Think chanderi sarees and your mind automatically conjures an image of a slightly older-looking woman, who’s draped a demure saree – most likely in shades of beige, ivory or black - in the traditional nivi manner, pallu on the left side with pleats in the middle. Think banarasi, and you are certain that the ensuing conversation will entail outfit choices for a bride-to-be.
Once the most versatile piece of garment, heritage handloom sarees have now become prosaic. They are being relegated to secluded sections of a modern Indian woman’s closet, often sectioned off as occasionwear and are seldom used. While social media is inundated with a flurry of posts about how to wear the simplest of garments - boyfriend jeans, even - there's hardly anything out there that gives you an idea about how to style your heritage sarees to make them more youth-friendly. That is, until now.
Presenting 5 attempts to modernize handloom sarees and make them a part of our fashion conversations in 2019.
Look 1: Take the plunge
Featured saree: A chanderi silk printed saree from Nazaakat by Samara Singh
Rejig the weave with a slant of youth by experimenting with the silhouette of the blouse. For a style that’s both statement-making and singular, try colour blocking.
This season, wear your saree like you’d wear your denim, slightly high-waist and with a roguish attitude. Supplant your half-sleeved blouses with its sleeveless cousin – and not just any run-of-the-mill, garden variety sleeveless, but ones that feature a super plunging neckline – the kind made famous by Sabyasachi this past season. Finish with fusion gold jewelry and a chic pair of working-girl, block-heeled mules.
Look 2: Pleats play
Featured saree: A maheshwari silk saree by Samyukta Singhania
Draping a saree in the traditional nivi way can be a tad boring, especially when you’re trying to make a statement. Experiment with the width of the pleats and play with how the pallu falls!
Put a neo-modern spin on your otherwise traditional saree by trying out different ways of wearing your pallu. Instead of letting it fall over your shoulder as usual, bring it around your neck – somewhat resembling a Parisian knot – and cut your effort of managing a trailing pallu in half. This look is perfect for an occasion like a friend’s pre-wedding mehendi ceremony, where you’d want to go handsfree. Borrow some bling in the form of chunky gold jewelry.
Look 3: Street style-savvy
Featured saree: Printed chanderi silk saree from Nazaakat by Samara Singh
Over the course of the last few years, terms like athleisure and street style have become a mainstay in our fashion lexicon. Borrowing heavily from this subculture, we’re subverting traditional blouses for comfort in the form of our otherwise closet staples. Think t-shirts and sweaters.
Switch up your style by wearing your favourite sweater as your blouse. If that isn’t edgy enough, knot your pallu as you throw it over your left shoulder. Not only is the knit top super comfortable, it also eliminates the need to safeguard your saree with 15 different strategically placed safety pins - making it that much less cumbersome. (Less work for you and mom. Yay.) Gather your hair in a top knot, accessorize with tribal-inspired metal jewelry and finish with a strong metallic eye.
Look 4: Hero Blouse
Featured saree: Pure chanderi handloom saree by Samyukta Singhania
Sure, we’re super trend-savant and don’t mind injecting our heritage sarees with a little bit of rebel spirit. But there are occasions which still demand the saree to feel traditional. In such cases, look toward the humble blouse for some much-needed respite.
Why limit off-shoulder tops to modern lehengas and other inhabitants of your western wardrobe only? This festive season, supplant the lacklustre blouses with this version of slightly drooping, butterfly V-neck blouses. (Like the ones by Varun Bahl, perhaps?) Wear your saree with a ‘seedha pallu’ and for a really occasion-worthy look, style it with plenty of jewelry. Insider tip: Choker sets and micro-beaded necklaces with a single, gargantuan pendant - like the one featured here – are all the rage this season.
Look 5: Can we knot?
Featured saree: A banarasi saree from Nazaakat by Samara Singh
Banarasi sarees, singlehandedly reincarnated and brought to the fore by Anushka Sharma post championing one at her wedding reception, has become a wardrobe mainstay since. Almost always associated with weddings, we’re changing the norm by taking a less serious approach with India’s MVP when it comes to heritage handloom sarees.
Banarasi has become synonymous with deeper, full-bodied hues like purple, fuchsia and more importantly, the ceremonial vermillion. However, one can always opt for pastel shades like one featured here, where the accent is on silver zari. Go for a metallic blouse that fits snugly like a crop top and accessorize it with a dainty pearl choker set. Since banarasi sarees are bulky to begin with, take a handsfree approach by taking the pallu over the shoulder and securely knotting one corner of it to the front.
Whether you drape it in a contemporary manner or stick to the traditional way of wearing one, a heritage handloom saree is a timeless piece of garment that deserves a place in the collective consciousness of people, and, of course, your closet. With that I'll leave you to your thoughts. Like Himanshu Verma would say, 'Jai Sari'!
Styling: Chandni Bajaj, Photography: Rommel Albuquerque, Illustrations: Bhargav Mehta, Words: Ashwini Arunkumar