Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Different Types of Indian Attire

Starting to wear Indian attire for the first time can be a daunting experience - there are so many different styles, fabrics, and ways to wear them. Fashion in India is an untapped gem for most foreigners - and really, you have no idea what you're missing! I feel that every woman should have Indian attire in their closet because it is so beautiful, comfortable, well-made and versatile. In terms of women's fashion, India is the best place in the world.

Since I am a big lover of Indian attire, I constantly get emails from people to explain the different types and how to wear it. I have put together this list as a guide for foreigners who wish to try wearing Indian attire.

For the latest fashions and styles, it's best to buy these things in India directly. The Indian attire that is sold in the West is most likely 10 years old, bad quality, and it is hard to find a tailor here. It is best to purchase it in India and get it tailored there during a trip to India.

I encourage all women to wear it confidently and also correctly.

Different types of Indian Attire:

The saree is arguably one of India's national symbols that exudes elegance and grace. The saree is usually a 6 yard long piece of fabric, with an extra piece of matching loose fabric for the blouse which you must get tailored. Underneath the saree, you must wear a matching plain petticoat, in case the saree is see-through. The petticoat is also used to tuck the saree fabric into. One of the reasons I love the saree so much is because of it's versatility - you can wear it to any event, and it looks good on any size. Whether you gain or loose weight, the saree is always an option because it's a single piece of fabric that you fold. Folding the saree takes a lot of practice, but it is very secure and comfortable once it's on. Saree's come in silk, jacquard, chiffon, crepe, cotton, and more. The drape of the saree depends on what region your family comes from/what region you reside in/where your spouse comes from. There are hundreds of different ways to drape the saree.

Pieces: 3 - Saree, Blouse, Petticoat.
Where to wear it: Visiting a temple, Wedding, Wedding guest, Diwali, fancy evening event, most festivals.

Salwar Kameez / Churidar
A Salwar Kameez is a great alternative to wearing a saree and it is very popular in India among women of all ages. The Salwar Kameez consists of a loose pant, a tunic, and a dupatta (scarf). It is sold at most shops as a 3 piece set that you have to get tailored, however nowadays many shops have pre-made sets. You can get the Salwar Kameez made with a beautiful neckline - tailors will have a variety of styles that you can pick out. I also like having the Dupatta because you can use it to cover up, for warmth, or to even dry your hands after the bathroom! The Salwar pants are so comfortable and loose, and they have a drawstring. An alternative to the loose pant would be a tailored legging called a "churidar". A cotton Salwar Kameez set is perfect for hot weather. It is worn in all parts of India and Pakistan, as well.

Pieces: 3 - Tunic, Loose Pant, Dupatta.
Where to wear it: Daily life, travel/errands, work, fancier ones for festivals and cultural events.

A kurti is a great piece for beginners or for people who want to keep it simple. A kurti is basically a shorter tunic. You can throw on a simple kurti over jeans, leggings, or Patiala pants. It is a casual, no-fuss look that many modern urban working women like to wear. A single kurti translates easily to the West, where it doesn't look odd if you wear it every day. In the Summer, I wear kurti's nearly every day. They are also comfortable for flight travels.

Pieces: 1 - Tunic.
Where to wear it: Daily life, travel/errands, work.

In recent years, the anarkali has become a popular alternative to the Saree/Salwar Kameez for fancy events. The anarkali consists of a fitted empire waist dress that flares out. It can be sleeveless, or with sleeves. It is a dramatic piece because when you turn around, the dress flares out like a flamingo dancer. The anarkali dress is a long piece that reaches down to your mid-calf or even floor length. It comes with a tight tailored legging (churidar) and a dupatta that you must wear as a complete 3 piece outfit. The anarkali also looks great with a heeled shoe - either a kitten heel or a high heel. The anarkali is a new fashion that has been around since 2010-ish and a lot of celebrities wear it. It is considered to be very modern and fashionable for women of any age. The anarkali is a Mughal inspired outfit and it is widely worn in India, Pakistan, and parts of the Middle East.

