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“I‘ve a saree body!” declared Oprah Winfrey during a fitting session in Mumbai, India, last year.

S1The former talk-show queen is one of many western celebrities who have expressed admiration for the traditional Indian attire, which many call “six yards of pure grace.”

Years earlier, Winfrey had her own saree-wearing lesson on national television, from one of India’s biggest stars, Aishwarya-Rai Bachchan.

At five metres, it’s the longest strip of unstitched cloth worn by women. There is a saree for every occasion and in wealthy Indian households, like a wedding dress, no saree is worn twice! The popularity of western fashions in India has failed to dent the interest in sarees.

A saree billboard outside a saree store in Kerala, India. Photo by Abdul Latheef.
A billboard outside a saree store in Kerala, India.

One major retailer says it could take up to five artisans almost 30 days to weave one of its exclusive silk sarees.

While everyday sarees cost anywhere between $10 and $100, sarees for special occasions such as weddings and festivals can set you back thousands of dollars.

In 2008, a silk saree was sold for a whopping $100,000 in the southern Indian city of Chennai.

Saree-draping is no easy job, though, and there are dozens of ways of wearing it.

French anthropologist Chantal Boulanger was one of the first researchers to study the sarees. After spending over 15 years in the country, she documented more than 100 ways of wearing it.

ChantalBoulanger’s book, “Saris: An Illustrated Guide to the Indian Art of Draping,” was published in 1997, seven years before her death.

“She was particularly concerned that many of these styles would be forgotten if they were not documented,” her husband Peter Maloney later wrote in a tribute.

Boulanger was so fascinated by the saree tradition, in 1999 she founded the Institute of Draped Clothes in London for the study, preservation and promotion of draped clothing.

As the global interest in the attire grows, it may be well worth going on a saree safari to India (or to the Gerrard India Bazaar in Toronto) to see whether you’ve a saree body.

The Oprah Winfrey video is courtesy of YouTube; Chantal Boulanger’s photo is courtesy of IDC; All other images are by the author.