draped clothing: resources

Saris: the best resource for draping saris is Chantal Boulanger’s book.  But if you want a quick-and-dirty primer on the most common draping style (nivi) and a few bonus options, go to sarisafari.com.  She also imports and sells some beautiful saris, if you don’t live near an Indian district.

YouTube has some excellent additional videos.  A drape that I’m particularly fond of is the fishtail, shown here.  There are fantastic text explanations here, from a SCA person whose character is a 14-1600’s dancer in India.  She includes a description of how to go to the bathroom without undraping the whole thing, which I have found useful for both sari and some dhoti styles.


1. here‘s a good solid basic video in English.

2. this is a slightly different style (make sure it stays closed in front!)

3. and here‘s a video for Kshatryia (warrior caste) style.  I find this a very practical drape for getting things done.  The crossed front on this style avoids the gapping-open-fly problem that sometimes comes with style 2.  Style 1 manages this by draping the pleats in front of the opening.

All three of these dhoti styles can use the toilet as described in the fishtail drape description.  Nivi sari drapes don’t have that problem, of course, they’re just like skirts.  Now there are three more variations on the bifurcated sari drape, done with the longer 9 yard sari instead of the usual 6 yards

nauvari drape (from Maharastra) one version here and one here

tamil (Iyengar) drape
dhoti style drape

all three of these are a little tricky, and you’ll do better with them if you begin by learning the basic nivi and dhoti draping styles.
I also mentioned the kanga, which I found while googling draped clothing.  I have no authority to speak on it, but there are some very useful and creative drapes here: http://www.kangausa.com/
Notes from the field:
the joy of draped clothing is that it is custom fitted, every time.  That means your clothes always fit.
the challenge of draped clothing is that YOU custom fit it, every time.  Expect to spend a little more time getting dressed (a lot more at first) while you tweak, pleat, tighten, loosen, and adjust.  The good news is, in very short order this becomes faster and easier, AND you get good at it so you don’t have to mess with your clothes during the day very much.
Things that can upset the balance:
1) going to the bathroom, especially the sitting-down kind.  If you wish to have this not be a TOTAL pain in the ass and you’re wearing a dhoti or a dhoti-style bifurcated sari drape (the kaccha drape  and the maharastrian nauwari drape are different; just pull the pleat out of the back, use the toilet, and put the pleat back in) you MUST go commando.  I know, we’re not supposed to say these things in public.  But seriously, it’s the difference between undoing everything and not.  If you can pee standing up you will save yourself a lot of headaches by doing so.
2) vigorous movement.  Where you have a choice between a knot and a tuck while draping your garment, always choose the knot if you know there will be vigor in your future.  But you may still have to stop and adjust something; be attentive enough to know there might be a wardrobe malfunction.  Best draped clothes for intense activity are the simplest: lungi, folded up above the knee, is my favorite.  I use mine for EVERYTHING including hiking and learning about my car’s insides. NB: you still have to get the grease out.
3) sitting down and shifting position like in a lecture hall or an uncomfortable family visit.  Be careful when you stand up; do it slowly and don’t force it if some of your clothes are catching.  Figure out what the problem is, lest you stand up suddenly and loose your pleats and your dignity on your way toward freedom.
People will be curious.  Some people will stare.  Some people might get angry if you’re wearing clothes from a culture that isn’t your own.  I believe that you should always know the cultural context from which your clothing came, and use it as clothing and NOT as a costume.  If you need to have this explained further, google “cultural misappropriation”.  Your best bet is to get to know someone from the community where your clothes originated.  If you like the clothes, you really ought to be curious about where they came from and how they’re used.  Don’t change major components without understanding what you’re doing, and maybe not even then.  Be careful and respectful.
Europeans have draped clothing too–look at ancient Greece and Rome, togas here or here and chitons here, or check out the history of the great kilt, which has to be pleated and laid on the floor and then kind of rolled into.