Shopping for a Sari in Bombay – Part 2

You might think that shopping for a sari ends when you purchase the actual sari, but you’d be wrong.

You don’t even get to take it home right away. First the salesman cuts off the blouse piece, a section of cloth woven together with the sari that you will have made into the choli – blouse – to wear with it. You take that home with you, pending discussions with your tailor. The shop keeps the rest of the sari for a few days to sew in a fall, a strip of lining along the bottom, to add weight at the bottom and help it drape gracefully, and stitch up the raw edges. This service is included in the price of the sari.

Some saris don’t include a blouse piece, so you need to find material in a matching (or contrasting) color. For that you go to a shop like the one pictured above – the photo shows only a portion of the goods on offer! – where you can find the precise shade of silk or cotton desired, with or without a decorative border.

matching cloth for sari blouse, red and gold

Alternatively, you can get a gold or silver crepe or brocade.

This shop is also where you will buy the petticoat, a drawstring-waisted skirt that goes underneath, into which you will tuck the pleats and wraps of the sari. The petticoat is chosen both for color (more critical for a transparent sari, obviously) and for a material which complements the sari material and helps it drape better.

matching cloth shop assistant

As always, every shop bustles with smiling salesmen ready to make helpful suggestions!

Shopping for a Sari in Bombay

Though some articles on this site might lead you to believe otherwise, I am not usually an enthusiastic shopper. Shopping, for me, is not an end in itself; “retail therapy” has never worked for me. I don’t go out just to see what’s there – I like to have a specific mission.

Ross is good at providing me with shopping goals (one of her life’s missions seems to be to spend all my money!). Right now, we are on the hunt for a sari for her to wear for her Woodstock School graduation in May. (Mussoorie offers very limited choices, and she won’t have other opportunities to look elsewhere before school ends.)

So my classmate Deepu has been gamely escorting us all over Bombay, on the hunt for the perfect sari. This has turned out to be an endurance event, though the shops strive to make it pleasant.

A sari shop usually features a soft surface covered in taut, spotless white cloth. In the first place we visited, this was a counter that the salesman stood behind, and we had comfy chairs to sit on – refreshments were offered as well.

In the next shop (pictured above), the surface was a low platform, wide enough for the salesman to sit on, while we sat on cushioned benches.

In the third and most traditional, we sat on the cloth-covered floor (shoes off at the door) and reclined on bolsters, while the salesman sat cross-legged in front of us. This was very hard on the knees after a while – I’m too creaky to sit that way for long.

Once you’re settled and have established a range of what you’re looking for, the salesman begins to pull out long cardboard boxes…


…from which he unfolds meter after meter of textile miracles.


These are Benares brocades, an ancient art that may be dying out because it’s not in sync with modern tastes.

I love this material so much that I’m tempted to buy practically everything in sight, though I have no idea what I’d do with it, having no particular occasion, nor the necessary skill, to wear a sari myself. (I don’t even know enough to buy one without help, there are so many styles and origins and other factors…)

As the mind begins to boggle with colors, borders, and styles, saris to be kept for further consideration are tossed aside rather casually:

…while the rejects are folded back into their boxes. Like every other organization in India, sari shops swarm with employees – assistants stand ready to do the folding.

Prices range from Rs. 2000 into the stratosphere, depending on the quality of the material, whether the gold is real, and how much of it is woven into the material. A very fancy wedding sari can be heavy to wear from the sheer weight of precious metal in it. Though they can be expensive, a good sari lasts practically forever, always fits (you can have new blouses made to wear underneath), and can be handed on to your daughters.

When you find something you really like, someone will help drape it around you (over your clothes – no need for a changing room) so you can judge the effect in the mirror:


later – It took us until this evening – and an hour at a fourth store – to actually buy anything. But I won’t describe it, so as not to spoil the surprise. Suffice to say that Ross will look stunning!

photo top: At a large sari shop in Santa Cruz. The gentleman got nervous after a while and asked me to stop taking photos.