New York Apparel Peopling of New York, Spring 2015

New York Apparel



By Sabrina Momtez

The history of saree goes all the back to the Indus Valley Civilization, 2800-1800 BCE, the first civilization on the Indian subcontinent. It is spelled saree, sari, and shari, all of which refer to the same thing.  In Sanskrit, the word saree literally means a strip of cloth. The style of wearing saree depends on the region but one thing in common for all sarees is that it is one continuous piece of cloth, folded and sometimes stitched to look the way the regional women prefer to wear. It is always worn with a blouse called choli, which covers the upper half of the body, and bares the torso. Most sarees are also worn with a petticoat matching the color of the saree which provides a base for the saree to attach to the body. As a result, traditional sarees are complete attires on their own.

The important idea to remember is that there is no such thing as “A Traditional Saree” or “a traditional way of wearing saree.” Like mentioned above, a saree is one continuous strip of cloth, draped around the body in pleats and folds. Being so simple and fluid, it was inevitable that every region that the saree reached, the women of the region adapted it to best fit their lifestyle. As time passed and trade routes spread the saree wide and far in the ancient times, each region developed a distinct style of draping the saree to the point that even in modern times, a person knowledgeable about the different drapes can identify where a woman is from just based on her saree.


Nivi Saree Style 2

This article will discuss the different styles of wearing the saree in major regions of the Indian subcontinent, such the Bengal, Srilanka, and Maharashtra. Then it will move forward to discuss the changes that have come to the idea of a saree,the styles of draping the saree, and the people who wear saree in New York City.


Nivi Style Saree



The most common way of wearing a saree is called the nivi style. Almost everyone of the younger generation (which will refer to women 30 or below from now on) and older generation (40 and above) and everyone in between in NYC wears the saree in the nivi style, regardless of regional origin. It is worn by wrapping around the waist, making 5-7 pleats in front-center, and pulling it around and then finally draping the end, called the pallu, over one shoulder. The open pallu variation (red) is called the dakshini style by some people. Below are two variations of the nivi, both equally popular.







THE BENGAL: The green shows the political map of the modern Bangladesh which is a democracy. The orange border shows the historical Bengal which was ruled by regional kings that shared the same calendar and had similar culture and traditions. The deep brown shows the part of India which identifies as Bengali in culture and language but is Indian as a nationality. Directly south and west of West Bengal is the province Orissa.

The Bengal region consists of the country Bangladesh and the eastern border of India touching Bangladesh which is called the West Bengal. This region is united through language and culture. It has a mixed population of Hindus, Muslims, Christians, and Buddhists, and also is divided by Indian and Bangladeshi border. Historically this region was largely Hindu before Islam reached it. In modern times, Hindus and Muslims live in relative peace, unless stirred by politicians for nefarious purposes. The Odisha region, formerly called Orissa as labeled in the map, also hold old ties with the Bengal region, being so close, so they also have similar cultural and the major religion is Hinduism. For easier reference purposes, the Oriya will also be called Bengali in this article.


Variations of the Bengali Style

The common style of saree draping in the Bengal and Odisha region is known as the Bengali or Oriya style, or sometimes as the Devdas style. The nickname Devdas style came from the novel/movie of the same name that took place in West Bengal where the females wore the saree in the Bengali style. It is worn without any pleats at all and is commonly wrapped twice around the body and then looped around both shoulders. For visual purposes, refer to the three variations in the image.

In New York, this style is worn by both Bengalis and Indians, the former due to being Bengali and the latter due to the popular Indian movie called Devdas. Usually this style is worn during the Haldi and/or Mehendi ceremony of the wedding. Many Bengali Hindus wear the Bengali style during religious ceremonies called puja and during religious and cultural festivals. Most Muslim and Hindus wear it on the Bengali New Year called Pohela Boishakh. On other special occasions such as Eid, or get-together parties, or birthday parties, only the younger generation will sometimes wear the Bengali style of draping. The older generation will usually wear the nivi style mentioned above.





Gujrati Style Saree


Gujrati Style Saree

The third most popular and common way of wearing a saree is the Gujarati style which originates from the Indian province called Gujarat. It starts out similar to the nivi style where the cloth is wrapped around the waist once and then is pleated but instead of bring it around thefront and letting the pallu fall in the back, this style brings it from the back and drops it in the front. Refer to the picture below for a visual manifestation. This style is of course popular with the Gujarati community in New York City because all the adults and young adults back home wear the saree in this style. What changed dramatically is the adoption of this style by almost all communities, especially the Bangladeshi community as I have seen from personal experience, as he perfect and acceptable way of draping the saree pallu or the dupatta with the lehenga for weddings. It is thought tohave a regal look to it. Youth and adult, regardless of regionalor cultural origin wear the Gujarati drape on special occasions. Many people wearing it has no idea where it originated from.

Due to live television channels being broadcasted from India and the Bengals to New York City, people have easy access to cultural practices of regions that are physically distant on the home subcontinent. The widespread use of social network erased the boundaries and freely encouraged everyone to experiment with new styles and fabrics. The Nivi, Bengali, and Gujarati styles are only three of the countless number of wraps worn by women on the Indian subcontinent and its descendants all over the world. In the video, some of the wraps of other regions will be highlighted.

New York City isn’t a mesh of different nationalities; it is also a mesh of different regions within the same “larger community.” The rules change and new rules are made and people do whatever they please with traditional clothes and call it modern fashion. Sometimes it’s scary, like wearing a saree like a pant or cocktail dress but other times it’s beautiful. Back home, wearing a saree is a sign of maturity, a symbol of being a married woman. Very few girls that are not married ever wear the saree until they reach the age of marriage. Very few married women ever wear anything but sarees from they the day they are married. Wearing anything else, like the salwar kameez, is considered being modern, which isn’t always looked at as a good thing. Here in New York City, most women, married or not, usually doesn’t wear the saree on a regular basis. If they are closely tied to their culture, they wear the salwar kameez on a daily basis and wears the sarees for special occasions mentioned above. Since it’s the youth who are more likely to have get togethers, it’s usually the youth who wear the saree more frequently. To them, it’s a sign of reaching out to their culture, or having an unique identity where the uniqueness is often lost in the assimilation process.


Hollywood Celebraties In Saree


Diverse Women in the Saree

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