The sari is the best way of showing global companies that these are Indian women managers?

Why does wearing a saree (or some other formal wear  if they prefer) turn into a discussion about the ( fast disappearing) Indian-ness of Indian women?

President of IIM-A Alumni Association, Ahmedabad chapter, believes ‘the sari is the best way of showing global companies that these are Indian women managers’.

But then, how do the rest of the Indian people show global companies that they are Indians?

Here’s a comment, amongst many others,

“The only way we can get today’s Indian girls to wear sari is to have the Americans wear them and have the Indians copy it.”

Sari makes a comeback in placement interviews at IIM-Ahmedabad

Sari makes a comeback in placement interviews at IIM-Ahmedabad

The sari disappeared from placement interviews some years ago as more women students started wearing business suits, considering the convenience factor. They also wanted to present a more global image. Mathur asked the placement committee to recognise sari as formalwear and got the nod…

Professor Kirti Sharda, chairperson of the placements committee said, “We ask students to come in business formals for interviews. What they consider formal is up to them.”

The sari shift has come at a time when women form 17% of the students this year, compared to 11% last year. Nayan Parikh, president of IIM-A Alumni Association, Ahmedabad chapter, believes the sari is the best way of showing global companies that these are Indian women managers.[Read the article here.]

What exactly are Indian women typically supposed be like and why is it so important that they do not change? (And any change is seen as becoming  westernised, which is seen as negative.)

Related Posts:

Be a wife like Sita, wear a sari but don’t get abducted.

Why do Indian women like to wear western clothes?

The Modern Sari: Some Facts and a Question.

A Sari to make you a Respectable Indian Teacher.

Said Noodle Strap to the Sari – I

Can’t end marriage over sari ;)

Adarsh Bhartiya Nari – Ideal Indian Woman… !!!

“A 28 year old, independent woman who dreams big does not really fit the definition of an ideal Indian DIL.”

65 thoughts on “The sari is the best way of showing global companies that these are Indian women managers?

  1. If the student feels like it she can wear a sari, else a business suit.

    I gave my interview in a saree btw, and got a plum job in the first slot.
    In fact I wore a lovely plain turqouise silk from my mom’s trousseau – for sentimental reasons🙂 Still one of my favourite things to wear.

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      • I totally agree with U IHM
        why is it always a burden on woman’s shoulders when it comes to representing the society ? or flaunting the global image ?

        For a change men can also wear dhoti , kurta am sure it will revolutionize fashion again !
        Theres no need of fuss on it. They can just make it flexible. If anyone wants to wear they can, if at all they don’t like to wear other formal wear and are not comfortable in business suits. If some one feels more comfy wearing a business suit there is no need to wear a saree which may lead to discomfort as they dont wear it frequently. The way a woman carries what ever she wears effortlessly gives her the grace and maturity

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    • I gave my interview in a saree btw, and got a plum job in the first slot.

      Let me guess, this was an IT position?🙂

      It’s one of the industry’s best kept secrets how when hiring people for junior positions, smartly dressed people (men/women) often get a few extra points!

      Either way, congratulations!

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      • Actually that isnt true about IT at all. I have worked with a top Indian IT company in the past. Most of us wore our usual clothes to the interview.

        I have at many times been a recruiter – now I am with a European telecom giant and never have clothes been a criteria for recruitment (we recruit from IITs and other Engg schools). Infact, at work, we do not have a dress code – we are not required to wear formals – even jeans and cargoes are ok. Our company believes only those who face customers need to wear formals (Indian/western is upto their choice).

        But sadly some of the women in customer facing roles have told me that they sometimes choose to wear saree over western formals when meetings our local Indian customers. I hear that for some reason they take a woman in a saree more seriously than ones in western formals.

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      • Nah Nish. This was an FMCG MNC. I went to an IIM after an IIT but have never worked as an engineer of any sort other than financial and domestic (post kids).

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  2. I don’t get it. Why is it up to the women? Why can’t men take the responsibility of showing global companies that they are Indians? Why is no one talking about that?

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    • Shail…exactly. It would seem the burden of ‘upholding Indian culture’ and ‘respresenting Indian culture’ be it in the form of behaviour or attire rests entirely on women. And these judgements are passed by men in suits, jeans, trouser, shirts, reeboks, nikes, adidas and so on and so forth. And it comes as news to me that the saree has not been considered as a ‘business formal’ earlier. I’ve never faced any problems in sarees in corporate settings. And I wouldn’t join a firm that has a problem with me wearing a saree for sure.

