Sunday, October 28, 2007

Forget Kilts, What Do They Wear Under Their Saree?

The inaugural post on this blog includes a rather unfortunate picture of me in a saree at my first Hindu wedding. There is a story that goes along with that saree that I have not shared with anyone. Not Anyone. After reading a few of my posts (particularly the one where I was accosted by a masseuse, or the one where my pants fell down) you might wonder, "What on earth could be too embarrassing for this girl to write about?" Well, quit being so impatient and I will tell you.
One of the women that my husband worked with was getting married. I was very nervous about this wedding for a number of reasons. 1. We were still new to India and I had no idea what to expect or what was expected of me. 2. It was my first unofficial Indian corporate shindig. 3. Mr. Smith bought me a saree to wear. Men have a thing about sarees. Sadly, I am fat and would never go into public with my midriff showing (you're welcome), but just try to explain that to the tailor who in his whole life has never heard anything so silly as a saree where the stomach is covered. 4. I had no idea how to put on a saree and the woman who could help me was a very new employee. Asking someone you hardly know and who hardly knows English to help you get dressed is a hard conversation to have. Plus, I really prefer clothes that I can put on all by myself. Having someone dress me is a little too 1800's for my taste. But I was determined to be a good sport and so I asked Camla to come upstairs in 20 minutes and help me put on my saree.

Ever wondered how a saree stays on? I figured it was some ancient Indian folding technique passed down from mother to daughter. Maybe a few safety pins thrown in for good measure. No, there is a secret that nobody tells you. Not the people who sell you the saree, not the tailor who makes the blouse to go with it, not even your American friends who are supposed to be smarter than you. They wear a petticoat! They tuck the saree into the drawstring waistband of the petticoat! My only contact with a petticoat up to this point in my life was "Petticoat Junction", an old show that I used to watch the reruns of as a kid. I could sing the theme song for you, but that's not really pertinent.

Twenty minutes passed and Camla came upstairs to help me make a dress out of a huge piece of fabric and I was waiting for her in my blouse and my underwear. That's right. Poor Camla, she was so embarrassed and just didn't know how to explain to me that I was missing a vital part of the whole saree ensemble. Finally she flipped up the end of her own saree to show me her petticoat. I was mortified. Eventually we found something that would work for the night and off I went. "Why is she telling us this?" you might ask. You are just full of questions today! This week Mr. Smith received another invitation to another wedding. This time my saree will be green, as will my brand new petticoat.


suburbancorrespondent said...

So...I'm still confused. The other woman in the picture didn't have her midriff showing. And all the Indian women in saris here have their stomachs covered also.

Are they petticoats such as were worn here in the 19th century? Or just simple slips with a waistband?

I'm so curious today.

Marilyn said...

I thought you looked beautiful in the Sari you wore to the last wedding. I'm sure you will look just as beautiful in the green one. The petticoat will make you more comfortable too.

Mrs. Smith said...

The other woman is wearing a salwar kameez. They are my favorite. They are basically pants with a very long shirt. A saree is a long piece of fabric that is wrapped around your waist and the end is draped over your shoulder. They wear a shirt with it that usually ends just below their bustline. If you google saree you will see what I mean.

The petticoat is a full length slip made of cotton instead of the slippery fabric we use in the US.

Aunt Carol said...

I too believe you will be beautiful. We want another picture, maybe I will ask MR SMITH!

What a great experience you are having.

bombaygirl said...

That was hysterical. I can just see poor Kamala's face when she saw you standing there in your undies. What did you use to "make do"? Just curious!

Suburbancorrespondent: the petticoats are full length a-line skirts made out of cotton, with a drawstring top, and a couple of hooks. You put that on, then tighten it as much as you can (at least I do, coz I am afraid of it being too loose and not holding the sari up), and then drape the sari over that, tucking the sari fabric in as you go along.

Re: the midriff, different women have different tolerances for the amt of skin they show, just as you do in western clothes. In the States, we try to follow the decorum of the conservative western dress and don't show the midriff. Apparently, in the States, you show your midriff only if it is in absolute toned condition or if you are a teenage (same diff!).

Rachel said...

I am jealous...I would love to wear a sari...petticoat and all!