SOCIAL MEDIA

04 October 2015

My First Sari

I needed a sari to wear to my friend Chan's womanhood ceremony. Auntie Letchimi, her mother, was the determiner of the dress code at this event, and she'd declared that as adopted members of the family, the grown women in our family should be wearing saris, too. At 15, I might not have been totally grown up, but I was rather tall, so it was time for sari shopping.

Auntie Letchimi, Mom, Lizzy, and I went out to Little India to look for one. Little India is a region on our island with dozens of shops pressed tightly together. The roads are packed, with cars parked along both sides, and inside the little shops, the air is heavy with humidity and the smell of burning incense.

We found a gorgeous black beaded sari. Sari blouses have to be custom made for each person--in Little India, that usually just means a wait of an extra hour while the on-call tailor for each sari shop whips up a quick blouse. But before they can start to sew the blouse, measurements have to be taken.


What I didn't know at this time, was that measurement-taking for a sari blouse was a community event. There I was, sweating in the middle of an overcrowded shop, stacks upon stacks of brilliantly beaded saris surrounding me on all sides, with my arms out to my sides and a middle-aged uncle with a measuring tape held tightly around my non-existent bust, while everyone in the shop--my mom, Auntie Letchimi, the cashier, a lady who was shopping for her own sari, the shop assistant, and probably a few others--argued with the tailor about every single detail of my sari blouse. Comments were flying back and forth in both English and Tamil. The length of my sleeves, the depth of the neckline and the cut-out in the back--everything was discussed. The tightness of the bodice was also brought up. "She needs to breathe!" argued my mom, while the others tried to explain to her that sari blouses need to fit very tightly so that they don't move around or gape when being worn. My Mom went for the old, "She has a very strict grandfather" line when they were discussing how low the neckline should be cut, and we eventually gave up adding any opinions when the entire store began to discuss whether the blouse should close in the front or in the back.

(Now, after having worn 6 or 7 saris in my day, I am a staunch advocate for blouses that close in the front because it's physically impossible to put on a blouse that closes in the back without help.)

Auntie Letchimi went on to bargain for a total price that included the sari and the tailoring, as well as the sari slip. She also talked them into a promised time of when we could pick the blouse up, and we left the shop in search of a much-needed iced drink to consume while waiting for tailor to work his magic. I didn't know what I was getting into when I walked into the sari shop that blistering afternoon.

Chan's ceremony involved much that we didn't understand. All of the women in the family, including myself, were lined up on the street outside the house, given trays of the many traditional gifts that she was receiving, and then walked into the house in a stately fashion, and presented the metal trays of gifts to her. I don't remember exactly what was on each tray, but I do remember that each family who attended was supposed to bring something made of gold as a gift--we were told that, traditionally, the gold gifts received at the womanhood ceremony would compose that woman's marriage dowry--they were the wealth that she would bring into a marriage, and it was better for a woman to be known as bringing a great deal of gold into a marriage, because then she herself would be treated as more valuable by her in-laws. We bought Chan a gold bracelet. During the ceremony, each of her aunts blessed her. Throughout the evening, she changed into 5 or 6 different saris for different portions of the ceremony. There was lots of food for all the guests, but Chan didn't eat because of the heavy makeup and the heavy flowers and jewelry made her uncomfortable.

Fun Fact: Chan, whose ceremony I bought this sari for, is the mother of little Shiloh, who I now teach preschool to 5 days a week.Other fun fact--nearly a decade later, I can still wear this sari, and I still think it's gorgeous.

If you'd like to see more photos of saris, there are more in this post. I've gotten a little better at pleated and draping them over the years.

{This is Day 5 in my 31 Days series: 31 Days of Growing Up in Malaysia}

31 comments :

  1. What a fun post and a beautiful Sari! I really enjoyed reading about this experience Rachel!

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  2. What a blessing to be able to experience so much culture at such a young age! And I love that you're now teaching her daughter in preschool. I'm getting ready to leave for India on Wednesday and will have to get saris there too. Now I'll know what to expect. ;)

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  3. This is a neat story! Sounds like everyone did well in helping you get a sari that still fits today!

