Leela Sinhais creating sari stories (and squee!)
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Without thread, there is no cloth. Without cloth, no saris are possible. Support my public work! The educational work that I do helps demystify saris and non-western dress. We're not strangers.
The fall is one of the hidden secrets of saris--it's a narrow length of fabric that can be stitched to the back of the border for the first five feet or so of the sari. It provides added weight and structural support, and protects a delicate border from being worn out or tangled on the wearer's shoes. At this tier you'll support my public work and also see my inner musings about the saris and the situations they get me into.
The border of a sari provides weight, helps it drape, and is sometimes the only ornament on a plain ground. Support my public work, see my inner musings, AND also get a second sari video or photo essay per month that is not released to the public anytime soon.
About Leela Sinha
I wear them a lot now. People ask questions, and are curious and fascinated and captivated--because saris are captivating things. I can wear the same t-shirt and oxford shirt and khakis for a week and not care, but I always want more beautiful saris. I am not generally acquisitive but there's something about a six-yard hug from my Dadi or six yards of soft cotton on a chilly day that leads to a sweet kind of curiosity from people, or bonding with Indians. But I'm not a dyed-in-the-wool Indian-born-Indian. I am JUST learning Hindi. I'm not Hindu or Muslim or Catholic. I'm rebellious and indelicate and effusive and pragmatic and I have never been a girly girl. There's no good Indian daughter gene in this flesh and bone. I am not a strong candidate for Likely Sari Advocate of the Year. In fact, I had to realize that these are daily wear garments, worn on construction sites and by washerwomen and power executives alike, lounged in and cooked in and cleaned in and fancy-partied-in, and that they can be worn different ways to do all those things better, before I could even think about wearing them myself, for more than dress-up.
I was not born or raised in India. My father is Indian, and all of my early India came down through him--so no saris. I grew up in jeans and overalls and t-shirts. I was born into the middle of the 1970s androgyny revolution. As it turns out, that's not as contradictory to the sari as one might think...
How does an American-Born Confused Desi (actually half-desi), committed jeans-only wearer, raised in the 1970s in Connecticut, suddenly decide that saris are the best thing since buttered roti?
Well. I'll tell you, but it's not a short story.
I believed in women's rights, and independence from the beginning.
But it didn't occur to me until I was returning from an 8 month trip to India, in my early 20s, that western ready to wear clothing is really authoritarian. Whoever makes it gets to decide what size and shape your body should be, and any mismatches are somehow the fault of your body.
This took our culture in about a generation and a half from clothing designed for our bodies to trying to design our bodies for our clothes. Of course, corsets were our foreshadowing--made-to-measure clothes that required shapewear underneath were bound to give people the impression that it was ok to require things of the body.
But I digress.
My clothes from India accommodated all my weight and shape and size changes. With Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and depression, my body is just not steady. My Indian clothes didn't really care. My western clothes, I discovered, had one tantrum after another. It gradually dawned on me that that's because to some extent the kurta pajama, but to a much greater extent the sari, is MADE TO MEASURE EVERY TIME. Every time you put on a sari, it fits (some taller and wider people need longer saris, but the range of accommodation is really astonishing). Gain or lose 20 lbs? Still fits. Pregnant? Fits. Go to the gym a lot? Fits. Quit the gym? Still fits.
The blouses (choli blouses) in their traditional form are quite a bit less forgiving. But those are a later addition; the early ones tied in the back, and were also very flexible, or in some regions, got skipped altogether.
Basically draped clothes--saris and dhotis and lungis and turbans, in India--are all designed to be unbelievably accommodating, while not wasting a centimeter of precious fabric. Nothing fits only one person, or one age, or can't be reworn. It is the most sensible thing to do with handspun, handwoven, precious metal, or other kinds of valuable fabric. You can wear things from your grandparents. You can borrow the entire wardrobe of your siblings or best friend.
It is the best pushback to fast fashion, to a culture of disposability, and to body shaming. Ever.
I asked my dadi to help me learn to wear them.
I committed to the #100sareepact (100 saris worn in a year) and visited India a few times and expanded my wardrobe.
And then I decided to share them--my thoughts and feelings and complications and pride and hope and frustration and joy.
And here we are.
Mostly, I'm making videos about saris: videos of me putting them on and talking about them while I do it. I might also do other things: an AMA opportunity is definitely in the works, and essays, because I can't help myself, most likely.
Disclaimer: I'm not an expert on saris or India or the desi diaspora. I'm just an expert on my own, complicated, delightful experience. I cannot speak for All Indians or All Anybody Else. I wear saris as active, dynamic garments. Proceed at your own risk. :)