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Borders
February 24, 2014 10:40 AM   Subscribe

In the beginning, all saris were created equal, then they weren’t. enter the border: functional accoutrement, artisanal medium, class distinction.
posted by infini (36 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite

 
There has been some blurring of the facts between zardozi and zari being distinct and different yet the author places them in status categories separately, whereas you can have original zari work in pure gold thread as well for those who can afford it, and yes, those borders were transferred from sari to sari. Zardozi would be different from zari as cross stitch is from satin stitch rather than the status marker difference of petit point from a patch.
posted by infini at 10:56 AM on February 24 [7 favorites]


Fascinating and engaging read!
posted by The Whelk at 11:02 AM on February 24 [1 favorite]


This is a wonderful article, but I want to kick the crap out of that cycling pink dot.
posted by Madamina at 11:07 AM on February 24 [6 favorites]


I agree about the pink dot - I was only able to read a few paragraphs before I quit because of it.
posted by michellenoel at 11:15 AM on February 24 [2 favorites]


What a fascinating article. Thank you for finding it for us, infini!

(And that pink dot...grr. I will join in the kicking.)
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 11:20 AM on February 24


I moved my web browser so that the left area was off the screen. It helped immensely. It's a long article, and the pink dot _stayed visible when scrolled_, so it was totally worth it to move the browser over.
posted by amtho at 11:23 AM on February 24


I use Adblock Plus so I just custom filtered it out.

*looks smug to boot*
posted by infini at 11:32 AM on February 24 [10 favorites]


Aiming to find a place in Guinness World Records 2008 for the world’s most expensive sari, Chennai Silks, the largest silk trader in Tamil Nadu, encrusted a sari with gold, diamonds, rubies and corals. It took 4,760 work hours, 198 full days, to produce. The border depicted 11 paintings by Raja Ravi Varma—an artist whose paintings of sari-clad women either did wonders for the sari or massively misrepresented it, depending on how his voluptuous calendar art strikes your aesthetic sense. On January 5, 2008, the Chennai Silks sari, far too heavy and far too precious to ever be worn, was sold for almost Rs. 40 lakhs. And copycats.
posted by infini at 11:39 AM on February 24 [1 favorite]


Thanks infini for a nice article and thanks adblock plus for making it easy to read.
posted by TheLittlePrince at 11:40 AM on February 24 [1 favorite]


The Parsi legacy of this dubious chapter is the gara—from the Gujarati word garo, a length of cloth—and the gara sari is notable for two things. First, it is a rare cultural miscegenation that worked. The things are gorgeous. Second, as the decades passed, values of these garas shot up like ardent poppies in growing season. Some garas today, zealously guarded as family heirlooms, are worth 10 of any other top-drawer Indian sari.
posted by infini at 11:42 AM on February 24 [1 favorite]


Sorry! Just discovered Vintage Indian clothing - apparently 1937 was all about ruffles!
posted by infini at 11:54 AM on February 24 [3 favorites]


This looks really interesting infini, thanks!
posted by werkzeuger at 12:09 PM on February 24 [1 favorite]


Oh, this is dangerous. There is a rabbit hole opening before me, and I'm on deadline.
posted by EvaDestruction at 12:23 PM on February 24 [1 favorite]


EvaDestruction - come on in, the rabbit hole is fine. (and so pretty!)
posted by korej at 1:23 PM on February 24


The Rise of the Sari-Tying Class
posted by infini at 1:33 PM on February 24 [1 favorite]


re: the pink dot I use Adblock Plus so I just custom filtered it out.

There's a very useful plugin for Chrome (and likely for other browsers) called remove element which will let you click on any damned thing on the page and it removes it (from the DOM if you're web-nerd like that). Great for floating nonsense, distracting audio playing garbage, whatever.
posted by phearlez at 1:37 PM on February 24 [6 favorites]


Really interesting. I wish there had been more pictures, but Google is your friend.

My culture has a tradition of homespun weaving for formal attire and the more modern forms also favour lurex and shiny threads. Old school is sombre, vegetable dyes, coarse weaves. You just feel so serious and important when you're wearing it.
posted by glasseyes at 3:16 PM on February 24 [2 favorites]


I use Adblock Plus so I just custom filtered it out.

Me too. It made me happy to be able to read without that thing pestering me.

I really enjoyed this article. I own several saris that I absolutely adore, gifts from a friend who travels home to India for vacation every year. They are so comfortable and so beautiful, I long for summer days when I can wear them. I had no idea the origins of the garment were so complex.
posted by MissySedai at 4:30 PM on February 24


Beautiful. I wanted more pictures, too.
posted by gingerest at 4:42 PM on February 24 [1 favorite]


The article forgot to tell if Shabnam Khan found a matching border or not. Fail.
posted by francesca too at 5:02 PM on February 24


I have worn saris in the summer months at least. It is easy to find them here now in thrift shops.
Getting just the borders is difficult, yet a nice border with a solid color is a nice choice, especially for work clothes.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 5:16 PM on February 24


She found a border.. It was sort of buried in the story.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 5:17 PM on February 24


She found a border.. It was sort of buried in the story.

