Sensuous, magical, feminine, the sari is one of the most versatile garments. India's national costume is usually associated with traditional, even homely women, but the country’s youth are shattering this stereotype by customising the look in ways that are at once convenient and comfortable, and making the sari everyday wear.
From playing with draping styles to pairing the garment over leggings or jeans and replacing the choli blouse with a T-shirt or crop top, the new generation look upon the sari as a contemporary wardrobe staple, thanks to social workers and social media stars alike.
Soon after Eshna Kutty’s hula-hooping video – in a sari, wide-legged pants and trainers – went viral, many young women copied her casual style of draping, which is typically considered time-consuming and an obstruction to daily activities.
More women are now doing “unusual” things while wearing a sari. Jayanthi Sampathkumar, a senior engineering manager at Google in Hyderabad, has been running marathons sporting a sari since 2017.
She ran her first full marathon of 42 kilometres at the Airtel Hyderabad Marathon the same year in which she made the Guinness World Record for fastest running in a sari. “For this run, I got myself a lightweight nine-yard Ikat sari and wore it in the Madisar style with slight modifications,” she says.
More sari-clad athletes, young and old, can be found in the Pinkathon, a ladies-only marathon with a “sari run” segment organised by actor, model and humanitarian Milind Soman.
Another man with a sari-reviving plan is Ramesh Menon, who was devastated to see the destruction caused by floods in his home town, Chendamangalam, Kerala, in 2018. Menon launched Save the Loom, a non-profit organisation to help affected weavers and revive all the destroyed looms.
“We have since reimagined handwoven fabrics like kasavu to give them a contemporary look and appeal to youngsters and working women,” says Menon. The brand’s Vidhi line, for example, is a lightweight and breathable collection of saris in classic designs originally aimed at female lawyers going about their business in stuffy courtrooms. The range has since become popular with other female professionals.
Fellow handloom lover and sari enthusiast Mrinalini Shastry from Hyderabad launched a vibrant start-up called Six Yards Plus for women who are socially and environmentally conscious and looking for more versatile and long-lasting saris. “We are also constantly innovating to cater to the requirements of our young clients, considering their limitations of experience and time to shop the traditional way,” says Shastry.
The Sari Surprise unboxing scheme, for example, requires women to choose one of three categories – earthy, vibrant or festive – and fill out a brief questionnaire on their lifestyle priorities, before they are delivered a sari package that meets their needs and aesthetic preferences.
Sari spin-offs are also budding across the country to tap into the growing interest among young women.
Shruti Kasat of The Saree Sneakers, for instance, designs intricately embroidered trainers to match saris and other traditional Indian wear (although it is no longer uncommon to see women – even new-age brides – pairing their saris with on-trend white trainers).
In the online sphere, Border&Fall is a digital publication created to showcase Indian crafts and fashion. Its The Sari Series project was born from creative director Malika V Kashyap’s passion to showcase the numerous ways in which a sari can be draped other than the typical Nivi style.
The project is a digital repository of 90 short videos that portray 83 styles of draping, plus three short films that “capture how sari textures can envelop us, how they can travel with us like a second skin and comfort us as a friend”.