The saree is single-handedly the most sensual and elegant piece of unstitched clothing. This outfit can be draped in more than 100 ways and falls perfectly well on any body type, making it look regal and resplendent. Dating back more than 5000 years, the saree has evolved as a garment which is synonymous to sophistication and is eternal. But many still wonder about the how-tos of the six yards. So read further to find out how to wear a saree perfectly.
Quintessentially Indian, how far back does the saree really go? Well, while the saree has famously found its mention in the infamous relics of Indian mythology, Mahabharata and the Ramayana, historians believe that saree can be traced back to the days of Indus Civilization, with its influences from the Mesopotamia Civilization as well. In fact, when the Aryans started moving southward in the Indian subcontinent, they adapted wearing cotton weaves similar to the practice of the people of the Indus Civilization. The women around that time would wear long lengths of cloth draped around the waist, known as the Neevi (which is still prevalent in Andhra Pradesh) and is the closest to a form of saree drape worn in north India.
Talking about the styles of draping the legendary cloth, India with its huge diversity and cultural heritage, where each state has its own cultural and set traditions, also have its own unique styles of draping sarees. The most prominent ones being the Maharashtrian saree called the Nauvaru, the beautiful, Atpour Shari from Bengal, the Gol or the Parsi drape and many more. Here we look at a few of the most famous drapes from around the country and how to drape it.
Native drape to Bengal and Bengalis, the Atapourey shari is deep-rooted in the Bengali cultural and has been made famous by many Bong characters onscreen. This box-pleated saree has two pallus that adorn each shoulder differently. Traditionally, the woman who was responsible for running the house would keep the household keys tied to the corner of one pallu, signifying her status in the house. Women wear this traditional drape on most of the festivals, especially during the Durga Puja. No saree is complete without the right accessories, team it with sapta lahiri neckpiece or the very traditional Shakapola bangles that will make you look priceless. Vidya Balan epitomized the Athapourey drape in her movie Parineeta.
Synonymous with the Maharashtrian folk dance, Lavani, the Nauvaru saree meaning the whole nine yards, symbolizes the strong Maharashtrian women. Draped from in-between the legs as a dhoti and tucked behind, this unique style of draping has history behind it. It is said that during wartime, Maharashtrian women would assist and help the soldiers and to make sure nothing came in their way devised the Nauvaru drape, keeping both comfort and their mission in mind. The drape has recently been showcased beautifully in the movie Bajirao Mastani by both Deepika Padukone and Priyanka Chopra. This drape is also known as Kasta sari, Kacha or Lugada.
If you plan on wearing a heavily embroidered saree like let’s say, the traditional Patola saree from Gujarat and you want that beautiful ikat pallu to show, well then the front pallu is the way to go. The Gujarati drape resembles a lehenga choli as the pallu is set in front covering the chest and belly area and tucked on one side giving it the name seedha palla.
The traditional attire of Assamese women, the Mekhla Chador when draped completely looks like a traditional saree, however, there are two separate clothes that make it so unique. One is Mekhela and the other the Chador. The Mekhela is worn from the waist down where it is pleated and tucked in the middle. The chador, which is usually about 2.5 to 3 meters long, is then tucked on one side of the waist and draped on the left shoulder making sure that the Mekhela pleats are visible. Best way to accessorize is with statement-making neckpieces or earrings.
This unique style of saree draping belong to the tiny yet magnanimously beautiful hilly town of Coorg in South India and is also known as Kodagu or Kodava attire. One of the most different ways to drape a saree, here the pleats are pleated and tucked behind and the rest of the saree is then draped covering the entire frontal body and only a fraction of the pallu is tucked over the right shoulder horizontally.
Once worn traditionally by the Iyer and Iyengar women after marriage, this draping style is now only worn during special occasions and is an integral part of the Iyer and Iyengar history and cultural. It is said that the Madisur saree was worn by older women from very orthodox Brahmin families back in the day. If draped the right way, one doesn’t require any blouse or a petticoat under it. It follows the ardhanareeshwara draping method, where the bottom half is draped like a dhoti and the upper half is dressed and draped like saree. It is also considered to be one of the toughest styles of saree draping. Late actress Sridevi enthralled her audiences in a Tamil movie called Meendum Kokila (1981) and making the Madisur drape almost a style statement back then.
