What is a Choli?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A choli or sari blouse is a fitted garment which is designed to be worn under a sari. Choli designs can be quite varied, with a range of styles from the daring to the modest, and these garments are widely worn across India, Pakistan, and other regions where the sari and related garments are worn. Most stores which carry Indian clothing carry cholis, and it is also possible to find sewing patterns for these simple blouses, for those who prefer to make their own.

Woman posing
Woman posing

The classical choli design is short sleeved, with a deeply scooped neck and a bare midriff. In the heat of Southeast Asia, the lightweight design can be a welcome comfort, especially when worn with a lightweight sari, and some people further refine the design by creating openings in the back, or adding buttons or laces to the front. More conservative cholis may have higher necks, longer sleeves, or longer bottom hems which cover more of the midriff, and in regions where the sari is worn, office dress codes often specify which types of choli can be worn in the workplace.

Traditionally, the choli has been made from the same fabric as the sari, with many sari producers adding extra length to their products so that women can cut the end of the sari off and sew it into a matching choli. However, cholis don't have to match the saris they are worn with, and they can be made in a wide variety of fabrics. Since saris themselves can be very expensive, many women like to purchase new sari blouses to change the look and feel of their garments.

The choli goes by several alternate names, in addition to “sari blouse.” In Pakistan, the choli is known as a lengha, and in the Telugu language widely spoken in India, it is called a ravika. In addition to being worn with saris, cholis can be worn under the salwar kameez like camisoles, and they are also worn in the West over jeans and flowing gypsy skirts; many belly dancers in particular like to wear cholis in performance.

The modesty of a choli can be adjusted with the cut of the garment, or with the garments worn with it. In areas where the scarf known as a dupatta is worn, the dupatta may be draped to provide more coverage, allowing women to remove the dupatta to stay cool when they are at home or in the company of friends. Various sari draping techniques can also be used to minimize or maximize exposed flesh, depending on the taste and cultural values of the wearer.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Telugu is 'widely spoken.' Yeah. Why only mention Telugu?

It's not mentioned that choli is a Hindi word. The English word is sari blouse.

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