Recently, pictures of British Prime Minister Theresa May wearing a sari have been doing the rounds on social media, with captions on the lines of “New British PM’s first day in office and she chose to wear an Indian sari. Many Indians don’t do so. Salute to new lady PM of Britain.” This is partly a hoax. I am not sure what people get by initiating false information. Others, who find the posts aligning with their thinking cannot be blamed for sharing the posts, but why do people initiate lies in the first place? Someone somewhere must have purposefully put a false caption on the picture.
A simple Google search on “Theresa May Sari” brings up a six year old news item from Daily Mail with those pictures. So, no, Theresa May did not wear a sari to her first day in office, but wore it to an Asian Women’s Awards function in 2010, which she attended in her capacity as British Home Secretary.
You go through the comments on such posts and find people (mostly men) expressing pride in the fact that May “wore a sari to work”, and lament why Indian women no longer do so. “Sari has always been the standard dress for women in homes and workplace. It has a unique grace about itself and commands instant respect from colleagues and strangers alike. The so called modern dress for women lacks in grace. It is revealing, inviting unwanted attention. It is inconsistent with the seriousness of the business of the workplace.”, said a very close and dear friend. This prompted me to pick up my keyboard and write this blog post, in an effort to put my opinion out there and gather some feedback. Following are the points I want to make.
1. Of course it is hard to get over our patriarchal mindsets, but it is not men’s business to decide what women should prefer to wear. It is up to women to decide what they feel comfortable with and what suits them better. If we respect them less for not wearing a sari, the problem is with us, not with them.
2. Is a sari an ideal dress for the workplace? Now whether it is Oprah wearing a sari for her show or Theresa May dressing up for a function, I’m sure they need an assistant who coaches them to dress up for the occasion, or at least a tutorial in wearing a sari. I have seen even women in our households taking help from other women to make sure the sari is properly worn, the churis are well made, the pallu is correctly placed. Which other dress, other than archaic dresses like pagri or dhoti, needs such an elaborate tutorial or help, or is so much time consuming to put on? On top of that, a sari needs regular care and maintenance during the period it is worn, lest the pallu or the churis come undone or get misaligned. I think the sari is a great and very graceful dress for a formal occasion, but for the regular workplace, and even at home, you need something that is quick to put on, and easy to handle in a day’s work. A salwar kameez is much easier to wear and handle, and so are western dresses. I’m sure there are companies in the travel and hospitality industry that correctly enforce sari as a dress code, but in other workplaces, it is unduly burdensome.
3. Are western dresses more revealing than a sari? I believe any dress can be made as covering as one wants, and as revealing as one wants, and it is up to the woman wearing it to decide what she wants to do. In fact, I think a sari lends itself to more sensuous styling than some other dresses. A sari dress basically leaves your midriff and back bare, and you have to then manage to cover it with the sari, and it is up to the wearer how much to cover. Just look at the following pictures and try to get the point I am trying to make. (Theresa May’s pictures are from the same article as the one linked above.)
4. If we are so serious about keeping Indian culture alive through workplace clothing, why not start with male clothing? Why not take the lead of the netas and wear kurta pajamas or dhoti kurtas to work?
I look forward to your feedback, positive or negative.
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