Women who celebrate Deepavali have probably been busy stocking up on new saris for the Indian festival of lights, which falls on Monday. Fashion followers from New York to Singapore, too, have taken a shine to this glam garb.
|IT'S A WRAP
|Don't be sorry when you wear a sari. Here are some simple dos and don'ts.
- Tie your drawstring underskirt as tight as possible, even if it pinches.
- The sari is tucked into it before you drape it, so it is what holds up the entire outfit.
- Make sure your sari blouse fits like a glove. This will ensure you look smart and stylish.
- Experiment with different drapes. One of the great things about saris is how they can be worn in so many ways.
- Wear open-toed shoes. Sandals or heels are fine, but any shoe where the toe is covered just doesn't look right with a sari.
- Be aware of traditional colour 'rules'. Although some people no longer abide by these, white and black can be considered inauspicious if worn to weddings. Also note that there are regional exceptions to these colour rules, so when in doubt, ask your host what would be appropriate.
- Drape your sari so that it doesn't expose your ankles. The optimum length should allow the sari to graze the floor, but not be so long that it will trip you.
- If you're not used to wearing a sari, don't wing it. Reinforce the pleats with discreet safety pins. You can use brooches to secure it to your shoulder.
- While the length of the pallu (the part that drapes over your shoulder) should not be too long, those attending religious ceremonies at temples sometimes have to cover their head, so the pallu should not be too short either.
- Don't shun the sari just because your figure is too short or full. Just choose the right fabric, drape and design. For example, chiffon is an easier fabric to manage if you are a first-time sari wearer. Petite women can try designs with thinner borders, which won't overwhelm their frame. Those not comfortable with exposing their midriff can opt for blouses that cover up the belly or drape the sari in a way that covers the midriff completely.
Yes, the sari - with its floor-skimming length, curve-skimming drapes and fitted top - is enjoying a fashion moment.
It may be one of the oldest styles in the world - the sari is depicted in artefacts that date back to 100 BC - but it is also one of the most current looks on the world stage.
The popularity of Bollywood movies worldwide has helped up the sari's shimmy quotient and it has gained extra cachet with fashion designers and celebrities coming into the fold.
French designer Jean Paul Gaultier showed an Indian- inspired collection for Hermes last year that included minimalist saris worn by It models such as Lily Cole.
Pop group Pussycat Dolls donned black and gold saris by Indian designer Rocky S at the Fashion Rocks concert in New York last month, pairing the traditional look with decidedly modern bikini tops.
During India Couture Week in Mumbai last month, designers like Varun Bahl also showed flamboyant interpretations of this traditional garment.
Kavita Thulasidas, 34, designer and director of Stylemart, a Selegie Road boutique that specialises in Indian garb, says: 'It's a very sexy and flattering garment for all body types. It's all about how you drape it to emphasise different curves and angles.'
Prices range from $5 for a polyester sari at Serangoon Road's Haniffa Textiles to $6,000 for one at Stylemart boasting elaborate detailing by hand.
At Palais Renaissance boutique Mumbai Se, saris with trendy abstract motifs range from $599 to $2,500.
The sari itself is a strip of cloth about 6m long and made of materials like cotton, silk and chiffon. It is draped over the body and worn with an underskirt and blouse (choli), but almost anything goes now.
Rashmi Gogna, 38, designer and owner of Indian- inspired clothing label Pure Earth with outlets in Holland Village and Tanglin Mall, says that instead of a typical choli, you can wear halter-neck, bikini or toga-style tops.
Ready-made saris - which come stitched and with a zipper so you do not have to drape the skirt - have also become popular.
The appeal of the timeless garments makes them a wrap for all fashion lovers: Up to half of Pure Earth's customers are non-Indians, says Gogna.
Even at more traditional establishments such as Haniffa Textiles, non-Indian customers account for up to 30 per cent of sari sales, says manager A. P. Ramachandran, 47.
'It's regarded as the equivalent of a cocktail dress,' says Gogna. 'There are many different ways of wearing it and the variety of prints and fabrics suits any personal style.'
Traditionally, each region in India had its own distinctive sari size, design and style of draping. These were often used to signify class, family status and origin.
The western region of India, for example, is associated with techniques like block printing and tie-dye.
The most common style of draping is the Nivi style, where the sari is pleated in front and draped over the left shoulder. This was popularised in the 1920s and 1930s, partly due to Bollywood actresses wearing it this way.
The garment has always been open to different influences, including Chinese brocade and British wallpaper designs.
Trends come and go, but one thing never changes: When you wear a sari, your movements have to accommodate the garment's drape.
Says dancer and choreographer Santha Bhaskar, 68: 'It's not like wearing jeans, you cannot make long strides. You may have to hold the pleats when you're going up or down steps - you have to move in a more ladylike way.'
Wearing a sari was once considered a sign of womanhood and, like many her age, the artistic director of Bhaskar's Arts Academy donned her first sari on her wedding day.
However, her 13-year-old granddaughter will wear her first sari for Deepavali. 'It's up to the individual,' Bhaskar says of the sari's evolution. 'As long as it looks nice, anything is fine.'
SARI PARTY GIRLS
The versatile sari is a hot pick for pop vixens, Bollywood icons and politicians:
|Pop group Pussycat Dolls walked the red carpet for the Fashion Rocks concert in New York City last month wearing black and gold saris by Indian designer Rocky S. The saucy bikini tops and unconventional drapes make it clear that this is a very modern take on the sari.
|Seen here at a film premiere earlier this year, Bollywood's reigning power couple dressed to match. Actress Aishwarya Rai complements her husband, actor Abhishek Bachchan, perfectly with her sheer black sari and midriff-baring spaghetti-strap top - just the right mix of sexiness and elegance.
||With her short hair and preference for bold colours and simple, tasteful designs, Indranee Thurai Rajah (Member of Parliament for Tanjong Pagar GRC) makes the sari look effortlessly modern and chic.
||The Mumbai-based writer Shobhaa De is a staunch advocate of the sari - she calls it India's answer to the little black dress - and designs her own line, the Shobhaa De Cocktail Saris. Here, she demonstrates how to wear white with confidence and style - by upping the glamour quotient with a gold blouse.
|British actress Elizabeth Hurley married Indian textile tycoon Arun Nayar last year in a hot pink Versace sari and has since made the pink sari her signature. This ombre pink sari she wore to attend a breast cancer event earlier this year is both pretty and sophisticated.
||British actress Helen Mirren donned a sari for the 2004 Emmys and wore it in a perfect, age-appropriate way: Note the chandelier earrings, the tasteful brooch pinning the pallu to her shoulder and the striking deep red and gunmetal grey colour combination.
||Bollywood star Sushmita Sen rocks in a sheer, embroidered sari at this 2005 Mumbai fashion show, baring her toned midriff in a hot pink bikini top with confidence.
|PHOTOS: AFP, REUTERS
This article was first published in Urban, The Straits Times on Oct 24, 2008.