Sabyasachi Controversy & Sari

To the girls who hesitate/dislike to wear sari for multiple reasons,

If saree/sari belongs to your cultural heritage, even if you don’t like to wear it now, just look back to your childhood. Who didn’t love draping Amma’s sari in your childhood? I believe, everyone did love it. But, same sari is cornered when most of us grow up. Why?

Saree and Me

When I was a child, sari was the day-to-day attire of women in my place. (Younger generations have adapted themselves to Salwar Kameez today.) As a child, like all, I loved draping Amma’s saris and running around the house. It was fun. It was exciting.

I grew up wearing skirts and blouses, and Salwar-kameezes. I had no experience in sari draping, nor did I love to wear it on a daily basis as a custom. But the love for sari remained. When I started my career as a lecturer, there came a situation to wear sari everyday.

It was uneasy in the beginning. I wasn’t happy to wear sari because someone made it compulsory. But, a rule is a rule. I just had to abide it. Carrying a sari as a casual wear was very difficult for me in the beginning. As the days passed by, my feelings changed. My Amma and my colleagues shared some useful tricks. Some more draping gyan I learnt by experiencing it myself.

Believe me, it was a golden chance to understand the science behind the sari draping art. Within a month, I was not only good in draping sari, but also in carrying it comfortably for whole day. In fact, I realised sari is as comfortable as any ready-to-wear.

Sabyasachi Controversy – Reason to this Saree Story

Hope you know about the recent saree controversy. It was on the statement of renowned fashion designer Sabyasachi Mukherji. I read about the controversy. I read the open letter of Sabyasachi on Instagram (given below if you have not yet read).

Part 1

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To begin, allow me to sincerely apologise for the words that I used while answering impromptu questions at a conference at Harvard. I am sorry that I used the word ‘shame’ in reference to some women’s inability to wear a sari. I truly regret that the way in which I tried to make a point about the sari enabled it to be interpreted as misogynistic, patriarchal, and non-inclusive – this was certainly not my intention. Let me provide some context for those of you who may not have listened to the speech I gave at Harvard. A woman had asked me to comment on the cultural taboo of young women wearing saris because, as she said, society tells them that it ‘makes them look older’. ‘What is your suggestion’, she asked, ‘for those young generations, to break that taboo and embrace the sari…’ Unbeknownst to many, this is a question I field often with friends and customers. The ubiquity of such sentiments in our culture, evidenced by the fact that this question was posed to me at Harvard, of all places, was hard-hitting and triggered an unfortunate series of reactions on my part. Sometimes, when you are that invested in your craft, you become hypersensitive to the negativity surrounding that which you love. #Sabyasachi #TheWorldOfSabyasachi

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Part 2

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Now I have worked with the sari for 16 years. During this time, I have had countless open dialogues in various forums pan-India with women of all age groups and income brackets about the constant barrage of negativity surrounding it. Yet another question of ageism and the sari at Harvard triggered a lot of pent-up frustration that I have accrued for that segment of our society which constantly expresses disdain for this piece of Indian heritage. It is this frustration that I unfortunately generalised to Indian women in response to the question, when I now see that I should have framed it as a call to stop shaming the sari and whomever chooses to wear it. I am passionate about textiles and our heritage, and I am sorry that in the heat of that moment, I allowed this passion to be misplaced. I take full responsibility for this. On the topic of the sari, I ask you today: how many times have you or someone you know encountered this issue? Body shaming, attaching connotations of ‘Auntie Ji’, calling them sloppy; these are all ways that some men and women alike belittle the sari (and, more accurately, the wearer of the sari). These comments are laced with sarcasm and connotations of cultural repression and backwardness. Many women, young and old, are scared to have an outing in a sari because it is shrouded in so many layers of taboo and controversy, often citing inability to correctly drape a sari as an exit point. We are a celebrity-obsessed country, and yes, it does affect consumption patterns and social behaviour at-large. Some consumers are being conditioned to believe that the sari ages women, and you will see the evidence of that clearly documented by so many social media trolls targeting celebrities online. Isn’t that shaming, or shall we call it cyber-bullying? Yet we are often complicit in this, which may even be welcomed by some to encourage more traffic to a website/blog. #Sabyasachi #TheWorldOfSabyasachi

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Part 3

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Let’s also talk about another subject that has arisen out of the fervent discussions occurring about me and my brand, and one that has always been a big topic on gender inequality and the patriarchy (which, according to some of you, I am ardently supporting): the pay gap. It is humiliating to have to defend yourself in public but sometimes a bitter medicine needs to be swallowed to drive home a hidden truth. I would like to bring to your notice, that the majority of my staff at Sabyasachi Couture are women. From pattern makers, to seamstresses, to designers, to publicists, to IT consultants, department heads, store managers, and core of management; women comprise the top earners on my payroll – and it is not because they are women, but because they’ve earned it by their merit. And every Friday, men and women alike at Sabyasachi wear Indian clothing to celebrate our love for textiles, with zero enforcement. Mine is a women-oriented brand and I owe my complete success to them. I have always, and will continue to love and respect women irrespective of the labels recently assigned to me. It was in this spirit that I started my brand, and that is how it shall remain till the day we decide to shut its doors. I once again apologise for the distress caused by the words I used, but not for the intent, which often takes a back seat when slammed by controversy. My intent was to call out those women who proudly proclaim that they don’t wear saris and simultaneously shame others who wear saris by saying it makes them look older, backward, or culturally repressed. My social media team takes extreme care that not a single negative comment written by you is censored, so that the world can make their own judgments and have a transparent view of the brand. Tomorrow, you can shame me further on twitter, make provocative headlines out of this letter, or choose to blacklist us as consumers. It is absolutely fair and understandable because it is your prerogative. For us, for better or for worse, it will be business as usual. #Sabyasachi #TheWorldOfSabyasachi

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After reading Sabyasachi’s letter, it is clear that media had misled the readers by ‘selective publishing’. I don’t say the word ‘shame’ was appropriate but media acted irresponsibly. Is this controversy a part of defaming sari (one of the oldest known clothing in use) as globalisation strategy of unknown forces? Sabyasachi has apologised for his words. But, will media for selective publishing?

