Blouse. The very word is, oh I don’t know, blowsy. It carries within it the faintest suggestion of something racy, something naughty, and something bawdy.
But the blouse is what we who live south of the Vindhyas call the sari accoutrement.
These blouses, a strange mix of kitsch and colour, design and detailing, are anything but traditional. This is ironical if you consider that the South always appears to be more straitjacketed in convention than the North.
But then the evolution of the sari blouse, as observed from its trajectory hereabouts, is all about upending the tradition bucket, throwing convention to the winds and reinventing itself with an alacrity.
Photo: Courtesy Needle Eye, a Bangalore-based brand
The blouse today has adapted newer cuts while retaining the signature detailing.
And so, the sight of the sari-blouse nouvelle never fails to inject instant cheer, even hilarity into me. Because it really is difficult to think about global warming, political shenanigans, the outpour of a rage of a million hues when you are confronted with a modern sari blouse.
One that has been cut along the lines of a sailor’s blouse, complete with a collar, only the collar has a lace piping.
Another whose sleeves are not in the least artfully shredded, so that the horrified onlooker is likely to believe the wearer has been in some sort of mental and physical (oh, yes, very physical) storm.
A third, which has chevron bands of gota patti on its sleeves. More is never too much more. Less is definitely far too less.
To think that all this has happened in just one decade or so. Andhra Pradesh/Telangana and Kerala are thought to be the pioneers of the blouse boom, followed closely by Tamil Nadu; then trailing their feet reluctantly but unwilling to be thought of as old fogies, the mesdames of Karnataka followed suit.
It’s usually film and TV stars, and Page Three glitterati at the vanguard of this revolution, and names like Keerthi Suresh (Malayalam), Hansika Motwani and Tamannah Bhatia (Tamil/Telugu) come to mind here: they debut these styles and the lemming-like rush begins.
Then there are celebs who have never been spotted wearing these over-the-top blouses, women like Tamil film stars Suhasini Ratnam and Kajal Agarwal, Chennai-based dancer Anita Ratnam, Malayalam film star Nayantara, classical dancer Vani Ganapathy, Kannada film star Sruthi Hariharan, and the like.
Photo: Courtesy Needle Eye, a Bangalore-based brand
Bridal blouses are an elaborate affair with intricate embroideries and embellishments.
One moment you still spotted, both onscreen and in the flesh, sari blouses that matched the body, buta or border of the sari perfectly. Some blouses plunged deep at the back to expose the wearer’s smooth skin and sharp shoulder-bones, yet others cut adroitly in the front to discreetly flash some cleavage.
Shoulder straps followed; soon after, socialites played with bandeau cholis, halter-necks, single-shoulder styles, and it was all greeted with immediate whoops of approval.
It began with colourful dori ties at the back that let the wearer have her skimp and wear it too; soon, the tassels at the end of the doris came into their own: beaded, sequinned, shaped like balls/tulips/pussy bows.
Next, the shoulders got some attention and blouses began to feature cold shoulder cuts, thin bands in succession all the way down to the elbow, braided epaulets (I kid you not). Soon after, the blouses started to sparkle with diamantes across the bosom, sequins on both shoulders (never mind that those on the left shoulder invariably snagged on the pallu) and, my absolute favourite, a silk cabbage rose, usually in a lurid colour, stitched onto the right shoulder.
Then it was sleeves’ moment, and a plethora of mutton chop/trumpet/cutaway/churi sleeves made their debut. Glitter blouses, in colours that matched or contrasted sharply with the sari, then got their time in the spotlight. These blouses were worn by celebs and ordinary women at weddings, on chat shows, and even to big family dinners.
A still from the movie Dirty Picture, where actor Vidya Balan portrayed Silk Smitha. The embellished blouse shows the attention to detail the garment has always received in South Indian movies.
We have to understand one thing—these blouses are costumes rather than outfits, designed to propel the wearer into the limelight. Nothing is over-the-top and all of it is worn entirely without irony.
But why am I surprised? We are the people who took the cotton nightie and turned it into street fashion. We are the people who drape ourselves in rather unflattering shapes and in the weirdest footwear, with the firm conviction that we are on the cutting edge of fashion.
Of course, it goes deeper than that. Given that you are the clothes you wear, these outer blouses allow their otherwise staid wearer to be a trendsetter for the night; the cynosure of all (envious, or so she thinks) eyes; expose flesh in a manner that won’t get her labelled fast, loose or forward; imagine she’s Aishwarya Rai Bachchan for the rapturous moment.
In the face of that conviction, that determination, does perceived good taste stand a chance? As they say in some parts of the South: chancey illa (not a chance)!
But, for those self-appointed arbiters of good taste who would recoil in fastidious dismay, I’d like to say something: do please recall the garish/gaudy/glittering bling on kameezes, lehengas, dupattas north of the Vindhyas. Same difference, really.