      And just to keep the equilibrium…will the good professor include veshti, dhoti, kurta, jubba, jodhpuris for the men please? These clothes are well suited for our climate, they look equally decent and dignified when well-maintained and above all, the men too can ‘show they are Indian managers’.

      In the global market – what matters is whether one is a good manager or a bad one…can one get the job done or not? It’s time our academia focussed on things that matter rather than what we should wear.

      And to the gentleman who has commented about making Americans wear saree so we Indian can copy – sure dude. We’ll do that as soon as you take off your shirt, trousers, shoes, socks…hell even your underwear…all are ‘western’.

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  3. global companies should recocgnise us for our skill/brains/takent not because we are women or indian.. i certainly want to be known as a competant manager not as an indian woman manager.. what has that got to do with competance?
    Dress nicely, dress in what makes you confident and dress professionally .. whatever the dress may be .

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  4. I hate this misogynistic mindset: “…. believes the sari is the best way of showing global companies that these are Indian women “. Why the hell a) do I need to show somebody I am an ‘Indian woman’ at a job interview? By its very definition, it is an interview you are subjected to so you can be gainfully employed, and thus should only have to do with your skill set and suitability to the post you are applying to. How does it matter whether I’m from Tonga or Madagascar or Somalia or India or wherever?

    These people have this whole idea of what a ‘bharatiya nari’ is supposed to be for some reason, and here that somehow means ‘cooks, cleans, is sexual partner, mummy, daughter-in-law, servant’. Not ‘person with own identity unrelated to the relationships in her life’, as is the case almost EVERYWHERE else, and as SHOULD be the case in India too, but is not.

    This person seems sensible, however: ‘Professor Kirti Sharda, chairperson of the placements committee said, “We ask students to come in business formals for interviews. What they consider formal is up to them.”’

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      • Yes it is. Women can be misogynistic. If none of the women in India were misogynistic then many of the discriminatory practices we now see would have died out. Our culture relies on women to propagate these.

        You only have to look up some recent comments by Mamata Sharma of the National Commission of Women in India to see the proof.

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  5. I should like to see an Indian man attend a job interview wearing a dhoti/Mundu with angavastram and land a plum job at an MNC. Because, you know, a dhoti is the best way of showing global companies that these are Indian men managers.

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      • Exactly. This article is encouraging women to wear saris to job interviews to prove how ‘indian’ they are (totally irrelevant to the job spec). That’s the whole point.

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        • Yeah but the article is from an Indian context. I was going on an off-topic tangent about men wearing kurtas in the US. Perhaps you missed that?

          In India for some reason saris and churidars are considered formal wear just as skirts and tops are. men on the other hand find it a tad harder as only trousers/shirts/ties are considered formal wear. Guys could get into trouble if they attempt to walk into a formal event wearing a dhoti. Not sure how this double standard came to be, but that’s how it is there.

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  6. The phrase ‘Indian Women Managers’ does not sit well with me. Shouldn’t the focus be on ‘Good, Competent Managers’? Whatever we wear shouldnt make a difference, as far it looks professional. If sari is not preferred by young women why is it a huge problem? The key I think is in the mentality that a woman carrries forward the culture, so it doesn’t matter what anybody else does but as far as women appear traditional, its all fine.

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  7. Very few young women know how to wear a Sari, so it’s probably a bad idea to wear it to school or for a formal event as they’d just feel uncomfortable wearing it. Modern-day Indian clothing does not include saris or dhotis or kurtas. To assume so is kinda weird. What people call western clothing is really international clothing.

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  8. So we are not worried about grooming these women to perform well.. but we are more concerned about how they look and present the ‘image’!
    What misplaced priorities!!

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  9. On a lighter note, the reason they wear a saree to interviews is to show that they CAN manage everything properly!😀 It is hard to manage! Good Indian women(or bahus)… Haha…

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  10. I rolled my eyes when I saw that article in the news. Why is women’s wardrobe a topic of national news in India? Of all the things they could have reported on (scores, interview performance, placement success, salary package), they report not he women’s attire? It makes me sick.

