Saree or a Skirt: How does it matter?

Amrita Prasad
Thursday, 15 February 2018

Ace designer and couturier Sabyasachi Mukherjee’s comment on shaming women who can’t drape a saree created a controversy. We speak to designers and textile revivalists to know what they feel about it.

They say women look their best in sarees. No matter how many pairs of denims we own, or whether our closet is full of dresses and gowns, every girl wants her mom’s Kanjeevaram or Banarasi saree. And needless to say we love to flaunt sarees at weddings and other occasions. But does that mean we must wear them to work everyday or drape one while catching up with friends? The answer is: No, simply because it’s not practical to wear the six-yard everyday. There are also women who don’t know how to drape the saree.  

However, one of India’s ace designers and couturiers Sabyasachi Mukherjee recently said, “I think, if you tell me that you do not know how to wear a saree, I would say, ‘shame on you’. It’s a part of your culture, (you) need to stand up for it.” He was addressing Indian students at the Harvard India Conference, Massachusetts, USA. His comment didn’t go down well with millions of Indians, including some designers who thought the statement was not just sexist and derogatory but also reeked of patriarchy. What also irked many was his statement, ‘Dhoti is dead,’ spoken in a casual and carefree way. But isn’t keeping a culture or tradition alive the responsibility of both men and women? 

After being slammed and receiving flak, the designer, who is being criticised for creating outfits for elitists, took to Instagram to apologise in an open letter. But the question is: Should women be judged on the basis of what they wear? Shouldn’t your comfort level and choice be the determining factors for what you wear? We catch up with a few designers to know their take on it.  
Gaurang Shah, a celebrated designer, and textile revivalist, says that we are living in a world of change and fashion is no exception. “While the progression to Western wear has been very dramatic and fast, the gradual reversal to ethnic wear, handlooms and textiles with a blend of past and present is gaining lot of momentum presently. As a designer, I have been a strong proponent of saree and traditional wear, and I admire women wearing the saree. It is the most beautiful dress. But it also depends on the region where she comes from. Like each state has its own traditional take on a saree. And it is an individual choice of what she wants to wear,” he says.  

Today, saree is evolving and the draping style is also undergoing a change, making it more cool and trendy. So then how are we carrying forward its legacy? Answers Gaurang, “We are using the saree in different ways like a dupatta or a drape to add style quotient without slicing them or breaking the originality. For a fashion to sustain, innovation is vital but at the same time it is challenging to balance the old-new looks.” His calico line witnessed saree drapes in 12 different styles. 

When wearing a saree, women do tend to promote the textile and traditional, but one’s choice is important. “You cannot force anyone to wear it nor should one be ridiculed for not being able to wear it. When a woman client comes to me they are very clear if they want to wear a saree or an outfit. It is always ‘their choice what to wear, when to wear and what to wear.’ The younger generation is very fashion conscious and know what works best for them. In fact, in several parts of India, wearing saree/ dhoti isn’t a part of the culture. You have to introduce the idea, and make the younger generation fall in love with it,” he says. 

Designer Masaba Gupta also took a dig at those putting ‘strange badges’ on women on the basis of what they wear or drink. “Can someone talk about how women should just wear/ do/ eat/ drink what they like instead of constantly putting strange badges on them basis what they can’t do. Please leave us alone, in our torn jeans, chugging beer, cackling away...Or not!” Masaba tweeted. Her comment came after Sabyasachi’s statement and Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar’s comment on girls drinking beer.

City-based designer Jayesh Sachdev, a visual artist, and creative entrepreneur and co-founder, Quirk Box, believes that every individual has the right to decide what they want to or prefer to wear. “I’m not sure if it is (wearing saree) the only way to feel cultured. It would be wonderful if women embraced the saree, but it’s a choice, they are free to make. I think it’s wonderful to embrace your culture and the saree is undoubtedly a beautiful piece of clothing. I just believe in the end everyone has a choice to decide what their preference of clothing is,” he says. 

According to Hemalatha Jain, founder Punarjeevana who is reviving Patteda Anchu, feels that wearing the saree will not just promote our culture and tradition but also revive crafts and help artisans earn a living. “I wear sarees everyday and travel and I feel it is quite practical to do so. I have seen my mom doing it for long. I feel even  young women can — once you start wearing it regularly, you’ll gradually find it comfortable,” she says. 

Related News

​ ​