Sari stories

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Catwalk. Designers. Labels. Trends. Shopping. London. The capital’s most-anticipated fashion event is back in full swing this week. For a humble change of perspective (and I’m no fashion guru), I share my dadima’s words of wisdom on sari* fashion, and hope it makes you feel good about yourself, recycling those hidden treasures, and not following trends for the sake of looking popular!

With wedding season fast approaching (in my family anyway), my sister, mum and I have been exploring possible Indian outfits – it could be an expensive affair with three fussy women. Luckily, we’re all for recycling! Last night, after enjoying a delicious home-cooked meal by my dadima, we took a trip down memory lane and pulled out dadima’s (and mum’s) old sari collection – and what a fun evening it was!

Having never seen them before, other than in photo albums, my sister and I weren’t sure of what to expect. Dadima was very excited to show us, and it ended up becoming a storytelling session of the good ol’ days, sprinkled with wise words of fashion wisdom. Dadima perched on her bed and nonchalantly gestured towards her wardrobe. My sister opened the doors and heaved one of the old-fashioned suitcases onto the bed. I opened the first case to reveal carefully folded saris – you would think they’d never seen the light of day.

So typical of dadima – she’s always taught me to look after my clothes and not worry about fashion trends – “Just make sure you wear clean, good quality clothes, and always eat quality food” (see her quote in dadima’s book, Santosh’s chapter). Anyway, dadima was smiling when my sister and I marvelled at the vibrant splashes of emerald green, royal purple and golden yellow, as we carefully removed each silk sari, spreading them over the bed to reveal a rainbow of colours. She said in Punjabi: “You don’t make them like these nowadays – good job I held onto them!” My mum looked nostalgically at the 80’s-themed display of brocades and silks.

Mum thanked dadima for keeping her saris so well, joking that she told her to give them away at the time. “Why would I give them away when they are so special?” dadima smiled – “I knew that one day your girls might want to wear them”. Too right, dadima – we loved most of them! And before I knew it, my sister had taken one mirror, draping the saris over her shoulder and analysing their potential. Dadima’s interjections of “Oh beautiful!” and “What more do you want?!” made us laugh. Whilst my sister and I were exploring, mum and dadima were reminiscing about specific occasions when each sari was worn. “I don’t think you even wore that once!”, dadima would say. Mum remembered a story for each sari, convincing her that she did wear them all: “I promise I did. It was the time when so-and-so invited us for roti at their house, and I wore this one at dad’s birthday”. When it came to folding the saris away, dadima would not let the sari material touch the floor, and told us to always fold with the embroidery on the inside. “You have to look after your clothes my child. It’s not all about expensive labels, but good quality materials that last. Always take pride in what you have before buying more and filling your wardrobes.”

One thing is for sure, there’s always a story full of wisdom behind a great woman (or man) who is a great cook – and anyone would be naive to think that dadima’s story is confined the kitchen – fashion is just one example. The same love and care which goes into looking after my dadima’s clothes, also applies to her cooking, and her fussiness in choosing ingredients. What wisdom do your elders share with you about fashion tips and clothes?

I’m no fashion expert, but I’ve learnt some wise lessons about wearing what you like, not living in a throw-away society for the sake of being ‘fashionable’. There’s a lot of pressure on girls and women to have a certain look, but it can be expensive at times! Sometimes, old is classic and chic, and the finesse comes in how you wear and carry a piece of clothing! If I wear any of these saris in the upcoming months, I’ll post photos. Please send me photos of any of your treasured clothing or grandmother’s fashion advice.

*A sari is a garment made from a long length of material (such as silk) and originates with the female clothing of South Asia. It’s a versatile, statement item which has experienced many trends over the years, and is an integral part of Indian fashion.

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