A sari or saree is a female garment born in both Northern and Southern India and is now a symbol for all of India. It is a decorative strip of cloth, ranging from four to nine meters that is draped over the body. The most common style is for the sari to be wrapped around the waist, with one end then draped over the shoulder baring the midriff.
The sari is usually worn over a petticoat, with a blouse (choli or ravika) forming the upper garment. The choli has short sleeves and a low neck and is usually cropped. Cholis may be “backless” or halter-style. These are usually more dressy with a lot of embellishments such as embroidery and may be worn on special occasions.
The sari can be traced back to the Indus Valley Civilization, (2800-1800 BC) around the western part of the Indian Subcontinent. The earliest known depiction of the sari in the Indian subcontinent is the statue of an Indus valley priest wearing a drape.
Saris are woven with one plain end (which is concealed inside the wrap), two long decorative borders running the length of the sari, and a one to three foot section at the other end which continues and elaborates the length-wise decoration, called the pallu. In the past, saris were woven of silk or cotton. The rich could afford finely-woven, sheer silk saris that could be “passed through a finger ring”.
All saris were handwoven and represented a considerable investment of time or money. Simple hand-woven villagers’ saris are often decorated with checks or stripes woven into the cloth.
Inexpensive saris were also decorated with block printing using carved wooden blocks and vegetable dyes, or tie-dyeing, known in India as bhandani work.
In modern times, saris are increasingly woven on mechanical looms and made of artificial fibers, such as polyester or nylon. They are printed by machine, or woven in simple patterns.
Hand-woven, hand-decorated saris are naturally more expensive than the machine imitations, and they are still popular for weddings and other grand occasions.