our blouses buttoned in the front. The back side of the blouse is low-cut which looks very elegant. There are also ties on the back with pretty tassels that dangle as the woman walks. At Studio AJ the tassels are fabricated in the shop and can be quite decorative.
Blouses can be finished simply or elaborately as shown in the photo below where a seamstress is sewing on a golden decorative applique around the neckline.
Here is a photo two finished blouses. Notice the pretty tassels. They are made by covering styrofoam balls with matching fabric from the blouse.
When making blouses for weddings, the finishing requires a lot more handwork. In the photo below, the blouse fabric is stretched onto a frame to keep it taut while a finisher embellishes it with beads.
This blouse is being finished with pearls and beads in the Moghul style.
How to Put on a Saree
Step one is to put on a long petticoat that has a drawstring. The drawstring needs to be tied tightly as it is what holds up the “skirt” portion of the saree when it is wrapped around the waist. Sarees are usually 4 to 5 feet wide. The length of the “skirt” is adjusted by tucking the excess fabric into the petticoat’s waistband.
Here is a video of how a saree is wrapped and draped by a dresser at Mandir. The dresser arranged the center front pleats and pinched them together with a bulldog clip before she started dressing my beautiful daughter-in-law.
With each saree you try on in a store, the dresser puts it on for you. They usually take the extra fabric I mentioned (that is there for the blouse) and tuck it over your bare shoulder so you can see what the outfit will look like once the blouse is made.
Once you choose a saree and have the blouse, all that is left to figure out is what “ornaments” (aka, jewelry) you will wear with your saree. I am thankful to family members, Sadhana and Satish, for making sure I was well ornamented.
On the last night of our trip, we attended a party where the women all wore sarees. Even my husband got in on the shopping fun and wore the shirt he had made at The Gandhi Cottage Textile Factory while we were touring in Jaipur. Pictured with us are two of the many family members we came to know and love on our trip. If you are a follower of the blog, you may recognize Satish as the person who gave us a tour of his farm earlier in the day. As they say in America, “He sure cleans up well!”
This was the last photo we took in India before heading back home to America.
Cooking 35,000 Meals a Day in a Sikh Kitchen in Delhi (India, Part 1)
Learning How to Block Print in a Factory in Jaipur (India, Part 2)
A Stepwell, Parcheesi, Brick-Making, and Chapati-Making (India, Part 3)
Room with a View: the Taj Mahal in Agra (India, Part 4)
A Cook’s Tour of a Farm in Southern India (India, Part 5)
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