When I started my career years ago, saris meant mummies, nannies and clerical staff. In short, you were labelled unambitious. Having returned to India after 10 years, I was suitably affected by western benchmarks of sporting suits to proclaim power and display intelligence and knowledge. After many vain displays of my western wardrobe, I finally found what a sari could really do. I began to understand how colours, fabrics, prints and styles of a sari exude different connotations and elicit different responses from people around. Saris, today, have become the symbol of the new Indian woman who portrays a perfect balance of IQ and EQ, and more importantly, makes a quiet yet firm statement of changing equations in the workplace.
A suit is good when you don’t want anyone to read your mood. Greys, blues and blacks and a few stripes thrown in can do precious little. A suit is best carried off by one who is already well established or you risk being perceived as a middle management person. A trouser and typical plain or striped shirt is just so passé and the salwar kameez is yet to find its place of pride in the corporate world.
A sari can reflect the exuberance, positive energy, femininity, authority, intelligence, power or anything you want to communicate. Wearing a sari to work lends a new dimension and purpose to the person. Here’s how you can add zing to every meeting:
The “in control” saris: Chiffons, crepes and georgettes are difficult to manage, and for this very reason, a woman who can carry these off with ease and without any malfunction comes across as being in control and totally prepared. Bold colours of burgundy, dark blue, jade green and black add a sense of style while reds can be intimidating. But hey, sometimes that could be an objective, right? So if you need to make a statement about your organisation and your”never give up” spirit, this is ideal.
The “listener” saris: It is very important to understand the role you wish to play in a meeting. If being a good listener can get you the team’s loyalty or win back a lost business, muted shades of grey and light blues with subdued prints are very effective. Avoid bold colours. It is good to be a little inconspicuous here than displaying a garrulous or pugnacious disposition. Exuding openness and warmth are important for such meetings.
The “traditional mature professional” saris: Nothing brings this out better than a crisp Bengali cotton sari or the tangail. These work particularly well when meeting a conservative person or organisation. Though not always suitable and difficult to maintain, this is one of my favourites. It reflects feminine grace and confidence.
The kanjivaram: Best avoided unless you are in Tamil Nadu, where even the sweltering heat doesn’t deter the good Tamilian from donning one, with flowers in the hair to boot.
The Fab India and Khazana saris: Best used when you feel most comfortable if the attention is on your content and not on your wardrobe. They are comfortable, no-nonsense but boringly similar.
Signature saris: A difficult stance to maintain as this could prove to be a little expensive and you would need a fairly large set to avoid being labelled as repetitive. But if your personality demands it, then there is no stopping you. It’s not really how expensive the saris are, but how unique and interesting they are. This requires a bit of thinking, design sense and the urge to be creative. Getting it wrong can be a disaster.
The “let me surprise you” saris: All of the above are required at some point of time and a combination of these is therefore ideal. Nothing expresses the various dimensions of a professional woman better than this attitude. One needs to learn to be a listener at times, a leader and a team supporter at some other time and an innovative and thorough professional at all times. But carrying off all the above with equal panache needs an adaptable mind and body. Not impossible, but not that easy either.
Most of us are afraid of going beyond our boundaries while some are ridiculed for trying too hard. Striking this balance is important. The right attire together with the right accessories, understated make-up and professional shoes — nothing that is overpowering, but just right to bring out your true spirit and personality — is crucial to make the first impact and to leave a lasting impression.
Caveat: This article assumes that you are loaded with content. Otherwise, even the sari can’t help you.
Charulata Ravi Kumar is innovations advisor and director at Coffee Kettle