The Ultimate South Asian Style Guide: Nauvari Sarees
Welcome to the next part in the Ultimate South Asian Style Guide; be sure to visit the complete series: mekhela chador, Indian men’s pants, shararas and ghararas,Indian men’s hats, lenghas and half-saris, Indian men’s jackets, sherwanis, women’s salwar kameez.
The longer length of the saree allows for it to be draped in a pant-like style that wraps around each leg and forms a dhoti of sorts. The saree brings with it more movement and flexibility because it is not worn as a skirt, unlike its more common counterpart.
The word "nauvari" means "nine yards" in Marathi, and it bluntly describes the main difference between this saree and the average six yard saree.
The saree was first worn by two sets of women: first, the working class woman who needed a more versatile saree to clean houses and do manual labor in; second, the Maharashtrian folk dancer who danced to traditional lavani songs and needed an outfit that allowed for maximum movement.
As the saree grew in popularity and practicality, more women in the early 1900s would buy these garments and wear them in place of their regular sarees. The nauvari, earlier known as the "lugada" saree, became a common fashion piece amongst Maharashtrian women of the era - and the fashion is being revitalized today as younger generations admire the powerful stature and grace that the saree symbolized.
Culture & Community
Initially, the nauvari saree was frowned upon for being too revealing, because it was only worn by dancers or Bollywood actresses. Both these professions were considered unladylike and tantamount to sex workers during the early 1900s.
The saree was also worn amongst poorer women who hailed from villages to work in big cities as maids or caretakers. These professions were considered low class, and as a result, the nauvari saree was interpreted as a poor woman's wear.
When the saree came into popularity for its fashion and its practicality, women of all classes and professions began to wear it as a symbol of Maharashtrian culture. Maharashtrian women now pride the nauvari saree as a garment the represents their strength and capability - and also as an outfit that allows them to showcase these traits.
Many Bollywood movies feature the nauvari saree in dance sequences or item numbers. Actresses such as Vidya Balan and Madhuri Dixit have danced to songs in the saree, which is considered more attractive in item numbers because it is more revealing than the traditional saree by exposing more of the blouse and legs.
For the most part, however, the rique nature of this saree has decreased in Indian society. The nauvari saree is considered a glamorous outfit, and it is increasingly worn by Maharashtrian brides to their wedding ceremonies today. As it makes a comeback, the nauvari saree is a powerful reminder of society's treatment of women and how this perspective has evolved into the modern day appreciation of the garment.
While Maharashtra is a large state, the nauvari saree is generally only worn by certain communities today. Upper caste groups, like the Brahmins or the CKPs, often wear these sarees as symbols of culture and education. Also, the nauvari saree is worn in other states such as Karnatake, Goa, and Andra Pradesh - but it is mostly donned as a practical, working garment (such as by Goan fisherwomen) rather than a fashion statement in these areas.
There are two ways to drape the nauvari saree, with the traditional method being the most commonly used. Both styles require a blouse, as with the traditional saree, but a petticoat is never worn underneath.
This style is inspired by the warrior women of ancient Maharashtra. First, the saree is centered and placed behind the waist. Then, the ends of the saree are tied around the waist, in the front, in a trouser-like style. Finally, the ends of the saree are wrapped around the shoulders and often pinned to one side to drape behind the back. The blouse is partially exposed.
This style is a two-piece method that was brought to Maharashtra by working women from states such as Rajasthan, Gujarat, and Uttar Pradesh. The saree is presented in two pieces, often of the same cloth. First, one piece is tied around the waist in a trouser-like style. Then, the second piece is tucked into the first wrapped piece and pulled over the upper body, exposing only part of the blouse. Finally, the saree is pulled over the left shoulder to cover the head, instead of letting it drape behind the shoulder. This look had its practicality as well - the head covering would protect women from the sun and other elements.
Like a traditional saree, the nauvari saree can be made of different materials and patterned with various designs. Notably, it was made of cotton so that the original working women who wore it could wash it easily and wear a breathable fabric. However, the more formal nauvari sarees are made of silk or satin. Stiff materials such as linen, Georgette, or tulle are never used because the way the saree is wrapped around the legs would mean the fabrics would be very uncomfortble.
Cotton nauvari sarees worn for daily wear will be of the same pattern as traditional sarees, ranging in florals to religious motifs. The blouse is also cotton, and is generally the same exact blouse worn with a regular saree: opening in the front and being short sleeved. Today's comeback of nauvari fashion may bring with it modern blouses with 3/4 sleeves or even sleeveless designs.
Paithani silk from the Paithan region of Maharashtra is often used for wedding ceremonies. The silk is brightly colored, often gold for traditional Maharashtrian ceremonies. The silk is memorable for its thick, patterned borders embroidered in silver or gold colored thread. The rest of the fabric will be simply patterned, with nothing too elaborate to distract from the heavy borders and shimmery appearance.
Celebrities can commonly be seen wearing the nauvari saree in Bollywood item numbers. This version of the saree, however, is very sexualized and inaccurately represents the elegance that has been associated with the style for over 50 years. Nauvari sarees are never worn as short or as revealing as the item number music videos make them seem.
Madhuri Dixit in a koli draped nauvari saree from the item number, Humko Aaj Kal Hai Intezaar (1990)
Katrina Kaif in Tees Maar Khan (2010) - she's infamous for seductively wearing nauvari sarees for item numbers
Fortunately, some celebrities treat the nauvari saree with more respect and wear them to formal events in the traditional draping style.
Vidhya Balan dancing at The Global Indian Music Awards 2012; Photo courtesy of santabanta.com
Some of our featured Maharashtrian brides have worn nauvari sarees to their wedding rituals. The nauvari trend is becoming increasingly popular with the current generation of Maharashtrian brides - they believe it is a cultured and prideful fashion associated with the strong women of their past.