Best draped with the traditional Gara saree, the Parsi drape or gol drape is slightly similar to the Gujarati seedha pallu, however, here the pallu is worn very low to show the intrinsic and fine Gara embroidery. Since the Gara has a very heavy on embroidery, the best way to accentuate it is with a set of classic pearl necklace and earrings.
Similar to the Bengali drape, the Santhal drape, too, is characterized by box-pleats at the front and the pallu set on the left shoulder looking very angular. The traditional sarees from the Santhal region are distinguished by their chequered designs and patterns. Quintessential to the Santhali people in Jharkhand the drape signifies comfort to work and move around.
Worn on auspicious occasion such as weddings, the Phanek mayek, as locally called, is usually stripped and Enaphi or Raniphee are the traditional wear for Manipuri women. Sailex Nagirangbam, a fashion designer based out in Manipur says that Phanek is an unstitched wrap skirt which is worn on the waist. And the Enaphi or Raninphee, (as they are locally called) is a long dupatta usually made of Mulberry Silk, a very expensive piece of garment as it is handwoven, and comes in various colours. This is worn over the Phanek Mayek and pleated on the left shoulder to complete the look. One can also find cotton-muslin ones known as Wangkhei phee. The Phanek mayek is adorned with symbolic embroidery which is unique to various clans traditionally, however, with a time that practice has become rare. Actress Kangna Ranaut wore the ethnic Manipuri Saree at a book launch recently and carried it like the diva she is.
The Nivi drape is the most recognized way of draping a saree. One that accentuates a women’s curves best. This particular style of draping a saree is also the most widely spread and closest to the modern day saree drape. The Nivi drape was once symbolic to the upper crust of the society.
According to Dolly Jain, a saree expert who works with the crème de la crème of Bollywood and industrialists such as the Ambanis, says that the key to wearing a saree is confidence. Anyone can wear a saree with panache but if they cannot carry it, it kills the look completely. But apart from that, we do need to keep some things in mind while draping that gorgeous nine-yards to make a stunning appearance and do justice to the garment.
The most underrated supporting garment of the saree needs to fit you well. Kalpana Shah, another expert, also known as the queen of saree draping, says one should wear a fish-cut or a six-kali petticoat that hugs the body well to get the perfect fall. One should avoid the readymade petticoats as they give an extra body which is not required. Dolly Jain, suggests using a cotton drawstring in the petticoat and not a satin one as it will stay in place giving you room to move freely. Best fabrics to use for making petticoats are cotton or Lizzy-Bizzy says, Kalpana Shah.
To keep your pleats in place, iron it using a hair straightener on a low setting. This will give the perfect crease to your pleats and keep them intact longer. Pin your pleats to keep them from opening. Quick tip for women who avoid wearing a saree to work as it takes time, make the shoulder pleats and pin them together the evening before. That way all you need to do is drape the bottom which is easier, says Kalpana Shah.
One hack that Dolly Jain swears by is getting a seamstress to sew the jewellery directly on the outfit or bridal wear in many cases. In fact, Dolly uses specially crafted silver needles to make last minutes amends in case the jewellery comes off. The sewing ensures that no matter how much one moves the jewellery will stay and you can move freely.
Dolly Jain advises that the longer the pallu, the taller you will look. Make the pallu end before your ankle, this is the ideal length, however, it also needs to be in accordance with your height. While styling the pallu, do not cover your entire chest, covering half the bust is ideal for the right look.
Ideally, when we start tying the saree we begin from right under the navel, Dolly, however, feels that it depends on the body type. Starting at the navel is for people with proportionate body structures, women who carry weight on their stomach should start from two inches on the left side of the navel as it makes the waist look smaller. Likewise, women, who have really tiny waists, should tuck the saree two inches on the right side of the navel.
