Learning to Wear a Saree


When I realized that I was going to have to wear a saree to work every day, I was nervous and excited. Sarees start as a 15- or 18-foot piece of material that you then tie into a floor-length dress-like outfit. As I learned to tie sarees, I also learned about (and came to appreciate) the importance of sarees in South Indian culture.

What tradition did I learn about?:

Sarees are one of the most recognizable pieces of clothing in India. As some of the most popular traditional attire for women, sarees are worn for everything from work to parties to weddings. Sarees originated in southern India, and teachers in almost all schools in Tamil Nadu are expected to wear sarees. I learned to wear a saree shortly after I arrived in India. Wearing a saree has made me trip and fall a few times, and has, more importantly, helped me learn about women’s roles and traditions.

Why does the community have this tradition?:

Sarees were originally one piece of material but were adapted to have a blouse during the British colonization of India. Jnanadanandini Debi, an activist and cultural pioneer, was not allowed into British clubs with only her saree covering her torso. So she had saree blouses made to be able to advocate for India to the British men. Now, women always wear sarees with blouses. Sarees are three pieces: 15 to 18 continuous feet of material, a blouse and an in-skirt.