What is a Sari Blouse?

KD Morgan

A sari blouse, or choli, is a tight fitting short blouse worn under a sari. The sari, which includes a sari blouse, is the traditional fashion of India and stems back several thousand years. Even the holy texts of India refer to the yards of material, wrapped to enhance the beauty of the flowing silk. The sari is thought to be the oldest "in fashion" feminine apparel in the world, surpassing all the other far eastern styles.

Silk cocoons. Fabric made of silk is often used to make sari blouses.
Silk cocoons. Fabric made of silk is often used to make sari blouses.

The saris first recorded reference was over 5,000 years ago in the Mahabharata. In the famous epic, the wife of one of the dueling families was the prize in a gambling game. The victors tried to humiliate her by grabbing the edge of her sari and unraveling her yards of silk. Their attempt to undrape her was exhausted in defeat and frustration. This was symbolic of the forces of chaos and destruction, trying to unravel infinity.

Sari blouses are traditionally worn in India.
Sari blouses are traditionally worn in India.

The Indian sari is a work of art. The materials are traditionally of natural fabrics, mainly silk or cotton with an elaborate brocade border. The details of the design and pattern are very intricate. Shisha (or mirror) designs are also very popular. The six yards (5.48 meters) of material will often have an extra length at the end to be fashioned into a matching sari blouse. However, modern preferences for comfort are introducing more stretchy, knitted materials for the sari blouse.

The sari blouse originally was open in the back and only covered the front. Variations in the fashion have come into play for practicality. The modern sari blouse covers the back and remains cropped to the midriff, exposing the navel. It is short sleeved and low necked.

In addition to the sari, a choli, or sari blouse, can be worn with a lehnga, or gypsy style skirt. Like the sari, the lehnga is made of fine, sheer fabric with intricate patterns. Women also depend on the sari blouse as an undergarment, like a camisole, and worn under a kameez, which is a semi-transparent, traditional shirt worn by both men and women.

Office and armed forces dress codes usually prohibit the midriff baring sari blouse. As a result, a design has become popular for professional women that include an elbow length sleeve and a longer length so the sari blouse can be tucked in. Practical materials are chosen for these fashions.

Western women are now including the sari blouse in their design costumes, using a wide variety of natural and synthetic materials. Some of the most established designers are now incorporating the sari blouse into their signature fashions.

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