Dolly Jain says that pinning the saree in the right place is the most important aspect of a saree as it helps keep it in place. There are three major areas where pinning is crucial, pinning the saree with the petticoat, this is done at the bottom with one pleat. Pinning the pallu with the blouse and the pinning the pleats in the middle to retain their shape and keep them intact.
Kalpana Shah says that if tied the right way, the saree can make you look taller and slimmer. She says the correct drape has a huge impact on the way one looks once the saree is draped. For shorter people, choosing the right fabric can also change the game. Fabrics such as georgette, chiffon and crepe are ideal as they fall perfectly on the body unlike south silks, organza or cotton sarees which tend to get fluffy.
Choose small prints and dark or bold colours as they make you look taller. Avoid sarees with broad borders and tie the saree below the navel as it will show more belly, making your torso look elongated. As mentioned before, keeping a long pallu, which sits just above the ankle, also helps in making you look tall. Actress Konkana Sen is on the shorter side, however, loves wearing sarees and always gets it right. If you notice, she chooses sarees with thin borders and plain colours. And lastly, wear comfortable heels so that you can walk with ease, preferably slender heels and not chunky block heels. Also, wear body-hugging petticoat and not the readymade store ones as they add unnecessary bulk.
Both Kalpana and Dolly feel that the saree is such an integral part of who we are and our rich heritage and culture as Indians that it will never go out of style but only evolve with time. Kalpana who has a diverse clientele says that youngsters have taken to the saree like no other. She gets a lot of young girls and working women who want to make the saree a regular part of their wardrobe and look for the trendiest ways of styling the saree.
The latest styles that are doing well are the indo-western drape over jeggings, denims and short skirts also known as the fusion drapes says Dolly Jain, who has displayed this style on her Instagram account. Sushmita Sen wore the Indo-western drape, styled by Kalpana Shah at the Lakme Fashion Week held in Mumbai recently. The mermaid drape and double saree drape are much desired and look glamorous and chic when draped the right way. Dolly Jain has also draped a complete saree on the lehenga to create a new look for one of her clients. In fact, Dolly Jain was responsible for making Isha Ambani and her sister-in-law Shloka Mehta look absolutely radiant for the latter’s engagement party back in June this year.
For the upcoming wedding season, Dolly Jain presents a new look by teaming a delicate organza lehenga with a Kota Doria saree for all the morning festivities. Another look to try this wedding season is from Dolly’s personal collection where she teams a bright saree with a black palazzo. Kalpana Shah says that Banarasi sarees and south silks are back with a bang and are perfect for the upcoming wedding season this year.
Both Dolly and Kalpana echoed one name that completely rocks the saree, Shilpa Shetty. Dolly Jain who has continuously worked with her, says that Shilpa Shetty loves adding some drama to her saree styling and always asks for something new to style her look. Deepika Padukone, Sonam Kapoor, Kareena Kapoor and Katrina are the next in line who make the saree look very glamorous and are able to carry the garment very beautifully.
While all these beauties do look very elegant and fashionable wearing the saree, Kalpana Shah adds the only one who has truly made the nine-yards glamourous is the timeless beauty Rekha. She says the way the legendary actress carries the South Silk sarees with just the right accessories makes her look absolutely regal.
1) Iron your saree properly before wearing and do not fold and hang it for a long time.
2) Avoid the underarm sweat patches by putting a couple of panty liners on the underarm area. They will soak all the sweat and avoid those ugly sweat patches.
3) Wear your heels before you start draping the saree.
4) Make sure you wear body-hugging or a fist cut petticoat.
5) Avoid wearing petticoat made of satin fabric.
6) Do not wear a petticoat with elastic. Use a cotton drawstring.
7) When pinning the shoulder pleats, make you one pin is attached at the shoulder and one about 3-4 inches below the shoulder pleats. Your pallu will stick to its place.
8) Wear a well-fitted blouse.
9) Make at least five-and-a-half pleats to get the right look.
10) Wear one statement-making jewellery instead of too many pieces.
This story was updated in January 2019.
Images: Shilpa Shetty On Instagram, Sonam Kapoor On Instagram, Sabyasachi On Instagram, Dolly Jain On Instagram
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