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  4. This is so cool to read about! I actually always wondered why the blouses seemed so tight, especially on older ladies I've seen wearing them - that makes so much sense!

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  5. Both those saris are so pretty! I've never been to a ceremony like this before, so I liked reading about it! :]

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  6. Wow, that's so beautiful and such a fun experience! I would love to wear a sari one day, so I'm hoping I'll get invited to an Indian wedding with a dress code soon :)

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  7. So pretty. It really suits you.
    Have a lovely Monday :-)

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  8. Wow, the debating amongst all the people in the shop about your measurements sounds intrusive. I totally agree on advocating a blouse that closes at the front.

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  9. Sounds like a wonderful experience- I love the design of your in this photo, will have to see more in the other post!

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  10. I like reading about different cultures, and I've found your story very interesting. Your sari is beautiful.

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  11. What a fun experience! I've always wondered whether or not saris were comfortable--are they?

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  12. How beautiful. Sari are such wonderful and exotic articles. Truth be told, I've always wanted to wear one, but I'd need a guide to assist me and haven't found one.

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  13. This is great! I had no idea so much went in to finding a Sari!

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  14. This was a really interesting read - and what a beautiful sari! - Trish at View from the Birdhouse

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  15. You look beautiful in a sari! I'm from India and yet I hate wearing a saree. But it just brings out your elegance and beauty. :)

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  16. I've always thought that saris were absolutely gorgeous--what an incredible experience! :D I'd love to have a memento like that!

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  17. I think going to a Hindu or Indian wedding would be so much fun!

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  18. Oh my gracious, you are describing my first experience of being fitted for a qi pao in China. We were in a city with very few foreigners so there was a crowd of strangers gathered around watching the tailor measure every part of my body and then call out the numbers for his assistant to write down. Of course the crowd discussed every single number. Oh, it was awkward. But awesome in its own way too. I was 13 and my body is quite different now than it was then so I actually had that qi pao made into silk purses for my bridesmaids on my wedding day. I had another qi pao made when I was 16 and that one still fits! I pull it out every rare now and then. So pretty. :)

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  19. What a fascinating story! You worded it so well that I was with you right up to the end - very descriptive. Your 31 day topic is great!

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  20. is that an amazing coincidence that you teach Shiloh preschool?! whoa. i'd looove to have an event that i needed a sari for!!

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  21. So interesting. I am loving hearing about your big move and experiences all those years ago.

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  22. Thats a great story! Cute blog :)

    https://kingdomofsequins.wordpress.com/

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  23. Thats a great story! Cute blog :)

    https://kingdomofsequins.wordpress.com/

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  24. You rock that Sari! :) Sounds like a great experience.
    — DT | Here I Scribble

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  25. That sounds like such a neat experience!!

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  26. What a fun experience! I can totally picture it from how you described it. All the colors and voices and busyness :-) and good on you that it still fits!

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  27. I love how beautiful Sari's are. I wish we all wore them all the time. Such craftmenship

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  28. What a beautiful sari. You can still fit it, that's awesome!! I think the only thing I can fit in that I wore when I was 15 is jogging pants :D
    I love that you teach Chan's child, how neat is that!
    XOXO

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  29. This is seriously making me want to get a sari! But I'm not sure if it would be improper to get one just to wear. Would that somehow be offensive? Are they just for ceremonies? I've always thought they were beautiful! And you and your friend looked gorgeous!

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  30. I love this sari! It is gorgeous on you! While in Rwanda, we attended a Rwandan wedding and rented traditional wear which is very similar to a sari. The ladies and I wanted to purchase our gowns so we could take them home but they were almost $200 dollars. Have you bought all your saris over seas?

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  31. This is so interesting to read about. What a seriously incredible experience--but also sounds quite stressful as she wasn't able to eat and had to change outfits so many times!

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