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South Indian Saree: Style and Drape Guide

A South Indian Saree is one of the most celebrated forms of this garment in the country. The reason why it is adored and given high regard is because there is a wealth of variety in terms of fine fabrics, embroideries and draping styles. For instance, silk may be an integral part of Indian costumes as a whole but in South India it is so crucial that everything from festive wear to bridal wear, temple offerings and even daily wear items for women in the rural areas are made of silk.

That is just one example; a South Indian saree collection in fact boasts of plenty of beautiful textiles and designs. Some of them have gone mainstream, while others are still somewhat exclusive and even unconventional. The tradition and culture of the southern states of India have greatly influenced their costume heritage and this is definitely reflected in their fabulous saree styles.

There is no one traditional South Indian saree that can be considered an all-encompassing anthem for these states. The Kanchipuram or the Kanjivaram is the most popular thanks to its popularity with designers and Bollywood stars while the Kerala Kasavu is also well-known all around the country due to the widespread presence of the Malayali community. However, the South Indian saree style encompasses many other varieties such as the Pochampalli, the Mysore Silk, Mysore crepes and Gadwal sarees. These pieces are actually rarities in the latest South Indian saree collection. Most of these names go unheard in mainstream fashion and are only purchased by connoisseurs and traditional South Indian families to add to the daughter’s bridal trousseau. South Indian saree designs are often made using gold filaments known as zari in a number of motifs that usually reflect mythology and common customs and religious practices.

Going beyond style and varieties, there is diversity in the South Indian draping style as well. A stellar example is that of the Nivi style of draping the saree which originated in Andhra Pradesh, but which is now so universal that it is considered the default drape for all types of sarees.

There are many online guides on ‘how to wear south Indian saree’ but what is often forgotten is that there is no one single style; instead there are many different styles that originate from different regions of Southern India. Here are a few of the most prominent South Indian saree draping styles:

  • Kodagu style saree: Women from the Kodagu district of Karnataka wear the traditional saree in a way that has the pleats at the back with the loose end draped from the back to the front, over the right shoulder.
  • Madisar drape: Popular with the Iyers and the Iyengars of Tamil Nadu, this draping style needs a 9 yard long traditional saree to effectively work.
  • Malayali style: As the name suggests, this drape is common among the women from Kerala where in the saree is not one long cloth but is in fact a two-piece saree known as the Mundum Neryathum. This saree is essentially made from cotton and decorated with either a gold or colored border.

Styling and accessorizing a South Indian saree

The first and foremost aspect of styling a South Indian saree is selecting the right blouse designs and colors. Traditional South Indian women focus mostly on color coordination. Whether it is in contrasts or in similar hues, color combinations are very important. A yellow silk saree with golden embellishments on the border and pallu, for instance, is easily paired with a maroon or red blouse. This helps highlight the base color of the saree in itself and also acts as a contrasting base for gold jewelry, which is the most commonly worn jewelry in south India.

Modern women in South India’s urban centers have retained the fascination of appropriately mixing colors, though they often choose to go with more daring cuts. When wearing a traditional South Indian saree, blouse patterns can vary from sleeveless to backless and everything in between. Intricate designing on the blouse itself is also very common. In the mid-2000s these designs were mostly created from zari, although since 2010 some atypical North Indian styling elements have also been introduced and accepted. For instance, the dori tie at the back of the blouse is popular in South India too. So are gota and other applique work on the sleeves and at the back of the blouse. These borrowed design elements are now more common in contemporary reinventions of classic South Indian sarees.

Accessorizing with the most traditional South Indian sarees is easy: gold is the traditional and most suited option. However, it is not necessary to stick to the traditional South Indian gold jewelry patterns. Kundan, Meenakari, Polki and Pota jewelry are all equally good options.