How I, a 20-something girl, started wearing sarees to work

I almost missed my graduation ceremony because I was at the salon to get my saree draped. I didn’t trust the “eyebrow didi” (who had enthusiastically agreed to help every single girl who’d asked her in the days leading up to D-day) to find time for the relatively soft-spoken me. And I most definitely did not trust my mother’s off-white silk saree in the hands of my 21-year-old classmates who’d have a better chance of accidentally throwing the nine yards in a fictitious paper shredder than managing to get halfway through a draping exercise. So, I ended up missing my batch photograph, and just about made it to collect my certificate and award.

Five years later, today, I can (almost) drape a saree in my sleep and get through a day without fearing a minor wardrobe malfunction every time I have to do a little more than breathe. So, what brought about this shift? Apart from an all-prevailing boredom with the contents of my closet (yes, really), an innate need to experiment with my look, and one of Anavila’s earlier shows (where linen sarees actually looked super comfy!), it was an admiration of the simple elegance with which the Maharashtrian ladies on the local trains carried themselves; their neatly parted hair, gajras, gold hoops and sensibly draped sarees (no floating pallus, please) inspired in me the need to emulate their effortless aesthetic. I found myself wanting to normalise the act of wearing a saree on an ordinary day, to put it in the same league as a bright floral dress or a pair of jeans.

This combined with a lifetime of admiring my mother every time she emerged from her boudoir in a saree, and having two grandmothers with diverse aesthetics—fluttering chiffons and ornate, heirloom jewellery on one side, and starched kota sarees with pearls on the other—helped nudge me into the saree-wearing world armed with a mishmash aesthetic that, I believe, is clearly my own.

Around the same time as I was beginning to consider the possibility of wearing a saree on an ordinary day, I was just about finding my personal sense of style. Increasingly, I was gravitating towards handlooms, linens, and cottons, with skirts and dresses tailored out of traditional textiles and weaves. A trial of one of my mother’s Bhutanese skirts brought about this shift—I had nothing to wear one time, and she happily lent a skirt to me, mainly because it was a far cry from the shorter lengths I would sport at the time. Reminiscent of lungis, straight cut and ankle length, my mother’s “skirts” could be considered the transitional outfit that helped ease me into wearing a saree.

It took me several attempts of putting on a saree only to discard it seconds after, till I mustered up the courage to ignore the nagging feeling of doubt and reach work. As expected, the initial reaction in a legging and denim-wearing world was, “Puja at home?” But when I told them no, I wore this of my own accord, to mix things up, the response was heart-warming. I was bombarded with compliments all day, with people going as far as saying I should wear sarees every day! By the end, I was encouraged, and my confidence was at an all-time high. “I can do this”, I thought to myself.

I started my saree-wearing journey with a single white cotton. Within a few months, I had added a black version to the mix. A year later, my school friend decided to gift me a black and white cotton saree. Now, I knew, I was a saree wearer! Soon, I was rummaging through my mother’s closet, picking up hand-painted and hand-embroidered versions that had been handed down to her by her mother. I realised, I had a “type”. Dull, “ugly”, sarees, that no one my age would be caught dead in!

What helped in normalising the saree, was making the drape as comfortable as possible. Think shorter lengths, pinned pleats and compact pallus that could be swung around, teamed with loose blouses or tank tops for a relaxed, easy vibe. Also, staying as close to my everyday slightly-undone aesthetic—messy hair and everything—helped me feel like me, by emphasising that I had not been airlifted from a puja and dropped off at work. With time, I got bolder, and added sneakers and bright socks to the mix (such fun!).

People still tell me “Only you can pull it off”, to which I tell them, “So can you”, not out of politeness, but because I strongly believe everyone can take a saree and make it their own. For me, simple cottons work well, because I tend to add interest with sneakers and a random hairdo. For you, bright printed chiffons with Grecian sandals and poker straight hair, may work wonders. Or a starched kota with a crisp and sheer organza blouse and leather broguesOr a plain georgette saree with a matching georgette blouse and simple thong sandals. But you have to try it to believe it.