    I’m Indian and working abroad. I never ever wear Indian clothes to work. I don’t like wearing bangles or other such jewellery to work. It’s totally fine for other women to do it obviously and I actually work in a very international atmosphere where I could do it, but I just choose not to. I’ve never been much into what I personally consider impractical clothes or jewellery. Also, my primary concern at my workplace is not to prove that I am Indian. My face and name are enough to remind people that I am Indian! These Indian ‘stalwarts’ need to get the F out of my wardrobe!!

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    • I think the point here though is that the dress code is about Indian women in India. Outside of India, one wears whatever one wants/needs to in order to better fit into the dominant culture. The perplexing thing though is why is the sari such a big deal? And in India? I think this whole silly debate just reflects the inferiority complex of two groups in India, both grappling for their cultural identity vis-a-vis the west: the corporate sector trying to burnish its “global” image by discouraging young women from wearing the sari (like the flight attendants on Kingfisher Airlines). The other group is the traditional patriarchs wanting to drape Bharatiya sanskriti in the whole nine yards as long as the draping is on the female body. Get over it already, both sides. Formal wear in India means different things than in the west. And yes, in India, the sari is a formal dress. And the bandh gala should also, for heaven’s sake, be considered acceptable office wear for men by now. I would include the dhoti too but then we would have to get into details about what regional style, starched-ness, etc. This is not rocket science – just draw up a list of acceptable formal wear for both men and women at work, define the common minimum regarding styles and appearance (e.g., no crumpled kurtas unless you’re in a creative field) and get on with the job of – dare I say it, working?

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      • Yes, I agree saree or no saree is not a big deal. Let people wear whatever they want, as long as it is acceptably ‘professional’ (however a company defines that). But I do not wear ‘western’ clothes to fit in with the dominant culture here. I wear exactly the kind of clothes I usually wore in India. I just refuse to subject my wardrobe to anyone’s scrutiny and do not understand why women’s clothing for international job interviews is national news.

        I also do not agree with the implication in this article that people presenting themselves for global jobs have some responsibility to prove their ‘indian-ness’. It’s completely irrelevant and people should get on with working.

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  11. Why does anybody have to show that they are Indian or Chinese or Ugandan in the workplace? Stupid me thought that the workplace was where an employee contributed to the growth of the company not parade their ethnic identities. Companies don’t give a s**t where you come from – all they are interested in is the fulfillment of their objectives.

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  12. Didn’t realise a sari was a key factor in getting a management position or showing your leadership skills. And if I were to think about it practically, wouldn’t a sari hinder your performance at work? I know I prefer my trousers any day…very comfortable and able to do anything.

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  13. Indian men wearing traditional clothes is laughable..Men started wearing english clothes 200-300 years back when they started serving Britishers.Like their masters they too started to believe that they are now more civilised than rest of Indians,rich Indian men also started copying Britishers too, traditional Indian dresses were left to illiterate villagers and poor, or religious people .Forget about wearing it for interview. no boy will want it to wear it even 1 day in college because other students will laugh at him ,some mischevious boys may even try to pull his Dhoti.

    Also not to forget Films and Tv serials regularly show comedian men wearing traditional dresses while hero always wear pants .There are plenty of films where dhoti is made fun of.Also I am very active on a cricket forum and there are some South Indian men which are nick named as “lungi” though they don’t seem to mind it and are always in humurous mood but still it give impression to other south indian young men that how lungi is a dress which is laughable.

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    • All the more reason for traditional wear for men being permitted in offices, would you say? Ironed and starched, ofcourse.

      Women face the opposite, not wearing traditional wear in some places puts them at risk of being seen as not doing their duty to preserve their culture.

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      • I am not saying that it shouldn’t be permitted but don’t expect expect men barring some tiny minority to wear it unless traditional Indian dresses of men get respect.

        Also How women see men which are wearing traditional dress?Do Indian women get attracted if man wear dhoti?Chances are if you show photo of 2 men to a woman for arrange marriage prospective 1 wearing suit and other traditional Indian wear then most probably she will reject the man with traditional indian without even meeting him.

