There is no garment that’s more adaptable or democratising than the sari. From Bollywood’s prima donna Deepika Padukone to Bangladeshi activist Kalpona Akter, all wear it with equal savoir faire. But, the ubiquity of the sari blouse – that can give a new lease of life to an old sari, add a dash of colour to a drape or be used as a standalone piece with everything from culottes to paperbag skirts – has gone unnoticed.
Interestingly, the sari blouse was introduced by the British when India was a colony under the Raj. “It used to be a tight-fitted garment that served the purpose of covering up,” reveals fashion designer Payal Singhal. During the 19th century, many women didn’t cover their torsos in the southern part of India and Bengali women went bare-breasted under the saris, as seen in the National Award-winning film Chokher Bali (2003).
Modesty was a virtue borrowed from the Victorian way of dressing: English ladies wore corsets, Bengali women were bare-breasted under their saris
Modesty as a virtue was borrowed from the Victorian way of dressing, as women used to wear tight corsets under high-neck gowns. As they started going to work in the West, women started dressing differently too. Corsets were given up and high-neck blouses could be worn with skirts or trousers. The blouse was perhaps the first attempt by women wanting to fit into a man’s world – it was revolutionary.
Fashion designer Anju Modi says: “Culturally, we’ve been seeing the sari from the caves of Khajuraho to ancient paintings. But the modern woman has moved past it. The blouse has become a statement piece and there are myriad ways to style it. It used to be a body-hugging garment, but it has now transformed into a relaxed silhouette. Anti-fit blouses – be it a cape or a jacket – have become the norm.” Fashion designer Nachiket Barve adds, “There isn’t just one type of blouse any more as the sari is no longer for mums and grannies, which is why there are so many ways to wear it. ”
Therefore, modern-day blouses have gone beyond the sari – they’re not just worn to enhance it. And even though history shows us how the sari didn’t need a blouse at one point but we’ve now come to a point where blouses needn’t be armed with the sari, at all!
The shirt blouse
The shirt used to be a workwear staple and the shirt blouse is its modern interpretation – relaxed yet stylish. Pair the subtlety of the classic white shirt with a relaxed drape
(Sari and shirt, Badaam; shoes, H&M; earrings, Bhaavya Bhatnagar ; Sari and shirt, Badaam; shoes, H&M; earrings and trousers, Bhaavya Bhatnagar) ( Shivamm Paathak )
Drape your sari In: “A relaxed way just as they would in a Raja Ravi Varma painting. Keep it a bit casual,” says designer Anju Modi.
Alternatively wear it with: “Cigarette pants or culottes,” she adds.
Accessorise with: “Belts! You can go a little experimental with them if the design of the blouse is simple. Or keep it simple if it’s an embellished look,” suggests Anju Modi.
The coat blouse
Popularised by the military during the world war, a light overcoat-style blouse can be worn during unpredictable weather. Match utilitarian outerwear with the fluidity of the whole nine yards
(Sari and jacket blouse, Torani; shoes, H&M; earrings, Zariin; Jacket and pants, Torani; shoes, H&M; earrings, Zariin) ( Shivamm Paathak )
Drape your sari in: “Assamese Mekhela style or even something where the pallu is draped towards the front,” says Anju Modi.
Alternatively wear it with: “Trousers for a formal event in the evening,” she says.
Accessorise with: “A Victorian brooch for understated elegance,” says fashion designer Nachiket Barve.
The statement-sleeve blouse
As indicated by the name, this style is one where the exaggerated sleeve becomes the focus of the garment (and you get to flaunt the coolest trend of the year too!). Make a plain sari the cynosure of attention by pairing it with a blouse with dramatic sleeves
(Blouse and sari, Anavila; shoes, H&M; Blouse and sari, Bloni; shoes and skirt, H&M; earrings, Bhaavya Bhatnagar) ( Shivamm Paathak )
Drape with your sari in: “Fine pleating at the shoulder, casually draping the pallu over the wrist after tying it loosely around the waist or wrapping it around the neck,” says fashion designer Rimple Narula.
Alternatively wear it with: “A dhoti skirt or a dhoti pant. But, keep it high-waisted. A lot of mid-riff with a blouse does not always look good,” says Nachiket. “You can even wear it with wide-legged trousers or a voluminous skirt for a retro vibe,” adds Rimple.
Accessorise with: “A haathphool or a ring. Less is more,” says Nachiket.
The anti-fit blouse
Airy, breathable and loose-fitting, this blouse doesn’t cling to your curves and comes sans plunging necklines. Welcome new-age elegance into your wardrobe with an anti-fit blouse
(Blouse and sari, Anavila; Blouse, Anavila; skirt, H&M; footwear, H&M) ( Shivamm Paathak )
Drape with your sari in: “Loosely done pleats. Keep it comfortable and avoid anything pre-stitched,” says Anju Modi.
Alternatively wear it with: “Relaxed skirts or trousers. But, nothing too baggy,” says Nachiket Barve.
Accessorise with: “Antique silver jewellery for a bohemian look,” says fashion designer Payal Singhal.
The metallic blouse
A Space Age staple, the metal wire is making stylish inroads into ethnic fashion in the form of a blouse. Bring back Parisian night clubs from the 1960s by adding metallic texture to the blouse
(Sari and blouse, Rimzim Dadu; earrings, Bhaavya Bhatnagar; Blouse, Rimzim Dadu; trousers, H&M; earrings, Bhaavya Bhatnagar; shoes, Rimzim Dadu) ( Shivamm Paathak )
Drape with your sari in: “Styles from across the length and breadth of the country. There are so many drapes that come from various ethnic groups. Each part of India has a drape of its own. There’s a lot of room for experimentation,” says fashion designer Payal Singhal.
Alternatively wear it with: “Palazzos or even leather pants. It really depends on the length and the fit of the blouse,” says fashion designer Nachiket Barve.
Accessorise with: “A coin necklace for an ethnic look or diamonds if you’re going to a wedding, depending on the occasion,” says designer Nachiket Barve.