Once you find your very own kind of everyday-friendly drape, you’ll find yourself looking grudgingly at denims and leggings, dresses will no longer occupy prime real estate in your wardrobe, and a whole new world will open up in the form of frilly petticoats, crop tops, statement blouses that double up as underpinnings for a solid saree, and jewellery! You’ll begin to see every new trend in the context of a saree. Soon, questions like this will fill your mind: Can I team a corset belt with a crepe saree? Can I wear an off-shoulder, peasant top with a simple mul saree? Can I add ruffles to my blouse? And, just like that, you will have one more option to choose from, every morning. And who amongst us, apart from the Steve Jobs-inspired, does not want yet another outfit choice?


 

 

In defence of the “ugly” dress

The uglier the better.

Every wardrobe should have at least one ugly dress. The long, loose kind, that hangs on your frame reminiscent of a scarecrow wearing your grandma’s faded nightgown. You know, for those days when you feel particularly lazy to rack your brains on what shirt goes with what skirt.

The ugly dress covers flab. The ugly dress allows you to overeat. The ugly dress allows you to run on the platform when you’re just about missing your train, without fear of ripping your skintight jeans, dropping a strap and having a minor wardrobe malfunction in the face of 100 creepy train travellers.

The ugly dress makes you look “prettier” than you really are. The ugly dress is so ugly that anything compared to it looks stunning. So, even if you feel like shit, when you put on your ugly dress, instantly you will feel better – after all you can’t be “uglier” than this dress can you?

The key to buying an “ugly” dress is to buy one that’s a few notches below you on the looks scale. By which I mean – a dress that won’t steal your thunder. When people see you, your dress won’t be the first thing they see. Instead, the focus will be on your face. That’s the best thing about the ugly dress – it’s completely missable.

The ugly dress comes in ugly colours. Like yellow ochre, mud brown, rusty red, algae green; earthy hues.  Extremely flattering especially when you darken your eyes with some kohl, and enhance your natural lip colour with a lip jelly that changes colour with your lip temperature and ph. The ugly dress is great for those fuss-free days when you aren’t in the mood to dress sharp, yet want to feel beautiful.

The ugly dress can also be made pretty. With silver jewellery and pretty sandals. Then, you can take the dress out for brunch. It can also be made sporty – with a pair of white converse sneakers, in which case you’re fully equipped to race against time to catch an about-to-depart train or flight.

So, the next time you’re out shopping, don’t let your eyes gravitate towards the shimmering pinks and delicate laces. Instead look out for the rugged, sensible cotton counter, with the ultra-ugly printed dresses.

Happy shopping. 🙂

 

 

Chai High curates 4 looks for you.

You don’t always have to match your shoes to your bag, and nobody says you need to choose between sensibilities. The key lies in mixing it up.  Be it in the form of an unexpected pop of Ikat in an otherwise sporty ensemble, or a pair of furry bedroom-inspired slides to lighten up a blazer. Take the boudoir to the streets, the boardroom to the ball, and the mountain to the beach. Let your clothing traverse between geographies, as you wear different parts of the Atlas on your sleeves. This season, nobody’s asking you to be “propah”. In fact, we’re asking you to be the opposite. 

It’s about letting your look be a map of the places you’ve lived in, places you’ve visited, and the places you want to visit.

Hope you enjoy this edit.

Look 1

Look 1 of the 4 looks curated by Shivani Krishan of Chai High - an Indian Fashion Blog, featuring an Ikat top by Iyla, a canvas and leather backpack, a denim skort by Zara and a pair of white embroidered sneakers by Zara.

