Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The saree & I: A love story

(This took me 10 mins!)

Saree draping can be particularly challenging for a Westerner. Wrapping it all the way around at the same length on the bottom, not poking yourself with pins, getting the folds correctly, pinning down the pallu...it is very hard to do by yourself. But learning how to do it by yourself is a must for Indian wife-y confidence.

(My SIL & MIL's sister helping with the drape for our wedding reception party, 2011)

The first time I wore a saree was during my first trip to India - my SIL & MIL tried to teach me how to do it. But they were both fussing and bickering with each other, so I wasn't paying attention properly! We went outside to take pictures with it and I felt absolutely naked! I felt like I was wearing a loose towel around me and the whole thing was going to fall off! I wasn't used to having almost my entire back exposed like that.

The next time I wore the saree was for an International Festival at our college, which was about 4 months after our India trip. I got so frustrated putting it on that it took me almost 2 hours. On one try, I put the pallu on the wrong shoulder. On another try, the whole bottom border was too high. Then I had to get help from beloved husband-ji who got absolutely flustered too! He was better at the folds than me, but the final drape still looked off, and he didn't know why...oh the drama!

(This chick from Assam had a hard time, 2010)

After that incident, I was too freaked out to wear one again, until we went to India for my SIL's baby's naming ceremony. This time, we were staying in a hotel and the front girls' in the lobby all wore sarees. The morning of the event, I called down to the concierge and asked if they could send a girl up to help me. They sent up a girl from Assam who hardly knew how to do it herself! She made it a bit too revealing for my tastes, and then she completely folded/pinned the pallu down. Luckily, when I got to the event, my MIL's sisters helped fix it for me.

Somewhere between 2010 to present day, I started to practice on my own and started wearing it to events. That's when I got more comfortable with it - just by doing it myself. My confidence soared as I discovered my own tricks of the trade of wearing the saree. A saree is something that you have to learn to carry confidently - you have to swish around in it like you're floating on air. You have to wear the saree - and not let the saree wear you. I have found comfort in it - I always have the pallu to wrap around me in case I get cold.

(Attending a Chinese wedding in my Paithani silk saree, 1 month pregnant here and didn't know! Fall 2011)

Now I have a nice collection of sarees - 6 glitzy ones, 3 cottons, 8 silks. I love to collect them every time I go back to India because they are so timeless and effortless. No matter what size you are, no matter what event it is - it's instant glam. Not to mention...so comfortable. Especially the silk ones. My favorite place to get sarees is of course in India itself. The styles available in the West are outdated and overpriced. My favorite place to get glam sarees is Kalanikethan Wedding Mall; and my favorite place to get silk sarees is Nalli Silks. (Both in Hyderabad)

One thing that is difficult to get used to is how long the saree is. I almost tripped on it so many times because Indians like to wear it so long that only your toes are revealed. In order to prevent tripping, you have to walk really tall with it, and always have a hand ready to grab the pleats in case you hit an uphill.

(Madh Mama's secret trick)

I like to keep my pallu quite long because then it can easily wrap around me if needed. A secret trick is to pin the fabric downwards underneath the fold to create a mermaid-like shape (see pictures above).

The great thing about sarees is that you can make it as revealing or as covered as possible. That, and you don't ever have to wear Spanx (body slimming underwear)!

My MIL taught me how to do a saree a few times, and as well as my MIL's sisters, as well. But it is really hard for them to teach you because they are only used to doing it themselves, so they have to wrap their arms around you and do it...which is kind of awkward! As many Westerners know, nobody touches anybody in India - no hugging, nothing in public, or even in private, really...so it was like getting manhandled by all these chubby aunty's all of a sudden! I was like, "Whoaaaa!"

When I first went to India 7 years ago, I noticed many of the girls' preferred to wear Salwar Kameez sets. But in the past few years, I've noticed a lot of young girls wearing the saree again - wearing it to work, out to dinner. At any family function, the girls will all be wearing either silk sarees or Anarkali's. I've always been a fan of the saree because it is just so timeless and chic (y'all know I like to overdress, 100% of the time...how un-Vancouver of me!) I wish people dressed up more often here. In Vancouver it is just so damn casual. Even if I wear a plain cotton kurta that is practically a schmata, they say "it looks so fancy!" Ugh...The land of Lululemon...so when I wear a saree, it's a real show-stopper. I think that's because I can pull it off with confidence now. I don't feel naked anymore! I feel completely comfortable and at home in one!

Just like the sindoor, the thaali, the mangalsutram - learning how to do a saree perfectly has made me feel closer to the women in husband-ji's family. It is something I not only wanted to accomplish for myself, but it is something I want to teach my daughter one day.

(A special moment...finding "the one", my wedding dress saree)

I'm pleased to finally say (after 7 years) that I've OFFICIALLY got the saree thing down. It has been a looooong road. My cousin's wedding was this past weekend and I wanted to wear a saree, so I spent the entire night before watching videos of saree tutorials. The next morning, I tied my silk saree in 25 mins with the help of husband-ji.

And for the 2nd outfit, I tied my glitzy saree in under 10 mins, all by myself!!! I came outside the bedroom, and asked husband-ji, "How do I look?" He said, "It looks perfect. You did the pleats perfectly". I think he was a little shocked that for the first time ever I finally got it right. But there was a little sparkle in his eye...I didn't ask for his help. Miss Independant!!! Although I appeared cool and calm on the outside, inside my head I was screaming, "YEAAA!!!! Indian wife-y stamp of approval!!! A+++!!! I passed the test with flying colors!!! Woo hoo!!!" And then I proceeded to walk back into the bedroom nonchalantly... and put on my chunky marriage gold. What an awesome moment...



