Sari



The sari (or saree) is traditional attire for women of South Asian (especially Indian) descent and is essentially a long piece of fabric that is draped around the body. It is usually worn together with a short fitted blouse, known as a choli, and a long petticoat.1

Description

The sari is a length of unstitched cloth ranging from 3 to 8 m in length that is wrapped around a woman’s body.2 It covers both the upper and lower torso, and sometimes the head as well.3 There are three main parts to the sari: a field, borders and an end piece known as the pallu.4 The field is the main section that is draped around the wearer. Draping is done in a way to highlight the design and ornamentation of the field. The border runs the length of the sari along the edges and is meant to beautify the garment as well as to add weight at the edges to enable the fabric to fall nicely in place.5 The pallu is the end piece of the sari that is usually embellished and draped over the shoulder.6

There are many ways in which a sari can be draped. In the past, the way a sari was draped reflected its geographical origins. For example, in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, the sari was draped with back pleats to create a fan effect. Today, most Indian women adopt the popular nivi style where one end of the sari is tucked at the waist into the petticoat. It is then pleated and wound around the legs to form a long skirt that reaches the ankles. The remaining end is thrown over the shoulder or head.7

Saris come in a variety of colours, patterns and materials. They can be made from natural materials such as silk and cotton, or synthetic fabrics such as nylon and polyester. While traditionally woven on hand looms, most saris are now produced in factories using power looms.8

Historical development
The people of the Indian subcontinent have worn some form of draped clothing for centuries. It is believed that the forerunner of the sari emerged in the late 18th century in the form of an outfit that consisted of a skirt, a bodice and a sheer veil that fluttered around the body. This outfit gradually evolved into the sari.9


There were few Indian women in Singapore in the 19th and early 20th centuries as most Indian migrants who arrived during this period were single men who came as labourers or businessmen.10 The number of female Indian migrants to Singapore increased dramatically after World War II. Many of them migrated to Singapore in order to join their husbands or families. With this influx of Indian female migrants came their native dress, the sari.11

Over the years, the basic design of the sari has remained generally unchanged but the materials used to make them have. In the past, most saris were made of natural fibres such as silk and cotton, but synthetic materials such as polyester are most popular nowadays. The choli blouse that is worn with the sari has undergone various changes over the years. In the early 20th century, the choli had high necklines and long sleeves. Subsequently, the blouse and sleeves became shorter and the neckline lower.12

Modern varieties
Ready-made saris have become popular in recent years as they are easier to wear than traditional saris, which require skill and practice in draping. These modern saris come with zips, sewn-in pleats and elastic waistbands, making them convenient and comfortable to wear. They also come in a wide range of materials and colours to suit different budgets.13


Other modern uses
In addition to being worn as an outfit, the sari material is now also used for other products. For example, the decorative borders and pallus are used to make curtain panels, cushion covers, bags and other home textile products.14

Cultural significance
Traditionally, the wearing of the sari was regarded as a sign of maturity. In the past, the first time an Indian girl wore a sari was when she was presented as a potential bride during marriage discussions.15 Indian mothers would often start collecting saris for their daughters from a young age as part of her dowry. A traditional Indian wedding comprises a series of rituals in which the bride is expected to wear a different sari for each one.16


Cultural norms also influenced a woman’s choice of sari. Older women, for example, are expected to wear saris in dark tones while younger women are encouraged to wear bright colours. Red is a popular choice for wedding saris as it is regarded to be an auspicious colour.17



Author
Stephanie Ho



References
1. Costumes through time: Singapore. (1993). Singapore:  National Archives of Singapore and Fashion Designers’ Society, p. 113. (Call no.: RSING q391.0095957 COS-[CUS])
2.
Askari, N., & Arthur, L. (1999). Uncut cloth. London: Merrell Holberton, p. 23. (Call no.: RART q746.0954 ASK)
3.
Anawalt, P. R. (2007). The worldwide history of dress. London: Thames & Hudson, p. 228. (Call no.: R 391.009 ANA-[CUS])
4.
Askari, N., & Arthur, L. (1999). Uncut cloth. London: Merrell Holberton, p. 23. (Call no.: RART q746.0954 ASK)
5.
Katiyar, V. S. (2009). Indian saris: traditions, perspectives, design. New Delhi: Wisdom Tree, p. 33. (Call no.: R 391.20954 KAT-[CUS])
6.
Katiyar, V. S. (2009). Indian saris: traditions, perspectives, design. New Delhi: Wisdom Tree, p. 34. (Call no.: R 391.20954 KAT-[CUS])
7.
Anawalt, P. R. (2007). The worldwide history of dress. London: Thames & Hudson, p. 228. (Call no.: R 391.009 ANA-[CUS]); Askari, N., & Arthur, L. (1999). Uncut cloth. London: Merrell Holberton, p. 23. (Call no.: RART q746.0954 ASK)
8.
Banerjee. M., & Miller, D. (2005). Sari. In V. Steele (Ed.), Encyclopedia of clothing and fashion. Detroit: Thomson Gale, pp. 139–140. (Call no.: LR q391.003 ENC-[CUS])
9.  
Biswas, A. (1985). Indian costumes. New Delhi: Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Govt. of India, pp. 27–28. (Call no.: R 391.00954 BIS-[CUS])
10.
Ang, M. W. (2000). Costumes of Singapore. In K. M. Chavalit & M. Phromsuthirak (Eds.), Costumes in ASEAN. Bangkok: The National ASEAN Committee on Culture and Information of Thailand, p. 208. (Call no.: RSING 391.00959 COS-[CUS])
11.
Ang, M. W. (2000). Costumes of Singapore. In K. M. Chavalit & M. Phromsuthirak (Eds.), Costumes in ASEAN. Bangkok: The National ASEAN Committee on Culture and Information of Thailand, p. 213. (Call no.: RSING 391.00959 COS-[CUS])
12.
Costumes through time: Singapore. (1993). Singapore:  National Archives of Singapore and Fashion Designers’ Society, p. 113. (Call no.: RSING q391.0095957 COS-[CUS])
13. C
hatterjee, J. (1993, November 11). Ready-made saris popular this Deepavali. The Straits Times, pp. 12–13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14.
Katiyar, V. S. (2009). Indian saris: traditions, perspectives, design. New Delhi: Wisdom Tree, p. 199. (Call no.: R 391.20954 KAT-[CUS])
15.
Banerjee, M., & Miller, D. (2003). The sari. Oxford, New York: Berg, p. 65. (Call no.: R 391.20954 BAN-[CUS])
16.
Banerjee. M. & Miller, D. (2005). Sari. In V. Steele (Ed.), Encyclopedia of clothing and fashion. Detroit: Thomson Gale, p. 140. (Call no.: LR q391.003 ENC-[CUS])
17.
Askari, N., & Arthur, L. (1999). Uncut cloth. London: Merrell Holberton, p. 23. (Call no.: RART q746.0954 ASK)



The information in this article is valid as at 6 September 2013 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

Subject
Heritage and Culture
Indians (Asians)
Clothing
Ethnic Communities
Indian costumes
Traditional dress