Look 2

Look 2 of the 4 looks curated by Shivani Krishan of Chai High - an Indian Fashion Blog, featuring a blue frayed crop top by The Pot Plant, a blue pleated skirt by The Pot Plant, a tote by the 500 BC and tan leather thong sandals by Gush, all found on Nete.in

Look 3

Look 3 of the 4 looks curated by Shivani Krishan of Chai High - an Indian Fashion Blog, featuring an anti fit dress, sling bag and slides by Zara, The Pot Plant, Nete.in and Cord

Look 4

Look 4 of the 4 looks curated by Shivani Krishan of Indian Fashion Blog - Chai High. This look features a box blazer by Doodlage, a crop top by Doodlage and Nete, a pair of box pleat skorts and green faux fur bejewelled slides by Zara, and a green satchel by Viari

These looks feature separates from two of my recent favourite places – Zara (who has moved beyond the classic), and Nete.in

While all items from Nete.in can be shopped online, for Zara, you’re going to have to visit the store.

Happy Shopping. 🙂

 

Street style alert – The Check Trouser

Last season was an eclectic playground. There was a riotous explosion of prints, embroideries, applique, and God-knows what-not on everything from denim to gingham. Bags and shoes weren’t left alone either with embroideries of various kinds edging their way into the once-muted accessory department. The box bag reined supreme and the embellished slide followed. All in all, it was a field day for all maximalists who seized the opportunity to put forward their craziest, most eye-brow raising foot forward (literally in some cases).

Well, now that the maximal season is underway, those of us who like to look forward and pick those next-season pieces well in advance (we don’t like being fashion followers or laggards), let’s figure out what are the key pieces we can buy now, that are sure to hold the test of time, tomorrow.

Though I love the hottest, new trend as much as the next person, I am not one to shop every fad and add it to my wardrobe. I am, what you could call, a smart shopper. I like to pick trends, ideas rather, from street-style pictures and catwalks, that I believe are classic – that can be paired with a variety of clothing, and will not be frowned upon for the next couple of years. So, in that sense, this item of clothing or trend will be an investment.

Keeping that in mind, here’s what you all need to own to nail next season (and all seasons beyond).

The Check Trouser

At first glance, you may think it veering towards pyjama territory but weren’t white sneakers purely for Tennis, and Little Black Dresses purely for funerals? The rules in fashion are bending like never before, and the seemingly-unthinkable has now become the creme-de-la-creme’s uniform. First with innerwear as outerwear – remember the satin slip dress that was everywhere end-2016; and now with pyjamas as legit streetwear. It won’t be long before boxer shorts are worn to prom nights, and well, bras are already being worn on the red carpet, so well, you get the drift.

The Check Trouser as seen on the New York Fashion Week Street Style Pictures | Chai High is an Indian Fashion Blog started by Shivani Krishan
NEW YORK FASHION WEEK STREET STYLE | IMAGE CREDIT – VOGUE.CO.UK – SOREN JEPSEN/THE LOCALS

It goes without saying that wearing a pair of check trousers outdoors requires a fair bit of thought in terms of accessories and separates. You can’t literally look like you rolled out of bed and onto the streets.

Therefore your shoes, your bag, your hair, your jacket – everything has to work extra hard to take the check trouser out. One way is to throw on a matching or contrasting check blazer.

The Check Trouser Suit as seen during The London Fashion Week | Street Style Photography | Chai High is an Indian Fashion Blog started by Shivani Krishan
LONDON FASHION WEEK STREET STYLE | IMAGE CREDIT: VOGUE.CO.UK – THE LOCALS
The Check Trouser Suit as seen during the Milan Fashion Week | Street Style Photography by JONATHAN DANIEL PRYCE for Vogue.co.uk | Chai High is an Indian Fashion Blog started by Shivani Krishan
MILAN FASHION WEEK STREET STYLE | IMAGE CREDIT: JONATHAN DANIEL PRYCE FOR VOGUE.CO.UK

Throwing on a matching blazer is a good way to tell the world you’re not in the bedroom anymore – a check suit is the perfect marriage between lazy and sharp.

