Tag Archives: sari

How to: wear a salwar kameez

The salwar kameez is a tunic, pants and scarf outfit that is worn by a large number of women in India. With the exception of the younger generation in big cities like Bangalore, if the women aren’t wearing saris then they are wearing a salwar.

The suit is worn throughout India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, and is thought to have originated during the Mongol rule of the area. It is incredibly comfortable in the heat, and very modest.

The suit consists of three different items of clothing:


Kurta: A tunic with slits on the side to your hips, and can be worn long (shin/knee length) or short (thigh length). The sleeves also vary – from sleeveless, to short sleeve, elbow length or full length sleeve.

Anarkali: A dress-like top, which has a reasonably tight/fitted bodice and then a flared knee/shin length skirt (which is sewn from multiple panels depending on the region it originates from: sometimes as few as 8, or as many as 80.


Churidar: similar to leggings, but more loose fitting and longer, with bunching (churis) at the ankle.

Salwar: loose pants fitting pants, with a straight cut leg, ending at the ankle.

Pattiala: baggy loose pants with pleats at the top, so the pants fall like balloons over your legs.


Dupatta: scarf/shawl worn around the neck, covering your chest and back over your shoulders. Traditionally this is a huge shawl, quite wide and long. But there is also the shorter, narrower scarf.

Now the salwar kameez can be bought as a set, or as separate items. The trick is to figure out how much colour and pattern you are comfortable with, because it can be quite extreme.

If you are diving in and creating your own ensemble, its important to remember a few rules:

  • Kurtas above the knee are to be worn with loose pants (preferably pattialas)
  • Anarkali and kurtas below the knee can be worn with anything, but look better with churidas
  • It is easiest to start with a single coloured kurta, and then match it with pants with a pattern in a complementary colour
  • The dupatta must match the pants you are wearing first, and then secondly match the kurta
  • Wearing three items all with different patterns can be a disaster, so if you want that much pattern it is best to look for a pre-made set.
Me, wearing a kurta, churrdar and dupatta

Me, wearing a kurta, churrdar and scarf dupatta

It can be a lot of fun experimenting with the different patterns and colours that are avaliable. However it can be very easy to end up with a lot of different items that can only be worn in one or two ways. The most productive shopping expedition I ever had was one where I had a patterned dupatta, and I found two kurta and three pairs of pants that I could wear with it. So that equates to 6 different outfits.

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It is fun.


Birthday present to myself

Today I went shopping to treat myself for my Birthday on Sunday. Really, I just needed an excuse to buy a sari.

So I talked to some of my friends in Coimbatore, and asked them the shops from which they buy their saris. After getting a few suggestions (as well as detailed instructions on how to find the shops), I headed out on Scooty.

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It is about a half hour drive to the city from where I am currently staying, and when I started Scooty up I remembered that I was pretty much out of petrol. So I stopped off at the local petrol bunk and got my usual: “two oil, one petrol”. The woman at the bunk recognises me now and so I don’t think I really even need to ask anymore.

So after giving my trusty steed some much needed energy, I set off on my adventure. First stop was a shop called Shobika, at the end of Cross Cut Road. This is a one way street, so I had to go around the block a little to reach it. When I parked out front, I took my helmet off and tried to put it in the bike’s seat compartment. But it wouldn’t fit! Usually it does. Thats when I realised I had accidentally taken my host’s helmet instead of mine. I had wondered why it felt bigger than usual on my head.

So I walked up to Shobikas, and stopped. It looked like my solo sari adventure was off to a bad start: all the metal window shutters were down, and the door shutter was half open. I figured they were closed or closing, until the guard at the door motioned for me to come up the stairs inside. So, feeling like it was a trap, I walked inside (I realised later that these measures were to keep the heat out).

As I walked in I was greeted by a man, who asked what I was looking for. After I told him I wanted a cotton sari, he led me downstairs and put in in the care of one of the ladies working in the store. She proceeded to show me all the cotton saris they had: which to be honest, wasn’t very many. And they were all priced a little higher than I was looking to pay. And she was a little bit pushy in the way she was showing them to me. And I didn’t fall in love with any of the colours or patterns.

So with great difficulty I extricated myself from that store, after being shown all manner of saris even remotely related to the search terms ‘cotton’, ‘blue’ and ‘orange’.

I walked back to my bike, and rode onto the next store: Rangachari in Ram Nagar. This store was around the corner from where my office used to be, and I had driven past it several times, each time thinking: “that looks interesting, I should go have a look”.

Its a smaller store, and while it has stores in other cities (Chennai, Dindigul, Madurai and Bangalore), it felt a lot less commercial than Shobika.

Sari stores traditionally are big rooms with shelves all around, filled with folded saris of every colour, pattern and material imaginable. If one was to enter and try to find something alone, it would not take long at all to get lost. But lucky for the shopper these stores are always filled with workers sitting around waiting for a lost traveller to enter their area of expertise.

So I walked in, said I was looking for a blue cotton sari, and within two minutes I was seated on the ground, surrounded by 10 different options. After looking at them, I told them that i was looking for something with a little less pattern, and a specific shade of blue. Upon which another 10 options were presented to me.

I finally decided on a cotton that was multi coloured: the body of the sari is stitched in such a way that one colour of thread runs one way, and another colour runs the other way. This makes it change colour depending on the light and angle at which you view it. It had a plain pallu (the bit that hangs off your shoulder), and a plain gold border.

I also managed to pick up a ready made petticoat at the same store: the petticoat is worn under the sari and the sari is tucked into it, in order for it to stay up around your waist, and for the pleats to work.

Saris themselves are most commonly 5.5m long, but most come with an extra length of material on the end for your to cut off and get a blouse stitched from. It is usually half a metre extra of the same fabric that the body of the sari is made from. However, I decided that I couldn’t wait long enough to get a blouse stitched to my measurements, so I stopped off at a different store to buy a ready-made-blouse.

The blouse exposes your middle section, but has sleeves and a high neck. The idea is to get a blouse that is the same colour of one of the colours in the sari pattern, or you can go a little crazy and get a contrasting colour depending on what you feel like.

Ready-made-blouses are made to different standard measurements, and you basically just get one that fits. However because everybody’s chest and shoulders are slightly different, they never fit quite right. Mine fits well around my chest and shoulders, but I can’t quite fill out the generous front section: Indian women are a little more well endowed than me.

So I bought a ready made blouse in a colour that compliments the colours in my sari, and headed home.

After reaching home, I took my sari to the tailor to have the sides hemmed, and to have a ‘fall’ installed. The fall is a strip of fabric sewn into the bottom of the sari to lend some weight and help it sit properly. It also protects the sari from your feet – stepping on the hem too much can damage it.

I plan to wear it on Thursday so will unveil my final choice then. Stay tuned folks.