She found extra borders too, which sounded beautiful.
posted by jeather at 5:52 PM on February 24 [2 favorites]


When I was a kid, Mom would -- against my wishes -- take me with her to these hole-in-the-wall shops in crowded markets (with names like chor bazaar, The Thieves' Market) to buy sari borders. Yes, she too would go through about eleventy billion of them before picking a few... while daylight faded and I knew I'd surely miss the neighbourhood pick-up cricket game in the local empty lot.

I find those markets a lot more interesting now than I did as a kid.
posted by phliar at 6:03 PM on February 24 [2 favorites]


I have a picture of my grandmother wearing a sari blouse with a foldover collar with three buttons on one side. This would have been in the mid 30s, right when she got married. She had grown up as an English woman and wore flapper clothes through the 20s so the sari thing was new to her, so I just thought the button thing was something she invented with a tailor. I never saw pics with her wearing those ruffles though. I wonder if she had something like that.
posted by sweetkid at 7:15 PM on February 24 [1 favorite]


My cousin's grandmother on her father's side was a fashion plate (coz inherited a vintage Dior coat for eg) and wore contact lenses when they first came out, Revlon make up and all that good stuff. These fashion details in the sari blouses and salwar suits are something that I think have always been part and parcel of my youthful impressions of what Indian society was like whenever we went home for a visit. It seemed like everyone had short sleeves or long sleeves or a particular neckline and if you didn't, you stood out like a sore thumb and that part (mom and her sisters discussing the exact sleeve length for eg) was more apparent because we'd visit for weddings mostly and there was a huge rush of getting clothes made, that I realize I know way more about all this stuff than even my geeky engineering design self realizes ;p

I'll come back and add a comment about sari materials for summer and winter and some different types of saris, with links and more pics. If I'd known there was interest, I'd have fleshed the fpp out a lot more than just one link!

And yes, I've worn them for work when I was in New Delhi for a few years in my late twenties, I preferred Mysore printed silk for workwear* as they held up for the whole day and yet draped well. Once I had to dismantle an entire Hewlett Packard roadshow in one!

*also see printed soft silk
posted by infini at 11:09 PM on February 24 [4 favorites]


I'll come back and add a comment about sari materials for summer and winter and some different types of saris, with links and more pics
Yes please! Maybe a new post so it hits the front page?

Once I had to dismantle an entire Hewlett Packard roadshow in one!
Now that would make an interesting and informative photograph.

The British city I live in has a fair number of Asian fabric shops. One of them is owned by a guy who came here before Partition - he is Muslim but I'm not too sure he thinks of himself as from Pakistan. It's a huge Aladdin's cave and he knows every scrap of material in it, remembers where and when he got it and how much it cost - he will ask what you want the fabric for and make all sorts of suggestions and go and get obscure rolls from the bottom of heaps of fabric. The thing is, he wants you to appreciate the fabric, he doesn't even care if he sells it or not. He will tell you the story of it and why it should cost so much. He has those beautiful gold-embroidered borders and he will tell you why he's not going to sell it to you just to satisfy your curiosity!

I don't even know how much he sells. Buying a couple of yards there takes ages, because of the suggestions and the stories - and the random visitors and the chatting. But he doesn't need to sell anything since he owns half the street! the shop is more like his collection. When he established himself here the area was more or less derelict so there was the opportunity to buy property. Now the area is thriving due to such enterprise. Fascinating man. There's a photo of him hanging in the shop, newly arrived in the early 1940's wearing one of those natty suits with the narrow waist and baggy trousers. It would be so interesting to interview him.
posted by glasseyes at 2:19 AM on February 25 [3 favorites]


I missed the pink dot because I was constantly alt-tabbing over to another window for Google Image Search for all the fascinatingly named fabrics and garments. And then rewording my search because I'd end up with pictures of endless sand dunes or something unexpected.
posted by b33j at 4:49 AM on February 25


Oh, and I meant to ask - cultural appropriation - I live in a hot, humid climate. I'd love to wear some of these things - but my ancestry is mongrel English. I can't help but think it would be unethical of me but then, they're beautiful!
posted by b33j at 4:50 AM on February 25


Fun fact: Sari fabric was a heavy influence on European dressmakers during the Regency. There are well-documented cases of Kashmiri shawls being made into gowns in England and France, and motifs copied from saris were widely popular. I don't think any surviving gowns were actually made from saris, but it's speculated that this occurred, and historical costumers frequently use sari fabric for their reproduction gowns.
posted by nonasuch at 6:24 AM on February 25


I don't think an FPP on the same topic a day after would be appropriate but I'll bung in the linky comment here asap now.