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  14. Honestly, I always thought women have an advantage when it comes to formal wear. As a law student, I noted that women lawyers could wear black and white salwar kurta, a pant suit with a blazer, a sari, and a skirt with a top, or even a dress. Men on the other hand could only wear a suit with a blazer. Personally I found it very comfortable to wear a salwar kameez on hot days, instead of the stifling combination of formal pants, a full sleeved shirt and a blazer on top of that. Always felt sorry for the men who looked incredibly uncomfortable in their formal attire during summers. On a similar note, wearing a sari can also be uncomfortable. But it’s not compulsory, it’s just one choice out of several.

    I think that Indian wear (certain kinds of Indian wear, at least) should be included as formal attire for both men and women.

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    • That’s right. In India, for women formals include Indian and International clothing. For men, for some reason it excludes Indian clothing.

      And as someone pointed out, in many online forums it’s common for North Indians to derogatorily refer to South Indians as “Lungi”, Tamils and Mallus are the more common recipients of this attempted slur🙂

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  15. I am wondering why the person who wrote the article never bothered to ask to women on whom this whole discussion is based, how they view this whole Saree issue? I guess, their view does not matter as long as the ‘elders’ think what is right for them.

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    • I am wondering why this person wrote the article at all. It’s not really national news that some women in India wore a saree somewhere. I don’t get it.

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  16. I am absolutely frustrated with the idea of sari being shoved down women’s throat. Its perfectly okay if someone likes wearing it but what about people who are not comfortable in it. BTW I think it looks amazing on some people and they can carry it off really well. Infact there was a time I was fascinated with it would have liked to wear at times it but then was never comfortable in it. Years back I had refused a teaching job in a college where it was mandatory to wear a sari. I just couldn’t imagine the ordeal of waking up, spending a considerable amount draping it, struggling with it on public transport. I could well imagine myself tripping and hurting myself. The idea of taking a class on art and design where you need to be comfortable and free while giving demos. Just imagine a female version of Jackson Pollack in a saree…I don’t know why it was so important for them to wear saris. In art you need to get your hands(and sometimes clothes too) dirty. Why were they so dumb to have this stereotype of a teacher in a saree(n no dhoti for men). The skin show in a sari was another problem. I know some people would say its there in a skirt too. But skirt is meant to be like that. In a sari you are meant to cover up your midriff and cleavage and and its is not meant to show, however its not possible to cover as well(for inexperienced)…The maintenance of saree is another hassle. Folding it makes me want to tear my hair apart. So all these men who advocate sari too had seen it as an elegant piece of clothing like i use to perceive it till I actually experienced the inconvenience it caused. These people have no idea how much it can restrict certain people. For once I hope they would stop behaving like my MIL and let the woman be comfortable.

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    • Yes, the skin show, great point. I only wore a saree a few times right after our wedding.. and was totally uncomfortable with the skin show! I much prefer my trousers/ jeans and a top or even a skirt.. I can control what I want to show/ hide much more easily (skirt length, tights underneath, whatever). I don’t care whether someone wears a saree or not.. I just mind that people think it’s their business to force/advise a dress code to me!

      I used to like wearing salwar kameez until my university in India decided there had to be a new rule to make girls wear it three days a week COMPULSORILY. I cannot stand that dress now and I despised such a rule on adult engineering students. The male professors and students were free to wear whatever.

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  17. I cant understand whats the big deal just like many who have commented above. In my college Grad college it was mandatory for girls to wear sari for fieldwork (MCC Chennai) for courses like Social Work, Psychology etc. They said that people listen to you, respect you more if you don saree as they are from rural parts. If you wear jeans or even salwar people wont take you seriously (roll eyes).
    But my experience in Delhi University says different… Our profs never insisted on sarees, only to stick to Indian formals. We all could have been brand-ambassdors for Fab India and Soch! I was placed in a primary school. After a month or so Id had enough of looking like a pseudo intellectual social worker… I switched to jeans/shirts, t-shirts and after a while even capris… I didnt feel the students listened to, respected or loved me any less because of that… Only a couple of teachers disapproved.
    Why does it matter what you wear anyhow? Do you become less efficient or competent because you wear ‘informals’?
    Looking Indian Indeed!?!

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  18. Though there is no strict mention of a dress code other than business-wear when I’m meeting clients, I don’t wear Indian clothes to work. I personally don’t find them formal wear.

