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I Wore Saris For A Week And This Is What Happened

#SariNotSorry

Charlotte Gomez / Macey J. Foronda / BuzzFeed

Hey guys, Nina here. This is me, dressed as a super-cool ~American girl~. But I'm not just American. I'm Sri Lankan-American, and there's a whole other layer to my identity that I don't often get to express.

Instagram: @ninamohan

Every time I wear a sari, I feel incredible. They make my body look great, I feel very ~fancy~, and best of all, they make me feel super connected to my culture in a way I don't experience on a day-to-day basis. So I decided to wear saris for a week!

Saris aren't typically casual wear. In my experience, they're usually reserved for special occasions, so this might be a bit similar to wearing a ball gown or prom dress for a week. Wearing saris for a week also meant that I would be putting my brownness on display for a week. It's really hard to feel comfortable in my brown skin sometimes. I spent a lot of my youth trying to fit in and assimilate with white American culture. So I was a little nervous as to how I'd be received by everyone around me.
ninamohan / Via instagram.com

Saris aren't typically casual wear. In my experience, they're usually reserved for special occasions, so this might be a bit similar to wearing a ball gown or prom dress for a week. Wearing saris for a week also meant that I would be putting my brownness on display for a week. It's really hard to feel comfortable in my brown skin sometimes. I spent a lot of my youth trying to fit in and assimilate with white American culture. So I was a little nervous as to how I'd be received by everyone around me.

Because I only have a few saris of my own, my mother let me raid her closet. There were A LOT of choices.

Nina Mohan for BuzzFeed
Nina Mohan for BuzzFeed

My mother and I spent a good hour going through her sari collection and picked a nice variety for a work week. We went with saris that weren’t too heavy with beading so I could be a little more mobile at work (and not worry about losing beads tbh). A lot of times, you can get custom matching blouses made for saris. Since my mother’s blouses wouldn’t fit me, I chose to pair each sari with a crop top.

My mother also had to give me a crash course in sari-wearing.

A sari is basically just six yards of fabric that you have to pleat, tuck, and wrap in order to make it look less like six yards of fabric. You start by wrapping it once around your waist. Then you pleat it a few times so you can, you know, walk, and pin the pleats together. Then you wrap it once again and bring it over your shoulder, pinning it to your blouse.
Nina Mohan for BuzzFeed

A sari is basically just six yards of fabric that you have to pleat, tuck, and wrap in order to make it look less like six yards of fabric. You start by wrapping it once around your waist. Then you pleat it a few times so you can, you know, walk, and pin the pleats together. Then you wrap it once again and bring it over your shoulder, pinning it to your blouse.

FYI, this is what it looks like to pleat the skirt of the sari.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jjMdyvjybVY
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jjMdyvjybVY

This may seem simple, but draping a sari is really an art. My mother has mastered it. She has draped bridal saris for people who aren't her kids. She pleats with one hand! She's THAT good. So I knew I needed her to pass down her wisdom and expertise before I embarked on this journey. If I want to take over her role someday as an expert sari-wearer, I had to learn every step perfectly.

If I look stupidly happy here, it's because I managed to put on this sari ALL BY MYSELF. This is the first time I have ever done that. OK, the pleats are a little awkward, but I managed to do it. I didn't pleat the pallu (the part that's hanging off my shoulder), because I've almost always worn it unpleated, and taking the time to pleat it would've made me late to work. I thought when I walked into work people would stare. My body in a sari should've brought the house down! But most of my co-workers barely noticed. Only at lunch, when I walked past some of them, did one stop to tell me I looked beautiful. I think this sari's more muted colors made it less attention-grabbing. But it made me wonder if I could get away with wearing saris to work more often.
Macey J. Foronda for BuzzFeed

If I look stupidly happy here, it's because I managed to put on this sari ALL BY MYSELF. This is the first time I have ever done that. OK, the pleats are a little awkward, but I managed to do it. I didn't pleat the pallu (the part that's hanging off my shoulder), because I've almost always worn it unpleated, and taking the time to pleat it would've made me late to work.

I thought when I walked into work people would stare. My body in a sari should've brought the house down! But most of my co-workers barely noticed. Only at lunch, when I walked past some of them, did one stop to tell me I looked beautiful. I think this sari's more muted colors made it less attention-grabbing. But it made me wonder if I could get away with wearing saris to work more often.

I was in a rush this morning and accidentally ended up not doing enough pleats, so I have a lot of extra fabric hanging off me. Oops. But at least it made for a great picture! This is a ~vintage~ sari that I've never actually seen my mother wear. Personally, I NEVER wear white. Like ever. So I felt a little self-conscious showing up in this very loud piece.This is the sari that got people to notice me. Several people at work stopped to ask me what post this was for or what experiment I was doing. I was worried someone might say or ask something racist and I'd have to be defensive. All in all, most of my co-workers were just amazed by the beauty of this sari, and I can understand why. People who rarely speak to me were coming up to tell me how much they liked my outfit.
Macey J. Foronda for BuzzFeed

I was in a rush this morning and accidentally ended up not doing enough pleats, so I have a lot of extra fabric hanging off me. Oops. But at least it made for a great picture! This is a ~vintage~ sari that I've never actually seen my mother wear. Personally, I NEVER wear white. Like ever. So I felt a little self-conscious showing up in this very loud piece.

This is the sari that got people to notice me. Several people at work stopped to ask me what post this was for or what experiment I was doing. I was worried someone might say or ask something racist and I'd have to be defensive. All in all, most of my co-workers were just amazed by the beauty of this sari, and I can understand why. People who rarely speak to me were coming up to tell me how much they liked my outfit.

