A saree is the traditional dress to wear in India but a lehenga is an acceptable alternative. Essentially it is a long skirt, worn with a choli (blouse) and a dupatta (long scarf)
After wearing my saree a few times I decided a ‘ready to wear’ option was a wardrobe essential. Many lehengas are worn as bridal wear, are exceptionally elaborate, and weigh a tonne. Thinking that you will be able to move around a little easier in one of these compared to a saree would be a mistake! Not to mention the cost – many of the lehengas I liked were upwards of $500, and some were many multiples of that. It was time to get creative and find something I could customise.
I went shopping to a saree and lehenga store recommended by a friend, just off Commercial Street in Bangalore. Like most traditional Indian stores browsing doesn’t get you very far. You need to ask for what you want and be prepared to say no to most things you are shown. Eventually I saw this, but as a drawstring waist, fit up to a size 14, it was an option, but not my first choice as I loved skirts with elaborate embellished hems.
After asking the shopkeeper to hold this while we had coffee to decide, we visited many other stores, contemplated other colours and styles. I know I could have been far more adventurous with my colour choice here. I was shopping with an American friend and every store we went to tried to offer us Barbie hot pink, bright yellow or what I will call school or bottle green. There were, of course, many beautiful colours and styles, but all required alterations and I had less than a week to get it ready. If I bought this one I could wear my saree choli with a little work.
I asked in a few stores for a beaded paisley motif – as I had seen on some of the more expensive lehengas – to be met with blank looks and turned away. In this store the lady behind the counter called “mango, mango!” to the ladies at the back of the store, and I was presented with a selection of beautiful beaded paisley mangoes!
When I got home I had a lehenga that was too big, too long and drawstring. A blouse (choli) ready to sew, and a fully made dupatta (scarf)
I won’t lie and say there wasn’t a lot of work here -
I had a pattern for a six gore skirt similar to the lehenga. I knew this pattern needed to be altered to fit me, so made it up quickly in some stash fabric. I turned it inside out and pinned to fit. Chalk marked and recut each piece that I then used as my pattern. I unpicked from the top down as far as I needed to recut the skirt. In hindsight it probably would’ve been easier to start in a fabric store….
I added a waistband facing and an invisible zip to finish the skirt
I bought this trim online and it arrived at 3pm before my 6pm deadline. Plenty of time!
I was told to glue my mangoes onto my lehenga, but it of course need 24 hours to dry. I quickly hand stitched each one into place
My choli started life as plain gold with black piping. It didn’t even have fusing, and so 10 minutes into my first wear it looked terrible.
It also had hand stitching everywhere that pulled and puckered. Before I wore it last with my saree, I added fusing to the armholes – right side completed here
and a trim and beads to the bodice hem
This time I made a detachable sleeve from the blouse fabric that came with my lehenga
The bottom sleeve has been hand stitched to keep the border in place
and I added another mango to the centre front in an attempt to break up the monoboob (sorry!)
I didn’t have any time for photos before I left and none I took turned out from the event. So I quickly took a few when I got home. Hopefully I can wear it again soon and update
That might be traditional Indian done for me now!