Well, all I knew after reading Sabyasachi’s words that I have something to say. I have something to share with those girls who hesitate to wear sari because of multiple reasons.

So, why to Wear Saree?

Saree is Special

Saree is the cultural pride of Bhārat. It is not the only reason to embrace it. If we take example of gorgeous Greek Chitons, it is extinct. But, if Sari still exists even today as a forever fashionable attire, it means it has excelled in the test of time. And that means there is something special about Saree.

Sari is a no sew garment that can be worn covering entire body gracefully. A sari enhances the wearer’s look no matter which type of body you have. A sari can be draped in more than hundred ways! A sari can be styled both as a casual wear and a party wear. A sari can create a teenager look and an elderly look as well. If we take a worldwide survey, it would be hard to find another garment in the world that would compete with Sari meeting the criteria mentioned above.

Read more details about Saree on Wikipedia.

Understand comfortability by Practice

Do you find saree uncomfortable? Don’t stop there. Do you master wearing stilettos, carrying a mini dress/bandeau, or maintaining well-shaped painted long nails in a day? No. So, why not give a try to sari as well? Practice everyday. See the result. You just read my sari story. I was no different from any other girl who struggles carrying saree. I haven’t inherited sari draping. My B.Sc Fashion Designing degree too didn’t help me mastering sari draping. What helped me is ‘practice’. One can understand the secrets of sari draping by practice. I believe, you won’t regret it!

Challenge the Comments

Some get dejected by the comments. Don’t give up. It’s a challenge. Choose sari wisely. Select saris and blouses that suit your body shape. Drape according to the occasion. Ask friends and relatives. Watch video tutorials on YouTube too. Sense. Keep practicing. Do you still face ‘Auntiji’ tags when in sari? Be confident, call them back ‘Auntiji’ or ‘Uncleji’ and see the difference. Some people comment for no reason. Be bold, face them.
Culture is a scientific art built over a super strong foundation. Though it is steadily developed, it dies because of ignorance. Cultures add diversity to life. Let’s not be victims of globalisation strategies that try to kill cultures. So, let’s understand the science behind, love the cultural attires and practice to master them.

P.S: Now don’t say I am gender biased. Based on my sari experience, I would say men too can master dhoti and pagdi/peta as a casual wear. Simple rule is to practice.


A nature lover and dreamer who expresses herself as an artist, fashion designer and blogger. Persued B.Sc fashion design at Karavali College (Mangaluru University 2003 - 2006) with first rank. Former lecturer for fashion designing at Gloria College, Puttur for five years (2006-2011). Blogger since 2013.


  1. Right. I agree with you Sindhu. No dress is tough to wear and if it is, it can be mastered by practice or small tricks can be invented as I have a lot of my colleagues wearing pre- stitched sarees to college functions. No one can mark out a difference unless told and they all looked gorgeous !??

    • Thank you for your thoughts, Kokilaji. True, ready-to-wear saris and dhotis have made revolutions in bringing tradition close to the younger generation.

      Now, we need to take them along another step forward. Because, in reality, these traditional attires are not difficult to drape and maintain at all. Moreover, when we consider life of an unstitched outfit to a stitched one, the first one is more durable and has more life in fashion. They don’t face the concept of outdating.

      Above all, we are the only ones to flaunt the most fashionable, oldest, unstitched variety of traditional garments! Isn’t it a matter of pride? Doesn’t it urge us to be the ambassadors of such amazing creations?

  2. Nothing is impossible. From where my father comes, it is compulsory to wear saree….they just wear it the whole day.

    Modern women look elegant too, with all the make-up etc they do.

    • Thanks for your inputs, Alok. I agree, nothing is impossible. Most of the elderly women in my native, including my mother, they wear sari 24×7 in spite of having options to wear stitched outfits. They are so much comfortable in saris!

      Yes, saris are for modern/stylish looks too… Indian actresses from Madhubala to Aliya Bhat… they all have set examples!

  3. I am a fan of culture and even here in uk somedays i do wear the traditional kurta pyjama .. or the dhoti-kurta even on ocassions , I feel proud wearing them but then thats me nad my choices

    I guess it should be upto personal choice what one wants or is comfortable..

    • Wow! Feeling good knowing about your love for culture, Bikramji. Congratulations! Proud of you!

      I totally agree with you, clothing is a personal choice. How can someone try to influence people creating such controversies and unhealthy hatred towards traditional outfits? How can we sit quiet without spreading the importance and speciality of our traditional costumes? Thankfully, Indian designers and film industry, who set trends for common people, are with sari. So, still sari stands strong. But, I consider this as a wake-up call.

  4. It is like: Practice makes man/woman perfect! 🙂
    I agree with you on this.

    • Thank you for your comments, Indrani ? True, practice makes us perfect. Just a hint of Sari’s speciality is needed to motivate!

  5. Nice article on sari. Thanks Sindhu

Your words make my day! Thank you!