Pieces: 3 - Anarkali, Legging, Dupatta.
Where to wear it: Wedding guest, cultural event, festivals, evening event, nice dinner.

Lehenga Choli
Lehenga's look great on girls with small stomachs and it is probably the most revealing Indian attire. Lehenga's are usually worn by young girls of a certain age (pre-motherhood) and it is more widely worn in Northern India. If you have a fit body, a lehenga is a great way to show it off. Most lehenga's reveal the stomach, but you can also get one that doesn't show your stomach by asking the tailor to design a top that extends to the top of the skirt. You can also drape the dupatta as a cross-over fabric to cover your stomach. The lehenga also looks good on an hourglass figure because the piece divides right in the middle. Many lehengas have a mermaid shape.

Pieces: 3 - Crop Top, Long Skirt, Dupatta.
Where to wear it: Wedding, Wedding guest, Prom dress alternative, big festivals.

Half-saree's are very popular with young teenage girls or girls in their twenties, especially in the Southern states. It is a fusion between the saree and a Lehenga Choli. It is a starter saree for girls who aren't really old enough to wear a full saree. It is symbolic attire for a girl who has matured (menstruating), but is not yet a woman (not yet married). Traditionally, the half-saree was worn every day, however nowadays it is usually only worn for special occasions. The half-saree is a flattering design on all body types, and it is not too revealing. It is also relatively easy to wear, and it has the elegance of a saree. The half-saree has an extended long dupatta ("Oni") that is tucked (or pleated) into the skirt and draped around the body and over the shoulder - similar to the saree.

Pieces: 3 - Top, Long Skirt, Long Dupatta
Where to wear it: Wedding guest, Prom dress alternative, Festivals, Visiting a temple, Conservative daily wear.


Dear readers, what is your favorite type of Indian attire?
Which ones have you worn?



  1. Really nice article on the "art of saree-ing"! :)
    I found the "108 ways to drape a saree" from this post to be fantastic. I think this is one of your best blog posts. does Maya have a saree too? (although six yards may be too long for her yet?)

  2. One thing that has starting really being a fashion thing in cities in India these days is pairing a kurta with palazzo pants, palazzos have pretty much replaced salwar pants for our generation of women, but only for casual wear, formal wear is still either a saree or an ornate anarkali. That said, there are also short anarkali that are meant for daily casual wear and are paired with either stretch churidars or tailored western style pants and jeans. They stop mid thigh and are made of cotton and usually have the same type of everyday embellishment and frills a casual kurta has.

    I totally agree on the buying ethnic wear in India itself, when you are new to it, you will not grasp the subtleties in the latest fashion style as whatever makes it abroad seem to look quite old fashioned to me.

    1. I know! Palazzo's are in. Leggings are so last year. Palazzo's have been there in the west for as long as I can remember but Indians have given it a new twist Desi style. I used to find palazzo pants only in blacks browns and white but here there is just so much variety to choose from. The printed ones also look so good.
      Some stores like myntra have launched their collection and while the word feminism has been tossed in India so carelessly in 2015 I much appreciate myntra for this ad "Bold is Beautiful". Check it out. Including the gorgeous palazzo pants.

  3. Palazzo pants have become quite popular in India recently also.
    I live in churidars & and kurtis with my long skinny legs. Most churidars are being made of stretch cotton or viscose with an elastic waist nowadays so they are quite comfortable.

  4. My favorite has got to be the saree. At one time, I used to collect sarees but now that I live in the United States of America and am not in touch with the Indian community and don't visit temples of Indian events, the last time I wore a saree would be seven years ago! You look amazing in the photos :-). I haven't worn an anarkali before but I could see that becoming a new favorite. I also like Pakistani salwar kameez (at least the ones I see in Pakistani soaps) since they seem so comfortable and practical.


  5. I have an indian friend and I saw the half-saree. The first thing I thought is that she would be pissed off wearing it due to the nature of her tomboy attitude.


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