Saree 101: All there is to know about the Indian traditional attire

A beloved South Asian treasure


By Low Sue Mae

Image credits: @abujanisandeepkhosla/ Instagram
Saree 101: All there is to know about the Indian traditional attire

As Malaysia is blessed with diversity in cultures, we’re able to indulge and experience so many traditions in one go. Of course, that includes wearing each other’s traditional clothing when we celebrate festivities of different races. As we’ve previously looked into the history of the cheongsam, here, we’re zooming into the traditional attire of Indian origins—the saree. The epitome of elegance, the saree is a part of the vibrant Indian culture that boasts joy, extravagance and maximalism.

The saree is made out of a combination of tight-fitted and flowy silhouettes—worn by Indian women either as everyday wear, or during festivities and joyous occasions. It is probably one of the most complex customary garments that beginners would have a hard time putting on, but will undeniably make you feel like a princess when it’s draped beautifully over your body.

Without further ado, let’s delve into its beauty and wonders.


Tracing its origins…


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The saree can actually be called an ancient heritage, with an existence that can be traced back to the Indus Valley civilisation. However, the garment only started flourishing during the 2800-1800 BCE (just to give you an approximate idea of the timeline, it was more than ten thousand years ago). Its popularity spread among natives in the northwestern part of the Indian continent. 

Based on Indian culture and belief, a saree is a representation of a deity and a symbol of pride for women. Throughout the passage of time, the saree also spread across all regions of India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal, becoming the traditional garment in various countries in South Asia. 


Identifying its categories…

Being a garment with such a long history, it’s really not that surprising to see the staggering number of types of sarees in India: 31! The garment is categorised based on elements such as the type of textile, embroidery and ways to tie it. Here are some of the in-demand sarees to take note of:



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Three of the most popular types among the bunch are the Bandhani saree, Banarasi saree and silk saree. Bandhani sarees can be identified by their geometric-patterned fabric, made by tying small knots on the cloth and then dyed with a vibrant shade. This type of saree is usually made with cotton or silk but can be seen in limitless colours and designs. The Banarasi saree came from the city of Varanasi, made luxuriously with silk embroidered with gold or silver thread. Next is the silk saree that’s loved for its airy, durable, yet low-maintenance silk fabric. 

Besides that, there are also sarees that are made for special occasions like the Georgette saree, Sambalpuri saree and Paithani saree. The Georgette saree is one of the top choices among Indian women, made out of high-quality yarns and embellished with beads or embroidery. The Sambalpuri saree is a top pick among young women for special occasions. It’s made with colourful silk or cotton cloth and decorated with flowers, birds or other animals. Meanwhile, the Paithani saree is considered a symbol of wealth, as each piece is designed with fine silk and paired with intricate embroidery that is sewn with gold and silver thread.


The Kanjeevaram saree, Net saree, and Assam silk saree are popular among brides. The Kanjeevaram saree has a nickname as the ‘Queen of Indian sarees’ for its grand appearance. This category uses handwoven fine silk as a base and is adorned with gold and silver thread, making it the perfect statement piece for parties. On the other hand, the Net saree is made out of delicate net fabric and decorated with embroidery, sequins or beads—perfect for brides who want a light piece that allows them to move around freely. The Assam silk saree is made out of flowy mulberry silk and embellished with tassels.



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If you’re wondering about everyday options, the Chiffon saree is the ideal garment for summertime wear, made with light synthetic fibres that look slightly sheer but feel super airy. The Kota Doria saree is also a great choice for hot weather, made with a lightweight fabric named Kota, which is a mix of silk and cotton. The Mashru saree is also made from cloth that’s a mix of silk and cotton, but it’s named after the city of Mashru because it is where the manufacturer of this hybrid cloth is located.


At the highest level of extravagance for sarees, there is the Patola Saree, which involves the use of the double ikat woven fabric. This fabric is created using an extremely complex weaving process that could take up to one or two years just to complete a single saree.


Parts of a saree…


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As you might already know, the saree is made up of quite a few layers. Starting from the top is a cropped blouse, which could be made with a range of styles from sleeveless, short sleeve to long sleeve. Moving to the bottoms are the petticoat and pleats. The petticoat is a matching inner skirt used to tuck in a saree. This inner doesn’t have to be the perfect fit length-wise, but has to be tight on the waist to hold the saree up. Wrapping over the petticoat are the pleats, tucked in somewhere near the belly button and flow smoothly until the floor.

The outermost layer is the pallu, which is a long shawl that’s draped over the saree, hanging over the shoulders of the wearer. Of course, the outfit isn’t complete without its accessories like the tikka and bindi. The tikka is a small headpiece that hangs to the hair and falls beautifully onto the forehead. Meanwhile, the Bindi is the red dot or embellished sticker that is attached to the centre of the forehead above the eyebrows.


For more stories on traditional wear, click here.

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