Another way is to wear your trousers with pretty shoes. Nobody will question an outfit finished off with a stellar pair of heels.

The Check Trouser with ruffles | Seen during Milan Fashion Week | Street Style Photography by JONATHAN DANIEL PRYCE for Vogue.co.uk | Chai High is an Indian Fashion Blog started by Shivani Krishan
MILAN FASHION WEEK STREET STYLE | IMAGE CREDIT: JONATHAN DANIEL PRYCE FOR VOGUE.CO.UK

Sometimes, check trousers come trimmed with ruffles. That’s when kitten heels are enough to take this pair to a fashionable soiree.

The Check Jumpsuit as seen during The Milan Fashion Week | Street Style Photography | Chai High is an Indian Fashion Blog started by Shivani Krishan
MILAN FASHION WEEK STREET STYLE | IMAGE CREDIT: VOGUE.CO.UK – SOREN JEPSEN/THE LOCALS

If you still feel you can’t pull off this trend, choose a jumpsuit with a dark, subtle check. Throw on an overcoat for more edge.

So, while wearing a pair of check pants, remember the following:

  1. Your shoes should be runway-worthy. The bolder the better. Think bright pumps, edgy boots, embellished sneakers, cute kitten heels.
  2. You must carry a smart bag. Doesn’t need to be super statement.
  3. Layer up on top – a jacket or a blazer in a contrasting or complementing hue. You can even roll a bright scarf multiple times around your neck.
  4. Optional: A bold plum lip can really jazz it up.

So, go out this Sunday, and buy the check trouser.

Happy shopping, ladies.

 

 

 

 

 

The Indian Scarlett O’Hara

I’ve always been intrigued by Scarlett. I was about 14 when I read Gone with the Wind, and every essay henceforth was either based on the book, or the character, including the one I wrote in my board exams.

It should therefore come as no surprise that Scarlett’s sartorial sensibilities have made their way into my aesthetics, and have inspired some (if not all) of my creations.

Scarlett was bold and knew what she’d look good in. She dressed to highlight her best features – like when she wore green to compliment her catty eyes the time she met Rhett in jail, or when she pulled her dress just a tad lower to show off her fair shoulders. She was proud of her tiny waist – achieved no doubt by a rib crunching corset (the concept of which I disagree with – fashion should not be injurious to health; though not the intention – which was to highlight her best feature), and she didn’t give a damn what the world thought of her – whether it was dancing in the black crepe of mourning with a strange man, or riding a buggy to oversee business with the Yankees.

Scarlett was strong, beautiful and she knew how to work her strengths to her advantage. This outfit is built on that sentiment – take what’s best about you and enhance it to the moon. This outfit draws attention to the waist – “upper” waist mind you, while covering the problem areas – tummy, love-handles, thighs and hips with a flared, multi-layered skirt.

Polka Dotted Cotton Lehenga | Designed and Illustrated by Shivani Krishan | Chai High is an Indian Fashion Blog started by Shivani Krishan | This illustration has also been shared on Shivani Krishan's Instagram handle - chai_high_illustrated

A long, flared gown with layers of lace and frills underneath, is the starting point for my lehenga design. I’ve replaced the corset with a tiny draped choli that lets you breathe (Thank God for little pleasures), and shows off your midriff. An Indian style dupatta with gota motifs completes the look.

In terms of fabric, I’m imagining pure woven cotton – polka dots for the outfit, solid white for the frills and petticoat. Perfect for brides who’d rather avoid bling.

The hair is kept short and jewellery is traditional Indian gold. The illustration is almost a creation of a new sensibility, one that brings the aesthetics of the west and marries it with the silhouettes of the east.

Scarlett may have taken self-preservation a bit too far. But she certainly knew how to rock a trend. Let’s learn from her the art of dressing, as well as resolve never to make the mistakes she made.

If you haven’t read the book, you can buy it here.