    To me, it’s ethnic-wear, something that I would wear for occasions or if I’m going to a desi venue like a temple (or India :P).
    None of the people I know wear ethnic-wear to work, no matter what country they’re from ( my previous boss was Scottish, I’m imagining him in a kilt! :P)

    I actually wore worn-out jeans and a t-shirt to my interview and still got the job, so I know *i* formed a bigger impression than my clothes. But if I’d worn a sari for my interview, I’m pretty sure I’d have been asked about it and whether I would have a problem wearing business attire.

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    • You probably don’t live in India which is why you consider the sari “ethnic wear”. This is a discussion about what constitutes appropriate formal wear in the *Indian* context. It’s an ongoing debate.

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      • This is not a discussion about what constitutes appropriate formal wear at all! It would be that discussion if people were suggesting that the saree should be banned from offices or made compulsory. Instead, people are free to wear the saree or not, as per their preference, in most offices in India (bar some).

        This article is saying.. ‘look how good it is that some good Indian girls wore career to interviews.. let’s have all women be great ‘indian’ women managers’. Obviously the realities and preferences of people of different generations living in different areas of India (cities, villages, etc) vary greatly. People can wear whatever they want, no one cares. The problem is the interference from certain sections of society in personal decisions like your wardrobe, if you don’t want to conform to their idea of ‘indian-ness’.

        I’m not saying that your experience with the saree (if you think it is everyday formal wear) is invalid. I just ask that you do not say that mine or Sanjana’s experience with the saree are invalid either. Let’s not generalise our views to everyone in the ‘indian context’.

        I thought saree was ethnic wear even when I lived in India and only wore it on ‘traditional day’ or ‘diwali party’ or special occasions. Plenty of my friends live in India.. the only pictures of them wearing a saree in their office are of diwali parties. I can clearly see that none of my peers in India wear sarees to work as ‘formal’ wear, they wear it as ethnic wear. I just don’t like the judgemental tone of this article towards anyone who doesn’t want to wear a saree/ be ‘indian’.

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        • I didn’t mean ‘all’ women, more like ‘all these’ women that were interviewing.. with emphasis on the ‘indian’ bit (as that’s what the article is about).

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        • SRC,

          You’re right. I don’t live in India. I have lived there for 6 years though, 4 of which were in a terrible engineering college with extreme restrictions on clothing. We were supposed to wear only salwar khameez, even during hardcore workshops (in other colleges, denim was mandatory for such workshops as we would be chiseling wood and honing metal and stuff). It made me HATE salwar khameez, and I refused to wear it for a long time after college. I don’t feel the same way about it now though.
          I have also worked in India for two years and I never wore Indian outfits at interviews cos, like I said, I don’t find them formal. Since we had a casual environment at work, one that wasn’t client facing, I used to wear jeans to work all the time, more out of convenience than anything else. There were others that wore salwar khameez, and we all used to wear saris to work for Diwali and other such “ethnic” occasions. But otherwise… no one really cared what you wore, which was great, and the way it should be.

          And like

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        • Oh, And I thought of putting forth a comment about how it is the norm to dress in business attire in other countries as well, that no one comes dressed in a kilt or a kimono to work, that doesn’t make them any less scottish or japanese (or Indians Indian).

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        • Sanjana, Carvaka, let me respond to both of you together. This is merely an observation, not a “judgement”. I wear saris and western wear too. But the problem as I see it is of the clash of two different sets of inferiority complexes both of which put the spotlight on the sari (or “ethnic wear” if you like). I’m only focusing on the Indian workplace since wearing a sari on an everyday basis in a New York corporate office (outside of the United Nations) would just be considered weird, would result in no client face time or promotions or bonus. In Rome, do as the Romans do and I am fine with that. Let us also exclude creative work environments where anything goes, dress-wise.

          The problem is in India that nobody has yet decided what the Romans are to do. One mindset in India is that of the traditional kind. The only Bharatiya nari worth respecting is the sari-clad one and anyone who wears anything else is a non-serious frivolous person not worth considering when it comes to promotions. This sort of mentality might grudgingly accept a salwar-kameez as everyday wear when client presentations are not involved. On the other side, though, corporate culture in India is not exactly a strike for modernity at all, it is in fact another kind of slavishness, this time to “globalism”. An unspoken rule discourages young women from wearing saris because the dress is seen as not modern enough. The article quoted above states that it was “recommended” to women that they wear business suits to interviews. My God, the agony of wearing nylon tights and/or tightly tailored pant suits in a sub-tropical climate! Men also suffer from this corporate inferiority complex by having no choices when it comes to office wear, suffering through summers in choking ties and suffocating suits.