OK, for this sari, my mother INSISTED that I drape it in the Coorgi style, which means it comes over the shoulder from behind, instead of over the shoulder from the front. Again, this is one of her vintage pieces, and I felt so freakin' cool wearing this one. Draping the sari in this way also made it a lot easier to maneuver. On the previous days, I had a little trouble getting the pallu to stay where I wanted it to, even though I pinned it. I had accidentally rolled over the last two saris with my chair. This style felt much better for day-to-day wear. One of my neighbors stopped to tell me I looked "lovely." I was really getting used to all these compliments.
Macey J. Foronda for BuzzFeed

OK, for this sari, my mother INSISTED that I drape it in the Coorgi style, which means it comes over the shoulder from behind, instead of over the shoulder from the front. Again, this is one of her vintage pieces, and I felt so freakin' cool wearing this one.

Draping the sari in this way also made it a lot easier to maneuver. On the previous days, I had a little trouble getting the pallu to stay where I wanted it to, even though I pinned it. I had accidentally rolled over the last two saris with my chair. This style felt much better for day-to-day wear. One of my neighbors stopped to tell me I looked "lovely." I was really getting used to all these compliments.

My mom has never worn this sari. She said she thinks she's had it for "about 30 years." I never wear anything that is remotely this yellow, but holy hell does it look good. I felt regal AF. You really can't disappear into the background when you're wearing something like this, and to be honest, I didn't want to. I wanted people to notice me, and in turn to notice my culture and the beauty of the things we produce. So I went to the grocery store to grab lunch and gauge people's reactions.
Macey J. Foronda for BuzzFeed

My mom has never worn this sari. She said she thinks she's had it for "about 30 years." I never wear anything that is remotely this yellow, but holy hell does it look good. I felt regal AF.

You really can't disappear into the background when you're wearing something like this, and to be honest, I didn't want to. I wanted people to notice me, and in turn to notice my culture and the beauty of the things we produce. So I went to the grocery store to grab lunch and gauge people's reactions.

How do you reconcile the elegance of a sari with the crudeness of overpriced produce? I could also feel people staring at me, and it made me a little embarrassed. Wearing South Asian clothes out and about in the Western world suddenly seemed silly. But then a man, a total stranger, stopped me by the broccoli to tell me that he loved my sari and that it was gorgeous. And I didn't feel so ridiculous anymore.
Nina Mohan for BuzzFeed

How do you reconcile the elegance of a sari with the crudeness of overpriced produce? I could also feel people staring at me, and it made me a little embarrassed. Wearing South Asian clothes out and about in the Western world suddenly seemed silly. But then a man, a total stranger, stopped me by the broccoli to tell me that he loved my sari and that it was gorgeous. And I didn't feel so ridiculous anymore.

On this day I finally decided to try to pleat the part that goes over my shoulders. As you can see from this picture, it was a fucking mess. I screwed up the pleats in the skirt too. Who knew the final day would be such a disaster? This is one of my own saris, so perhaps I got too cocky. It was also a mistake pairing it with this over-the-shoulder crop, because pinning the pallu was very difficult, so I changed blouses later.Still, I felt pretty. I haven't worn this sari in about 10 years, so it was nice to throw it back on. This day I decided to venture out into the world of retail, so I hit up my favorite place: Target!
Macey J. Foronda for BuzzFeed

On this day I finally decided to try to pleat the part that goes over my shoulders. As you can see from this picture, it was a fucking mess. I screwed up the pleats in the skirt too. Who knew the final day would be such a disaster? This is one of my own saris, so perhaps I got too cocky. It was also a mistake pairing it with this over-the-shoulder crop, because pinning the pallu was very difficult, so I changed blouses later.

Still, I felt pretty. I haven't worn this sari in about 10 years, so it was nice to throw it back on. This day I decided to venture out into the world of retail, so I hit up my favorite place: Target!

This outing felt surprisingly normal.

I shopped. No one stared and no one commented. Perhaps that's just the nature of Target. Everyone is too focused, in their own worlds, to notice anything slightly out of the ordinary. The biggest obstacle for me was ensuring that no part of my sari got caught in the escalator. Luckily I managed to avoid completely wiping out. At the end of the day, though I hadn't worn it perfectly, I was sad to take this sari off and for the experiment to be over. The saris had begun to feel like a second skin.
Nina Mohan for BuzzFeed

I shopped. No one stared and no one commented. Perhaps that's just the nature of Target. Everyone is too focused, in their own worlds, to notice anything slightly out of the ordinary. The biggest obstacle for me was ensuring that no part of my sari got caught in the escalator. Luckily I managed to avoid completely wiping out. At the end of the day, though I hadn't worn it perfectly, I was sad to take this sari off and for the experiment to be over. The saris had begun to feel like a second skin.

Macey J. Foronda for BuzzFeed
Macey J. Foronda for BuzzFeed

This whole experience was incredible. I never wear anything fancy to the office, so donning pieces that were so flashy and elaborate forced me to find a new confidence in myself. Every time I made even a short trip to the kitchen, I felt like I was on a catwalk. I never slouched or hung my head, because I honestly felt like it would be a disservice to the sari. This experiment made me want to find ways to incorporate my culture into my daily "Western" style.

I felt so much pride this week. I don't often flaunt my culture or show off its many beautiful aspects. I know I shouldn't care, but I sometimes worry that people will mock me for it. But throughout this whole week, no one pointed or glared or laughed at me. No one said anything racist. Everyone had complete respect and curiosity that I was more than happy to indulge. I loved that I was able to not only parade my heritage, but share it with people too.

The best part of this week was how it brought me closer to my mother. She was so excited for this experiment, and so enthusiastic whenever I sent her a picture of myself in a sari. I know I didn't fully master the technique of draping and pleating. I have a long way to go. But seeing how proud she was of me for embracing our culture made me want to do this all over again.

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