A Sari for every Season


Delhi has a couture discipline of its own – not one that outsiders would notice straight away, but one that the women know.

It is beyond fashion, more constant than that. It is a veritable grid, fairly complex, that tells the Dame of Delhi what to wear.

The variables are as diverse as the weather (naturally), the occasion (but obvious), the people one is likely to meet (it’s the climber’s city, remember?), the latest television serial (oh yes!) and of course, the designer one is promoting. Just these? Nah, would I tell you all my secrets right away?

Would the dame of Delhi wear a saree these days?

(She does wear dresses and trouser suits too, and not just when she is abroad)

But surely, if she wants to be taken seriously. The ones in sarees are the ones who give orders, who direct others and do not need to be hands on any more. Not saying that those in sarees don’t work at all (most who need to wear sarees often work non stop), but the Dame who wears a saree certainly signals seniority.

Unless, we speak of the dame come lately, who will be told apart by the slinkiness and the net in her garment, draped provocatively as it will be. That person has work to do.

The Lady dons her slinky chiffons, rarely georgettes for an evening out. Some bling cannot be denied, though the real zari signals class even on chiffons. These are for ‘cocktail parties’, one cannot take chiffons more seriously than that!

But the way to tell a lady who knows the land is to watch her wardrobe change with the seasons. The crisp Bengali Dhakai (or even a Taant) gives way for the Kota cottons as summers become harsher and more unbearable. Softer Maheshwari prints on pure finely woven cottons augur the onset of the monsoon. Chanderis take over the evenings, holding up like queens who never flag, never droop. Venkatgiris for special days, thicker Puneri cottons or Karnataka weaves take one through the rest of the muggy weather.

The monsoon festivals are not part of the formal traditional sari cycle – the formality giving way to bling. A dreary monsoon is enlivened by the first signs of zari – and some ‘artificial’ materials are forgiven, for they hold up through the day of visits and showers, of work and pleasure and innumerable meals. The sophisticates would look to the Banarasi on chiffons to honour both the occasion and the weather.

September and October are rather uncertain months, neither cool, nor marked by festivals. Months of austerity and planning, and the saris of the time reflect that too. Ikats and Pochampallis in heavier cotton signal the onset of tougher times. At work too, these are the months where more gets done – the sales and production cycles must provide the strength to manage the slack the festival season brings. Saris are worn for style, but also to survive the day. come what may. A hint of festivities ahead, as thick cottons give way to Tussar Cotton weaves and fine cotton silk blends. The year the festivals are late, the prints come in early.

The festival season unleashes the gorgeousness of traditional silks and weaves. The Balucheris brought out for the Puja and Dusshehra, The mangalgiri and silk Pochampallis marking the onset of plenty and prosperity. Grand Banarasis are saved for the main festival days of Diwali (and similar) while fine Bandhinis, Kanchipurams and Ikats compete to be the grandest on the day.

While it is unlikely that a Banarasi is worn to work, kanchipurams, Tussars and even Patolas are regular work wear in the harsh winter months when the cloth is both a work of art and a practical defence against the damp insidious weather.

February passes, and with it are put away the heavy silks, giving in to the mulberry silks of Madhya Pradesh or the ligher weaves from Orissa. Holi marks the transition back to the land of cottons, with the grand silks mothballed, waiting for the festivities to begin again.

Then there is the conference circuit, and the NGO look that must conform to these seasons, but in their own nod-to-tribal-roots-of-garments kind of way. The sari borders must tell a story if one is discussing growth in large groups of the cognoscenti, while the gatherings that discuss development are more about how the sari is worn, and the embroidered motifs. The weaves, of course would be more dense, the threads thicker. The politics of the wearer often though is revealed in the bindi – not the fabric. The larger it is, the more growth oriented the speaker. The darker the bindi, the more they will speak of development, of sanitation and grassroots change.

Surely, I jest, you say. Of course I do.