Stunning some yards of immense wonder, with charm and versatility and uniqueness pleated into its entire expanse of flowing grace and sophistication that symbolises still a rooting in the traditional and a humble but esteemed steeping in dignified modesty, the classic Indian appeal unfurling along the identity of the sari needs no reintroduction. Forever a fascinating revelation, both in its style held in a certain regard of poise as well as in being the characteristic vision through which the image of the Indian woman finds expression has been the sari that has never for once grappled with the issue of a lost relevance despite its essence being once supposedly intertwined with at least some level of complexity.
But while this timeless canvas representative of not just tastes in the aesthetics and values of the traditional but also encouraging of greater contemporary explorations and affording interpretations in as accurate experimentations in modernity has been a phenomenon all right, there exists still some parts of this captivating indeed curation out of the spectacular Indian narrative that continues to be dwelling in some obscurity. That part in alluding isn’t really any part of the continuing story that the sari weaves into its humongously varied narrative of so many influences and as many characteristics, rather one that stems from a completely unrelated expression that though dominates its popularity in current understanding of what is a truly standout attire indeed.
For in considerable piquing of interest has been the associated component of the blouse that which manifests itself as so essential in the context of saree donning but which in fact is quite surprisingly not a very Indian tradition at all! It in fact is an inroad of the British into this dimension of the drape courtesy of their dominating of every thing transpiring upon the Indian scape for a considerable period of time in history that which made the blouse a quintessential feature upon the entire saree stratosphere.
It though isn’t just the British assertion upon this fore of what indeed occurs as one aspect of our cultural expression that is striking. Equally remarkable happens to be the premise upon which the need was made to exist to therefore lead it to being the mother of that fashion invention that we today know as the blouse. No less unique happens to be the identity of the blouse within the larger fashion spectrum as well, as a piece of clothing which while undoubtedly feminine still carries with it a larger connotation in being a dress shirt. In more traditional origins of it, the blouse had been a loose fitting upper garment typically gathered at the waist by some means so that it ‘blouses’ or hangs loosely upon that area of the body creating thereby some sort of a ballooned look.
In the Indian context, the shape and form of the blouse is pretty much the same indeed. But instead of the ordinarily occurring element of the buttons, it is hooks and eyes that tend to be the more commonly intended mode in fastening. That consideration in the stylised aspect of it might be untraceable in its exact origins and in as accurate a basis of explanation. The essence though of the blouse coming to so characteristically define the sashaying charisma of the sari is very clear in its definite evolvement. Attributable in its genesis to Jnanadanandini Deb, the sister in law of Rabindranath Tagore is this Indian way of wearing the blouse as something inseparable now from the dramatic identity of the ever so exquisitely ethnic sari.
Up until most part of the 19th century at least, blouses had not followed the tantalising trail of the saree as something needed to be worn ‘underneath’. In fact the ancient ‘expectations’ of dressing in most of what conjures up the present day territorial identity of the Indian nation tended to be adequately met by just a couple some rectangular pieces of cloth covering respectively the modesty of the body along its upper and lower parts for both men and women alike. And adhering to this manner of dressing had been the Indian folks till times even as late as the era of the British rule in the country which however did not quite appeal to the ideals in ‘refined propriety’ of the kingly clan. It had been in such expression of disapproval over their bare chests that led blouses to charter importance in the Indian scheme of donning and draping, coming thus to encompass place of pride simultaneously along the forever esteemed supremacy of the sari.
What led Debi, wife of Satyendranath Tagore to bring upon blouses such thrust that manifests till today as popular necessity had been her personal experience in being refused entry to clubs during the British rule due to having the saree rest over her bare breasts. That though is a tale only of the modern style of the blouse as we know it, or at least one specifically explored in the arena of the saree wearing style. The earliest precursor to the blouse as far as the Indian scenario is concerned could be singled out as the stanapatta or a chest band which however wasn’t a standard practice and instead existed as a choice in accepting or denouncing depending upon a lot of factors from cultural influences and ruling mandates as well as to geographical determinants of climate and location and the like.
Seemingly more similar a predecessor of the blouse in the Indian fit and style of wearing would be the choli that spans out as a rather congruent fashion double of the modern day sari essential. But while traditional cholis tended to be back open garments with provision of laces for their tying up convenience, the first of the modern day blouses began as front open pieces of specifically sewn clothes to support the bust though the more evolved and seamless fashion identities of the contemporary ruling mean that such distinctions need not always exist. Choli then can be referred to indeed as the Indian version of the blouse though the manifestation of them in usage can be as varied as well.
Despite certain some drawings as such upon the traditional can make for considerable content in identifying the sari specific blouse as a long existing Indian measure of decorum, it still happens to be a largely British endowment- this assuming of particular status by the blouse in this context of its being. So defining is this status as well in the entire unfurling charm of the sari that many of these yards of beauty also come with a few extra inches attached on their being to offer also the fashion privilege of a matching blouse to go with it. This desired dimension in fashion that now dictates also this emergence upon a decorum driven horizon means that the blouse has moved on greatly to even entail as a statement piece itself, many a times manifesting in fact as the star of the whole attire in its design and decor and craft and curation to impeccable indeed limits of aesthetic creativity.
There exists today blouses in pretty much every design and fit and form as one would want for themselves. From the neckline to the sleeves, from the embroidery to the pattern, from the sensuous deep cuts to the more formal collar ups, the blouse is not merely a garment defined by and in conjunction with its intricate stepping upon the sari identity. The blouse today stands for itself as an attire in itself, that the modern Indian woman continue to pursue as something rather traditional, but still versatile and relevant once again much like the sari itself to let it do its own talking. Whether that be in ditching the sari even at times to embody other modes in dressing, of both western and ethnic leanings, the largely saree specific significance of the blouse has finally managed to come to its own without losing as well its association of much esteem.