          Why not give up both sides that give no human being, especially women, any choices? Every workplace should systematize its own dress codes and take into account that Indian workers do not drive air-conditioned cars to work, and that the climate of the country is by and large not temperate. Why not include saris, linen pants, bandhgalas, appropriately tailored pyjama-kurtas? But then this would mean actually sitting down and formulating a dress code, discussing whether blue jeans are or are not acceptable office wear, whether payals are distracting or OK. Clearly, if you are an engineer working on the floor, a sari is not the gear for you, on the other hand should one look down on a woman who gives a presentation to company representatives in a nine yard sari with a big bindi? What everyone needs to discuss is what is appropriate office wear in the Indian context without getting all het up over “culture” or whether we are “global” enough.

          This is my last intervention on the subject. I just find both the opposing parties (the traditionalists vs. the corporates) equally misguided on this topic.

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  19. Firstly lets dig deep into our history and try to figure why sari alone describes indian-ness in women. Could be because it covers the full body, from your head-to-toe blah blah, and dates back right from the time when women did not even have the freedom to go veggie-shopping. Centuries rolled and saris got “westernized” along with women. Now we have the munnis and the sheelas and their fans who love to show their bodies in their saris n strut it. I do it too. My point here is the current sari is in its modern form as well just as the Indian women are. So arent we contradicting ourselves here by saying that saris are traditional. Moreover saris are not even conducive to today’s age and climes. so whom are we kidding! Lets keep our pretty saris to times when we just have to eat, pray, and love and certainly not when we have prepare reports and give out presentations. and lets keep it that way cause we are tomorrows’ MILs.😛

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  20. Pingback: “Lets keep our pretty saris to times when we just have to eat, pray, and love, cause we are tomorrows’ MILs.” | The Life and Times of an Indian Homemaker

  21. I have always worn western formals for presentations! My professor says at the end of the day its comfort and the best possible way I carry out the presentation and not the trip and fall discomfort that sari may provide! The story is different for different kinda work places and mostly it depends on your bosses! While when foreigners come to pay visit during some cultural seminars we are asked to wear saris or salwa kameez but yes the option is there and none of our profs try to bind us in a sari!🙂

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  22. Actually I’ve always worn sarees to work mtgs.. especially when i have to make decisions not really fun🙂 i don’t know why. i love love silk cotton sarees slightly starched in nice colors with mild thin silver jari !!!!!!! yes very specific and as i don’t do the starching or ironing i really love them.. 🙂 also it doesnt matter if my size changes it’s a FIT always dress.

    when we go out i wear kurta/pants / salwars etc., i hate going to weddings in sarees.. too hot, too much smoke and way too many people …
    now that i sit back and think it was weird how i picked clothes.

    i think western formal wear looks nice and so does the sari. girls should wear what makes them feel confidentand comfortable and also maybe think about what suits them…

    in my many yrs of int 100s of women for various roles. i have seem some uncomfortable sari clad girls and have also unfortunately seen some girls in western wear which is franky unsuitable , tight and uncomfortable. we had a lady who used to bein inventory who wore tight pants and skirts that were i think uncomfortable since she kept pulling them from sticking ot her body, very distracting and makes me itchy but l i shut up since she’s an adult and i’m not her mom. i really did not want to see her body on a daily basis but who knew what her circumstances were?
    I hate to say it but i see a lot of badly dressed youngsters now. dirty jeans , way too tight and clothes unsuited to their body shape and they sadly don’t look comfortable either, wonder who they try to please but hey whatever rocks your boat i guess.

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  23. There are multiple ways of wearing a saree . So which saree are we talking about ? I live in Maharashtra – so I am going to wear Nuvari to Work meetings Prof IIMA. You want Indian, You got it.
    My north eastern counterparts do not wear saree as a traditional dress and that’s the same case in traditional Kerala .
    The term ” Indian” is a very conglomerate term . So Prof IIMA – Please rethink your statement.

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