A textile enthusiast, a bibliophile, a lover of history, mythology and culture, and a lawyer –Shwetasree’s wardrobe today reflects each of these aspects of her personality. Over to her to share her saree journey. Thank you for taking time out for this and penning down your story . We are sure it will inspire many young women.
As a woman in the legal profession, especially litigation, we often need to work twice as hard to be taken seriously – for the many men who are life members of the old boys’ club to not dismiss us – experience had taught me early on that sarees command more respect in the courts – so over time as my black an white sarees grew in number, my salwar kameezes and trousers shrunk to accommodate them until we came to a point when my court wardrobe was exclusively sarees . At the beginning it meant setting aside at least 30 extra minutes in the morning to tie the saree, but over time, when I started wearing sarees every day, the process of tying it became a 5 minute affair. And that encouraged me to embrace sarees more easily even outside the court.
I struggled with body image issues as a poor metabolism meant that over the years I started putting on far more weight than I cared for. Sarees were forgiving – they didn’t remind me like other clothes that I was fat – they embraced me no matter how I looked or felt and I found in them, an instant pick me up. Durga Puja was my annual 5 days of wearing sarees but I would still not wear sarees to parties, restaurants, or carry them on holiday. They remained restricted to court, occasionally the office and of course as occasion wear for weddings and other family events.
( me at work in my cotton sarees)
I was never a fan of synthetics or even sequins and embellishments. So until 2016 my wardrobe could be split into two distinct halves – my workwear was primarily cotton – , while the silks were all occasion-wear. The occasional crepes ( I have 4 of them) and chiffons (I have 2) were bought in a fit of “Everyone in Delhi wears them, I should probably get some too”. My natural instinct though was to gravitate towards classic styles, and to this end, my purchases that are 15 years old are not remarkably different in essence from my current purchases. The only difference in my wardrobe of 2005 (3 years after I moved to Delhi and started my worklife) and my wardrobe today, is that I now know how to distinguish between powerloom and handloom, which I didn’t then, and have collected more uncommon weaves in recent years (which I didn’t know of then).
( with my mother )
Needless to say, having watched my mother go to school (she used to be a teacher) with her neatly pinned saree every morning, for years, left a deep impression on me as to what constituted a proper (read, acceptable saree) versus a ‘frivolous’ one. Even now, my court sarees are so tightly pinned every morning that there is literally no place for even a crease to start forming!
Yet though my saree wearing grew over time, I still regarded it as a sort of experiment – making sure I switched over to western formals with Western clients or when travelling overseas for conferences etc. I started posting sarees on Insta thanks to two early inspirations – Sonya and Vijayadi – who showed me the way to catalogue my sarees, identify the weaves and learn more about them. Once I started posting regularly, it was suddenly so much easier to know which states were under represented (in my wardrobe), which colours were missing and which art and textile forms I needed to know more intimately. So my collecting became more mindful, more researched. I now started wearing sarees to events or on holiday .
(wearing sarees with my western clients)
I started wearing sarees that I had earlier saved for special occasions only (with the careful instinct of saving things that a middle class upbringing taught me) – I wore my silks to work in winter with coloured jackets or even for official photo shoots where everyone else wore western clothes . Finally I broke the last mind block and started wearing sarees even with my western clients without worrying about whether I looked formal enough or whether I would stand out too much in a room full of grey suits .
In the process of growing to love and appreciate the six yards, I have learnt to love and appreciate the stories and histories that bind the women in my family together. Since there are barely any sarees belonging to my grandmothers that I have had the good fortune to inherit, I have been obsessed with restoring the few vintage sarees of my mother that were fraying. This image above is a triumphant example of a stunning old Kanjivaram of my mother that has been given a new lease of life.