On cultural appropriation and being British: My theorem is that our cultures intermingled for 500 years while you guys rampaged across the country picking up pajamas, verandahs, bungalows and kedgeree ;p not to mention the muslin for those Regency gowns, while we picked up Hobson Jobson's English, the railways, the post office and various statues of Victoria. I consider it a vaster hybrid culture that's rarely acknowledged and is spread across the Commonwealth. /this is probably a non politically correct observation in today's multicultural world ;p
posted by infini at 6:37 AM on February 25 [3 favorites]


Right off the bat, my disclaimer is that this is not a scientifically researched treatise but instead what I have absorbed, imbibed, gathered and overheard after almost 5 decades of being a daughter to a mother with 4 sisters and 3 sisters in law,* all of whom know their saris** and happen to move in a strata of society where what they are seen in matters. (but their figures don't ;p)

Your sari wardrobe changes for the season i.e. no white shoes after Labor Day

You'd never dream of wearing a silk sari (unless it was a raw silk, like tussar in a light beige with delicate kantha work) in the heat of summer. Summery organzas, chiffons, chikan work from Lucknow (more common for formal salwar suits), traditional handloom cottons from different regions and a wide variety of artificial fibres with fancy names from Japan and other exotic parts make up your hot weather wardrobe. Temperatures in New Delhi have been known to reach 47 degrees Celcius at the height of summer and the desert winds blow in bandhani dhupattas from Rajasthan.

The winter wardrobe starts from the festive season of October/November, when the weather cools down in the North and the festivals and the wedding season combine to offer you options such as Tanchoi, Benarasi, Kanjeevaram, Patola, or more modern silks with zardozi embroidery. I won't get into the OTT opulence that is current day wedding season wear, all inspired by that superhit Bollywood movie "Hum Aapke ke Hain Kaun" as its easily googlable. Its more the undercurrents of snide comparisons and well bred competition over whose beadwork is more delicate or who managed to snag a deal on an original Jamawar shawl.

The Trousseau

Traditionally, the girl left for her marital home with 51 saris and among my mom and her sisters, they liked to pick one from each of the myriads of names mentioned above, divided into "going out" or evening wear and regular clothes or daytime wear. Its interesting to note that the design of the dress is exactly the same, 6 yards of cloth, but its the textile, its weave, its fibre, the dyes used and the regional variations that distinguish what you'd wear out to New Year's Eve and what you might go to college in. Also complicating the issue of choice is where you live in India as Calcutta and Mumbai are coastal and humid, while Delhi is dry with extremes in heat and cold and the south is warm (although they wear the traditional 9 yard heavy silk Kanjeevarams in Chennai etc).

The Sari as a form of power dressing

This was my reason for wearing saris when I used to work in New Delhi. I'd wear it the way you might choose a formal suit, and of course it would be of appropriate sober colours and designs, not the splashes of colour linked above. Wikipedia tells me that what we all did at work, unconsciously imitating the stewardesses of Air India and Indian Airlines, is now known as the Air-Hostess style ;p

Mrs Indira Gandhi made waves with her classic collection of saris, particularly since she was a widow, and widows don't wear colour, only white. I do believe she changed that for the rest of society, as I'll explain when I pick apart the saris worn in the photograph I've added ** to in the disclaimer above. Sonia Gandhi, her daughter in law and also a widow and the head of the Congress Party, follows in her footsteps.

random family gossip

*Can you see the border added on the rainbow silk chiffon on the lady seated at the end of the right hand side? That would be pure antique zari from her mother in law (the one with the Dior coat) and standing right behind her is the lady with original zardozi work forming the border of her silk chiffon. Silk chiffon has its own unique story in the modern day era of wearing saris. The FPP link touches upon that and there's a bit more in Wiki.

**Here you can see the variations in the choices of sari, colour and material from the eldest to the youngest. The second from left is widowed, note her white sari, but inspired from the trend set by Mrs Gandhi, a subdued patterning is now considered appropriate. The youngest lives abroad and has more money than taste. I did not say that and you have no idea who I am. Its August and still considered the hot season so colours and textiles reflect that aspect as well.


Photographs seem to abound on Pinterest, hope some of the keywords and links help you look for more images!
posted by infini at 8:47 AM on February 25 [15 favorites]


*boggles*

Still on deadline, dammit!
posted by EvaDestruction at 11:10 AM on February 25 [2 favorites]


Once I had to dismantle an entire Hewlett Packard roadshow in one!

Now that would make an interesting and informative photograph.


and that's all i have, that terrible photo of a photo from 1996!
posted by infini at 11:40 AM on February 25 [1 favorite]


Oh wow, I am only getting to read this FFP now, but I love everything about this article and this thread. I'm taking advantage of being stuck at home and not feeling well today to slink into all of these wonderfully woven words and photos. Thanks, infini!
posted by mayurasana at 1:35 PM on March 1 [1 favorite]


Fabulous, thank you so much.
posted by glasseyes at 1:22 PM on March 7


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