(This is the most helpful video I found)

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24 comments

  1. You are gorgeous! I love the first one and your wedding saree.

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    1. Thanks so much & thanks for reading! It took me 7 years to wrap that thing perfectly. I felt like I graduated from med school!!! Hahahaha...
      The ones you like I purchased from Kalanikethan Wedding Mall in Hyderabad.

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  2. Hi! I totally agree with Love in and LOVE this blog.
    Your daughter is absolutely beautiful!
    I have a question about sarees. Is is ok for women not from India to wear sarees? I just love them and would love,love to wear them but I am afraid that I might insult some and I certainly do not want to do that.
    Thanks so much for your time.

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    1. Thanks so much & thanks for reading!
      Of course it is ok...the saree is fantastic and everybody should try to wear it at least once in their lifetime. My MIL says that traditional Indians LOVE it when non-Indians wear Indian clothes. They feel very proud and respected that you are interested in their culture and dressing style. Indians are known to be very patriotic (just like Americans in that sense) so it makes them feel proud.
      Just make sure you get some help wrapping it correctly and wear it with confidence! And ALWAYS wear it with some kind of jewelry. Go all out :)

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    2. Thank you so much for your answer. I am going to order one that has the petticoat attached with hooks until I can learn the correct way to wrap. I am so excited and look forward to reading your blog!

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    3. Sure, if you have any questions, email me at madhmama@gmail.com - I'm happy to help!

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  3. Hi, This is the first time I've seen your blog and it looks great. I am also a westerner attempting to figure out the secrets of the saree for an Indian boyfriend :p. Arent they just beautiful?? One of the problems I have that I am hoping you can help with is pinning. The pleats I do okay with, but I bought a saree last time we were in India and I cannot for the life of me get a pin through the pleats! Im using pretty small pins, should I maybe try those big safety pins instead? Hoping you have some pointers, thanks!

    Carlin

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    1. Thanks so much for reading! Yes, try larger pins in the areas where there are more folds - for instance around the belly. I mostly use large pins except for the one pin on the shoulder for the pallu. It will help a lot!
      It may be easier to wear salwar kameez or anarkali, but saree's are just prettier and totally worth the effort. Just keep practicing and you'll get it. It took me 7 years, at times I thought it would never happen!

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    2. Yeah... Ill try a larger pin. Thank you! It was kind of funny, when my boyfriend and his family took me out to buy my first saree in Toronto, I had watched a whole bunch of online videos and they all looked soo easy. I was like "I'll do it once and it'll look perfect." Yeah right! I like salwar kameez a lot as well, but couldn't afford to buy any in India, and here they are just as expensive as sarees, which are still ridiculously expensive, so I'd rather spend the money on a saree. Maybe next time I go shopping in Toronto, we'll see.

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  4. i love your wedding saree, Alexandra! totally chic! :-)

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    1. Thank you so much! Hope my Maya can wear it one day :)

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  5. First thing I want to tell you is, that you look gorgeous in the Sari.
    Second thing is, that I really love your blog. Since my husband is as well from South India (Tamil Nadu) I can relate to many things and it's nice to see someone going through similar things. Thank you for your blog and your open insights of your life.

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    1. Awwwww thank you so much! Thank you for reading, so glad you can relate! Love your blog name - coffee and dosa! DOSA YUMMM!!!

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  6. ha ha, you wrote exactly how I felt when I first wore a sari..(though I felt half of it when i first wore a half sari( a stitched long skirt and a blouse with a pallu drape)...even as an Indian girl, I felt that I was half naked, as I could feel the breeze about my back and waist:) I struggled with it for the first three or so times and could do it well enough..later I could do it like a pro:) yeah that pinning it downwards trick is useful...makes the sari look tight and flatters the shape.

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    1. Ahhhh! Yes the breeze on the back makes one feel so naked! I always have the pallu pulled to the front so nobody can see my back.

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  7. haa the saree woes is what I can say reading this, but it looks really good on you. I am Indian and its my traditional outfit but still have troubles wearing it perfectly. I manage by tucking it some many safety pins !!!

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  8. Thanks Alexandra for accepting our traditional dress and putting it so positively. I am an Indian and I have a huge collection of Sarees. I wear it occasionally but it makes my day by receiving huge number of compliments. Try wearing it in Gujarati style and you will love it as it is comfortable way of draping

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  9. Hi! Loved your blog, especially the posts on your sari wearing adventures. I LOVE saris, and write about them too.

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    1. Thanks so much! Aren't sarees wonderful?

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    2. Oh dont worry its not just for westerners. A lot of younger generation indian girls are terrified by it and i know cause iam one. I was so worried how i would use the restroom in one :P Well to the relief of everybody.. there are sarees that can be stitched these days so you can just wear it like a wrap around skirt :) . And no extra safety pins. It comes with the skirt attached to it so extra pleats going into the saree either. Those can be annoying especially when they have embroidery or bead work borders and if urnt that tall. Utsav fashion has some nice collections where u can choose the saree and they will stitch it for you and send it over. You really look beaut in the white and red wedding saree and the red one too

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  10. Saree is an all time classic attire. And you are one of the very few non-Indians who carries it off so well.
    Very beautiful indeed ! :)

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  11. i love my sarees, my biggest wish was a black saree
    nw my friend is in india and bought on for me

    ahhhhhhhhh be happy to get one more
    my mom in law likes more, when i use salwar, beceause she dnt knw
    i knw hw to wear

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