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Fashion
December 15, 2016

Verve Revival: The New Blouse On The Block

Text by Viseshika Sharma

The traditional choli has switched from blatant sex appeal to a more prim avatar

A few weeks ago, I accompanied my mother to a fabric store in Bengaluru, to purchase material for a blouse to pair with a not-so-traditional ikat sari from Translate. Another customer was trying to estimate the yardage she would need for hers, and she explained the design to the attendants. After a rather roundabout description, a spark struck one of the ladies. “Ah,” she exclaimed, “Crop top!” Previously the domain of super-toned anchors on music channels and teenyboppers at concerts in the ’90s, the crop top now revels in its avatar as a widely accepted accompaniment to saris and lehngas.

For a few seasons now, couturiers like Sabyasachi Mukherjee and Manish Malhotra have been pairing a modest crop top with their creations, allowing the lehnga to function like separates. Mukherjee’s 2013 showing of a pair of sporty striped tops worn with pretty embellished saris is still fresh in our collective memory. Payal Singhal too has been showing crop tops paired with her casual lehngas, eliminating the need for an awkwardly slipping dupatta, and becoming a boon for young ladies at sangeet and mehndi functions during the wedding season. Her latest collection, at the recently concluded fashion week in Mumbai, even featured a crop top with padded shoulders that were mildly reminiscent of an American footballer’s. Says the designer, “As a brand we constantly explore new ideas to deconstruct classic Indian silhouettes and make them more modern and contemporary.

Adding a boxy crop top to a sari or a power-shouldered sleeve to a lehnga makes the garment fun and quirky versus a regular blouse. The trend is more towards something unique and different and not necessarily more sexy.”

And the crop top isn’t the only new blouse on the block. Once the collective consciousness has stepped away from the uber racy numbers and boring, tight-fitting options that were the staples of the ethnic ensemble, there seems to be no looking back! Shirts, capes, trapeze tops — everything seems to be a natural match. With jewel-toned, but not necessarily bejewelled, necklines and crisp shirt collars, the erogenous clavicle has gone into hibernation. Is this then a period of unconscious modesty?

While there will always be a place and a person to wear the sexy sari blouse, plenty of designers are making the case for a more demure way of dressing. Payal Khandwala’s most recent showing had models shrouded in shirts. “I like the strictness of a buttoned-up shirt, but I like it just as much unbuttoned a bit. We did have some blouses and kurtas with deep V-necks as well so it was not an effort to obscure the clavicle, it’s just a matter of what works for the garment best, proportions-wise. To me, it is about how you feel, not how you look. Too much skin is an obvious route; I find a little mystery far more sexy,” she says.

“A blouse complements the sari and its charisma in a big way. It is important that both sari and blouse blend with each other beautifully to reflect the wearer’s personality,” explains Gaurang Shah, designer of beautiful traditional handwoven saris under his eponymous label. “The blouse becomes the focal point of discussion. To me, the eventual creativity is dependent on the look that I am curating for the wearer.”

Anavila celebrated the Indian woman’s relationship with the sari in an installation titled The Sari in Us, depicting the garment’s wearability in every facet of life. Blouses with lapels, shirts worn with ultra-skinny ties, lightweight jackets, blouson sleeves, and even pieces that brought to mind the ghost of Victorian nightgowns — they all showed the incredible range of personalisation possible when wearing a sari. “The blouse changes the way we look and feel in the sari. The ones we design mostly focus on ease and comfort. We want women to embrace the sari for every occasion. Ours are created keeping the little events in mind, to lend a casual feel. They’re comfortable and flattering. It makes wearing the sari a viable option for the younger generation,” says designer Anavila Misra.

There are so many options that you may almost have a case of performance anxiety when choosing your blouse. “Indian fashion for the most part is so fractured, so few original voices; there is so much referencing that I think we’re having a very confused moment,” explains Khandwala.

Ultimately though, “a woman is sexy, not her ensemble. When you see Rekha, she’s always wearing a classic Indian sari with a conventional blouse. But her charm and sex appeal are legendary,” says Misra. For those torn between being sexy or modest, remember that, as Khandwala says, ‘It’s an attitude; clothes can only do so much.’

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