Who’s Sari Now?

by maxmosher

As a white tourist you must be mindful of many things. Before we left for India, I promised never to pose for photographs with my hands together in the ‘namaste’ style or crossed-legged with fingertips touching in the lotus position. I made this promise in a facebook status so you know I was serious. While travelling we saw some truly shocking fashion crimes committed by Western tourists, some dressed like they were at home (young women in The Hills tank tops and short shorts) or others who went too far the other way, resembling a wacked-out hippie’s concept of traditional Indian clothing mixed with Israeli rave culture. Another observation: young Asian female tourists love their extreme drop-crotch harem pants. They love ’em.

We tried to strike a balance between dressing like ourselves and being respectful. I wore jeans, t-shirts, polo shirts and hoodies, which is what a lot of Indian men wear. For Indian women, though, the sari still reigns supreme. Simple in construction but complex in draping and detailing, saris come in every vibrant hue of a Bollywood musical or the coloured powder of Holi. And they cross classes. When I noticed that even street sweepers had saris in eye-popping fuchsia, saffron, emerald and cerulean, I realized that the connection between bright colours and wealth may only be a Western thing.

Our first night in Jaisalmer, Kuldeep told us that we could rent traditional Rajasthan outfits at a shop next door for our sunset dinner on the roof of the hotel. Now, as a white person, I realized that dressing up in Indian clothes could be problematic. Mostly, I could be making a tit of myself. But as a student of fashion I felt it would be an educational experience. If I must be honest, what I really wanted was a sari like the girls were getting, but I thought that my bearded self in women’s clothes might be a little too much for Jaisalmer.

My tunic and baggy trousers came with a turban, which is simply a very long piece of fabric tightly wrapped around your head several times. Not surprisingly, the woman who ran the shop kept reminding us that we could purchase our rented outfits, but I knew I would never be able to wrap the turban myself, although I do think men look handsome in them.

Maybe I should find myself a Sikh boyfriend. I realize this may be difficult, but nothing is impossible.

And lastly…