Seema is one of my favourite people on Instagram. She lives in my favourite city in the world -New York . She wears my favourite garment in the world – saree.
And well she really really walks the talk. From wearing a saree which has a Benaras ghats to a blouse with the NYC skyline , she defines east meets west like a boss.
Some of you who follow her on the social media would already know her a bit , but here is little bit more about her love for sarees , crafts and handmade . Now I am just going to handover the mike to her !
I’m Seema, a New Yorker at heart, a city I’ve called home for the last 15 years, the most I’ve lived anywhere in my life. Born in Chennai or Madras as I still like to call it, I moved between Madras, Bihar and Bengal growing up. Rajasthan is where I ended up for college for 4 glorious years, and I worked in Bombay for a wee bit before moving to the US in 1999. My parents lived in Pune for 14 years and just recently moved to Trivandrum. Having lived in various parts of India, I have no real roots anywhere. A piece of me is still a Madras girl, although my Tamil is almost unintelligible after all these years. My in-laws have settled there, so I am glad to go back for a few days every year and eat piping hot vada with sambar from the local hole in the wall eatery when they open at 7am. Well, chutney actually. But, that’s neither here nor there. Oh, the husband and I met when we worked in Bombay. He was an army brat and moved around way more than I did. It’s just the two of us, married 19 going on 20 years, who luckily still like to hang out together. I work in Product Management in a media company; it’s a job I enjoy that also keeps me challenged and energized. And more importantly, lets me do all the other things I love to do.
To be honest, I was never ‘into’ clothes. I liked to dress well, but didn’t spend a lot of time or put much thought into my wardrobe or accessories. My passion for the last 15 years has been travel, preferably to the developing world where old customs and traditions are fast dying out and being replaced with a modern lifestyle. We enjoy bearing witness to what was and is unique about a culture, be it its architecture, dress, food, rituals, crafts and textiles. The latter two were and continue to be a mild obsession. Back to clothes, I’ve always loved sarees on others, but never really enjoyed wearing them myself. The tight blouses, the 6 yards wrapped around my skinny frame resulting in a lot of unwieldy pleats that made me look like I was ‘in the family way’, always tripping on them, the heavy Kanjeevaram silks where you sweat so profusely you can’t wait to pull them off the second you get home; none of this resulted in a pleasant experience that I was willing to recreate by choice. Sarees were exclusively for functions at school/college. All borrowed from my mom or aunt. Between our wedding in 1999 and 2016, I wore them a grand total of 4 times.
The very first time I wore a saree in NYC. This gingham checks with Arjakh pallu paired with an Ajrakh blouse worn to a barbeque to a friend’s house.
But, all that changed in 2016 when my grandmother turned 90 and the family got together in Kerala to celebrate her. We wanted some nice family portraits so I went looking for a saree online. Lo and behold, so much had changed in the years since I had last shopped for one. There were so many designers creating magic working directly with the weavers, blending both tradition and the needs of the modern woman. They were experimenting with weaves, mixing fabrics, changing the loom structure or weave construction to make lighter sarees. They used atypical colors, and sometimes combined diverse techniques from across the country. I fell in love, bought a few sarees, wore them in NYC a few times later that summer, and never turned back. Living here and working in a corporate environment, I clearly cannot wear a saree to work, so draping the 6 yards is reserved for the weekends and summer weekday evenings. I wear them to lunch, drinks at the bar or dinner, a day in the park, exploring the city and museums, to Broadway shows and concerts, and day trips outside the city.
What I enjoy most about the saree is its versatility, fluidity and how it so easily takes on the personality of the wearer. I love the creativity and freedom of mixing colors and patterns and wearing them not just with blouses, but with shirts, tunics, tees, crop tops, jackets and sweaters in the winter. That’s half the fun of wearing a saree for me, right there. Wearing it with comfort in mind is also important given all the walking we do in NYC. So, it’s sneakers, flats and boots over heels. I look at my wardrobe with a different lens now; every work or weekend shirt, blouse and top is also a potential pairing for a saree. Increases your combos manifold!
Having fun with the pallu and wearing it differently not only makes it interesting but also easier to manage in many instances. My draping is still fairly traditional though, save the pallu and some minor tweaks with the pleats. I really enjoy following @winnynarayan and @pleatsandpallu on Instagram to see the myriad fascinating ways in which the saree can be styled and yet be functional, and I have also watched The Sari Series videos by @borderandfall several times over to appreciate how it is draped by communities across India to accommodate their daily lives and needs. I hope to try more of these drapes this year. I’ve worn the saree with no petticoat a couple of times, but mostly just wear a white or black one. Not having to worry about color matching blouses and petticoats or the perfect pleats for that matter means fewer barriers to entry, if you’re new to sarees or attempting to transition from being an occasional saree wearer to a more frequent one
Discovering new saree fabrics, weaves and textures like ponduru khadi, eri silk, noil and linen and in the 2 years since that first saree, also learning about the many more glorious weaves, embroideries, hand block printing, dyeing and painting techniques from across India has been so enriching. Mind blowing is perhaps a more appropriate term. So much that I didn’t know! I consider myself lucky and privileged to have been able to acquire and enjoy many of them. I love bold colors, pastels and non-colors alike, and prefer simplicity and clean lines. Unusual color combos and patterns always pique my interest. Friends and neighbors who were shocked or curious when I first started wearing sarees, now no longer bat an eye. And although I love wearing my pencil skirts, pants and dresses to work, I look forward a lot more to draping sarees over the weekend.
As far as saree shopping, it’s all done online for the most part. I never would have thought that I’d be buying sarees via Instagram and WhatsApp and paying via bank transfer, but I have to say that it’s all worked out pretty well considering we’re living in the age of internet and social media scams. Buying from brands and vendors you trust and asking a lot of questions is key to avoid disappointment or worse, being taken for a ride. While I would love to see, touch and even smell the sarees I buy and find a gem hidden on a high shelf in a tiny shop in a back alley, I know that ain’t happening for me. Nor do I have access to sarees from my mom’s collection since she isn’t much of a saree wearer. So, I’ve settled for the next best option. And that’s good enough for me.