How Has The Saree Evolved Over Time?

We all might not remember the day we finally stepped into the adult world. However, for a large number of Indian women, it’s usually the day they wrap the nine yards of the saree around them, just like their mothers did, all by themselves.


We all remember our first brush with the saree. For me, it was when I would watch my mother get dressed in it and wonder how anyone could look as good as she did. There was something about that unstructured, wispy, article of clothing. I would often wonder how a single piece of clothing could look good on everybody. Since then, I have come a long way. I have worn saree to my various farewells, and well, family functions as well. I no longer covet the ones kept in my mother’s cupboard (well, I still do, yeh dil maange more you know) for I have my own. I still stand by my opinion — there’s no other garment as graceful and as beautiful as the saree.
However, this traditional dress whose appeal transcends ages, and borders hasn’t remained bound by the shackles of time. Like the rest of the world, it has also managed to evolve and keep in step with the changing world. Let’s have a look at its journey to see how our favorite traditional attire fared with time
It Wasn’t Always Worn With A Petticoat And A Blouse
Saree or Shati (in Sanskrit) or Sadi (in Pali) finds its mention in ancient Indian texts. It is said to have been worn even during the time of Indus Valley Civilisation. It is said that this dress came about because it was thought that stitching rendered a garment impure. Traditionally, this unstitched piece of clothing was worn as a three-piece garment, an unstitched piece was used to cover the chest, another was used as a lower garment and one was used to drape over the shoulder.
Yes, the petticoat and blouse that you associate this garment with are a much later addition to the garment. In fact, it was a colonial intervention. When Britishers colonized India in the 1900s, shirts came to be worn under sarees and different types of blouses with elaborate sleeves. This was in keeping with the spirit of the Victorian Era, which laid great emphasis on the concept of modesty.
It Became Popular As The Icon of Femininity


Around the 90s, saree, the garment which was conceptualized keeping the ideas such as comfort and religious obligations, became synonymous with the idea of femininity. This particular brand of femininity was popularized by a parade of 90s Bollywood movies and was one where the female protagonist was the epitome of innocent sensuality. This was encapsulated in the image of the lead actress, clad in a figure-hugging chiffon saree, swaying to the gentle notes of music in picturesque locales of Switzerland or Kashmir.
Not only did this cause a huge spike in the popularity of the garment, but this also reinvented its image as a garment that wasn’t just worn by grandmothers. It suddenly became relevant to the youth of the country.
It Transformed Into The Hallmark Of The Desi Girl
If chiffon sarees were the symbol of innocent sensuality, then noodle strap blouses perfectly captured the essence of the era of sarees in the 21st Century. It was no longer a clumsily draped cloth that was used as an instrument of censorship. Frumpily disguising every curve of its wearer. Rather, it was the garment worn by the modern-day woman, who wasn’t afraid to own her sexuality and was comfortable in reclaiming her heritage, albeit by giving it a modern twist.
When Mandira Bedi entered the male-dominated world of cricket commentary in 2003, she made news for two reasons. One, how a woman could venture into the very patriarchal world of sports commentary and second, her gorgeous sarees which she paired with her then-infamous noodle-strap blouses. It was a turning point in the history of this garment. It was as though women across the country had this epiphany that one could look hot and professional at the same time and that too, in a saree!


Sarees which were rotting in trunks were taken out and sent to the local masterji’s shops with one request, a noodle strap blouse.
Of course, the garment was well into its way into the youth’s heart when Priyanka Chopra wore it while performing to the tunes of Desi Girl! It was a celebration of the modern-day woman in her modern-day attire — the saree with a bralette for its blouse.
Today, It’s Old Meets The New
Today, there is an attempt to reclaim our heritage with a lot of emphasis on handloom sarees. With the likes of celebrities such as Anushka Sharma, Deepika Padukone opting for the garment in traditional weaves such as Banarasi Silk, saree has taken on a new meaning of style and sabhyata.
At the same time, there is also an attempt to give a modern-day twist to the garment with celebrities like Sonam Kapoor innovating with new creations like saree-pants, a great mix of new and old that she wore at Cannes, a platform where she was representing her country.
Needless to say, saree is never going to go out of fashion. It’s a part of us and our identity. With the passage of time, we will only see it getting reincarnated into more modern avatars, with each more breath-taking than the last one.



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