The Ultimate South Asian Style Guide: Lehengas & Half-Sarees

2015 May 21 - by Nadya
The Lehenga, or Lehnga or Ghagra or Pavadai or Langa, is one of the most common and most traditional Indian outfits.  With its large, pleated skirt, fitted blouse, or choli, and heavy dupatta the lehenga's silhouette is simple and flattering.

Welcome to the next edition in the Ultimate South Asian Style Guide. After you've checked out this article, visit the complete series of clothing: Indian men’s pants, Indian men’s hats, Indian men’s jackets, women’s salwar kameez, Tarun Tahiliani's Bridal Collection 2012

One of the most common styles we see today is the Gujarati and Rajasthani Ghagra Choli, which features a short choli that leaves the midsection bare.  'Ghagra choli' is often used interchangeably with 'lehnga' or 'lehnga choli' and can denote all the styles of lehnga.  We used 'ghagra choli' here to mean the specifically short choli with the long skirt.

From Anushree Reddy at Lakme Fashion Week 2015

Styles

In contrast with the short Rajasthani choli, more conservatives styles also pop up with longer cholis, long sleeves, and sometimes even tunics in place of blouses.  A popular style is the Luanchari which contains a long, dress-like tunic over a lehnga skirt.  It is traditional among the Gaddi people of Himachal Pradesh.

Photo via A Gold & Shimmery Engagement Session

Variations on the Luanchari and the Lehnga silhouette include a choli which is fitted to the waist but also includes long stretches of fabric that flare out, possibly leaving the tummy slightly exposed.

Photo via Sejal & Shawn's Wedding

The simple silhouette of the lehenga has also taken on modern twists.  Though largely unchanged from its first Mughal forms, lehenga skirts now come in A-line, mermaid, and paneled variations.  Much like Western wedding dresses, mermaid lehengas flare out at the knee.  Below is a picture of a modern mermaid fit lehnga.

Photo courtesy of Irfan Ahson

Modern lehengas also tend to made in lighter silk and chiffon while still sporting heavy beading, zari, and embroidery work.

Photo via Depika & Taki's Wedding

Designs

As any coordinated blouse and skirt combo can be feasibly termed a 'lehenga,' designers nowadays are experimenting with the traditional outfit.

Lakme Fashion Week last year saw lehngas with zippers, layered skirts, and button-up cholis.  Traditional lehngas were also commonly featured, with Rajasthani mirror work and detailed floral embroidery.

Inspiration

Brides and celebrities both whip out lehengas.  Sonam Kapoor famously wore an Anamika Khanna lehnga-style dress to the Filmfare awards a few months ago.

Many top Indian designers experiment with new prints as well as old handicraft techniques in their lehngas.  Sabyasachi at Lakme this year sent bold floral lehngas down the runway.

From Sabyasachi at Lakme Fashion Week 2015

Suneet Varma, by contrast, stuck to bright colors, heavy zari work, and very traditional looking pieces.

From Suneet Varma at Lakme Fashion Week 2015

New or old, the lehenga is always in fashion.

Half Saree

In South India, the langa voni, or half-saree, has become incredibly popular in recent years. Much like a North Indian lehenga, the half-saree features a long skirt that is pulled tight at the waist.  A contrastingly colored voni (oni or devani), which is about 2 or 2.5 meters of fabric, is then tucked in the waistband and draped over the choli, much like how a sari drapes.  Traditionally girls between the puberty and marriage wear the half-saree for special occasions.

Just like with lehngas, half-sarees are also taking on different forms.  From fluted skirts, to flared, to multi-pleated, half-sarees are becoming increasingly diverse.

The most famous display of half-sarees in North Indian culture happened when Deepika Padukone donned a series of beautiful half-sarees while she was filming Chennai Express.

The half-saree is quintessentially South Indian and is seen often in Tollywood films and South Indian soap operas.

The lehnga and all its variations are a constant part of the South Asian fashion scene.  It is truly timeless yet perfect for experimentation, making it a darling of both trendy brides and fashion visionaries.
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