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The Black-White Satin

The slow and spiritual makeover of a satin sari into a pair of dhoti (yoga) pants


About two years ago, a craving for a pair of cowl pants, fit for yoga, gripped me. Words like ‘flow’, ‘ease’, ‘room’, ‘soft’ and ‘joyful’ defined this shape in my head. Online hunts threw up those quintessential-and-sought-after knitted harem pants and some dhoti salwars with lesser room. Others were too fancy as yoga wear. Tried the Isha Yoga, tulip dhoti pants (cotton), but could not procure them easily once my old ones gave way. Also, I believe in need-based fashion buying. Well, this was a WANT. So, I stalled.

Until Pinni’s (aunt’s) black-white satin sari with intricate, curvaceous print came to my rescue. She gave it to me a decade ago saying, “It is a tad young for my taste and oh, very slippery!” Enthusiastically, I wore it a few times with black tops. Yes, it draped beautifully, but went all over the place. I liked the sari’s two-tone colour story, but did not like its busy print. Then the sari was supremely stubborn, as it did not get tamed (read: folded or rolled). Little wonder then that it silently went into a dark corner of my wardrobe.

Now, thanks to just that “slippery” character, I could gently repurpose it into three flowy garments — each with an activity-based purpose.

· A flared skirt with the polka-dots part, which I gave as gift to my help’s teenage daughter. She loved to jump and dance.

· A stole with the lightly-printed part, which I gave as a gift to a friend. She loved to change her stole knots during the day as per work and need.

· A dhoti salwar with tons of cowls, which I slipped into to do yoga. I adore garments that help me move, breathe and evolve better.

NOTE: I handwash my black-white, satin pants with warm water and a few drops of liquid soap, and shade-dry it. So, if you have a fluid sari that you do not wear, convert it cowled dhoti pants. Add handmade decorations if you must. I believe a make-it-yourself is a lot better than store-bought one. Alternatively, a local tailor can stitch this for you easily at a nominal cost.

And just for kicks, I started digging into the history of this silhouette. Cowl pants probably has its roots spread long, deep, far and wide — in the traditional Iranian and Turkish baggy trousers, in the Indian classic unstitched dhoti, in the Punjabi Patiala salwar (Pattian Wali Salwar), in the Patiala Shahi (royal / aristocratic) salwar, and in the Pathani suit. Today, the variations are a dime and dozen. Here, I describe my findings, of these pants and its variations, as far as yoga wear goes.

The Pathani Pyjama

Many in Punjab may debate that this style was their creation. But the name suggests it was part of a long, monochrome and minimal kurta set that the Pathans (Kaablis from Kabul, Afghanistan) used to wear. Pathans were from ethnic or tribal Central Asian (today’s Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan) clan called Pashtuns, Pukhtuns or Pushtuns. Now, this silhouette, with historic legs in the Ottoman Dynasty, is gender agnostic — both men and women wear it with slight differences. The men’s shape (a.k.a. Afghani salwar) has lesser cowls, while the women’s shape is more cowled like the Patiala Salwar. Surely one influenced the other. I have never worn the men’s version to understand how this will work as yoga wear. But have asked a friend who wears it often while doing a lot of physical work. He loves it.

The Patiala Salwar

Story goes that the Maharaja of Patiala used to love wearing this particular version of cowl pants and hence the name. Soon every region in Punjab started flaunting a distinct variation. Women adopted and adapted it to suit their needs. Two factors distinguish this design: a) the low cowls that drop from thighs, knees and downwards — till the ankles (making each style full or semi depending on the density of cowls) b) the ‘pouncha’ or bands / bases at the ankles with quilting or stiff lining. Both are regional, construction technique-based hallmarks, which the locals take pride in. Even today if one walks into to the ‘Darjian Wali Gali’ (the bylane of tailors) in Patiala (North Punjab), you can see the style narrative unfold differently. I have a hearing-impaired, Sikh friend from Patiala, from my under-grad design days, who could stich the most divine ones with clever details. For yoga, these pants work, but I do not enjoy the fabric stiffness pushing in at the ankles while doing cross-legged poses.

The Dhoti Pants

Inspired by the classic, Indian unstitched silhouette, the dhoti, this pair of pants (a..k.a dhoti salwar) is voluminous and easy, too just like the Patiala salwar. However, the pants as a style has large cowls falling more at the hips. And it does not have the Punjabi ‘pouncha’. Instead, it has soft curves that fall at the sides of the heels. Wearing these pants with fitted tees has been a trend for a while now. This works perfectly for me as a pair of yoga pants. Usually, the more fluid the fabric, the better it gets. You just have to secure it well at the waist.

The Tulip Pants

Mild (and sometimes without) cowls and angular, overlapping ankle ends define this modern-esque silhouette. It is like a distant cousin of the less-roomy dhoti pants. Again, the placement of the cowls (if any) varies. It starts mostly at the waist band and not at the hips or calves like with the Patiala or dhoti pants. The ease of wearer’s movement is more dependent on the fall of the fabric than the cut itself, which I feel can be restrictive while doing extreme yogic stretches.

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Mood & ReStyles II photography by Amrita Haldipur
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