Maybe it’s the flow of the sari or its rich hues. Perhaps it’s that it covers just enough while allowing women to be sexy.
The sari, instilling grace in women of all sizes, remains mysterious. Despite that millions drape themselves elegantly in saris, they’re rarely seen on American TV. Yes, Apu’s wife, Manjula Nahasapeemapetilon, wears one on “The Simpsons,” but we’re referring to real people.
It took NBC’s “Outsourced,” a comedy set in an Indian phone center, to bring saris to current prime time. Anisha Nagarajan, who plays Madhuri, grew up in Pittsburgh but spent time with her family in India. She owns many saris.
“My grandmothers, ever since I turned 14, they started giving me saris,” she says. “They just thought it was a coming of age – so here is a sari. I was kind of like their puppet. They would wrap it around me when I was younger. Now I have learned how to do it because of them, and watching them tie it themselves.”
Draping saris isn’t as easy as it looks. Now, Nagarajan says, it’s become “second nature, especially because I do it every day. When I first started, it took a really long time; it took me almost an hour because it is several yards.”
She has it down to five minutes “if you get a fabric that folds easily and is not starchy.”
Madhuri is painfully shy and wears softer colors, though saris are usually made from richly dyed fabrics. The vibrant colors are often bordered with exquisite trims, and special saris are embroidered and beaded.
“There is so much history in India,” costume designer Susie DeSanto says. “There is something like 300 ways to tie a sari.”
“It comes out of practicality,” DeSanto says. “It always fits no matter what size the woman is, whether pregnant or not, and it’s comfortable.”
DeSanto shops for Madhuri in the Artesia section of Los Angeles, and buys most of her clothes at Loveleen Sari Palace. Choli, the midriff blouse with a scoop neck and cap sleeves, and other Indian fashions are available online, including at Kaneesha and Saree Dreams.
Accessories are “bangles, bangles, bangles,” DeSanto says. “They can’t get enough bangles on. They have all of those glass ones, the colored glass ones that are bright colors and enamel bracelets.”
Everything Glass Bangles offers a huge selection.
Though more people are having Indian parties and weddings (notably Katy Perry and Russell Brand), not many women have taken to saris.
“Honestly, I think to be blunt about it,” DeSanto says, “I don’t think white people look that good in it.”
“A lot of it has to do with how you carry yourself,” she says. “Culturally, it belongs to them. They know how to walk in them and move in them.”