Black Girl. Long Sari.
Ladies, if you’ve never experienced the joy of wearing a sari, you’re missing out. Big time. Growing up in Queens, I appreciated the unique style in ethnic diversity. East Indian saris fascinated me the most. The vivid colors, shimmering accents and exquisite fabrics were simply incredible. Each piece masterfully accented a woman’s curves in a perfectly balanced mysterious allure. I wanted—needed—to be seen in one.
Problem was, or so I thought, I’m Black. While I’ve been known to go against the grain with my personal style, I knew better than to prance around Jamaica, Queens with a perm and a sari. It just wouldn’t look right. Plus, there were several other things counting against me at the time. I didn’t know how to wrap a sari, let alone walk properly in one. I thought it best I add “wear a sari” to my bucket list, and wait for the right moment to arrive.
Then came the day I was invited to my friend’s wedding—in India! “Now’s my moment,” I thought. I mean, uh…hooray for my friend’s special day. It was dope that she was getting married and all. But, I’d be lying if I said didn’t plan the next few weeks of my life thinking only of this magical sari I’d planned to wear.
I took mom along with me on the trip. Though we could’ve easily copped some in our ‘hood, we opted to get our saris in India. We wanted the authentic joints. Anyway, arrived in Mumbai and, with the wedding just two days away, made the first order of business finding a bomb-digiddy sari.
My friend’s brother was kind (and patient) enough to help us navigate the shopping area. After surveying a few spots, we finally settled on a dress shop. The store-owner was very welcoming. He offered us two comfortable chairs and chai tea. As we sipped, he enthusiastically presented his vast collection of amazing fabrics and styles.
Mom chose a beautiful, mint-green and burgundy ensemble. I went for turquoise and pink. First of all, the amount of bling on this sari would’ve made Master P green with envy. It was literally 10 pounds of sparkly goodness. With the dresses out of the way, we picked up matching shoes, necklaces, earrings, and 50-11 bangles to match. I got some mehndi done on my hands then, called it a day. We were ready.
Wedding day!! We woke up extra early. Knowing full well we didn’t know how to wrap our saris, we headed over to the venue for assistance. The wedding attendants happily wrapped and pinned us up. In no time at all, we were ready to roll. Now, I was prepared for the stares. Two Black women in India draw a special kind of attention. But, I don’t think folk were ready for Blacks in saris. The looks we got were priceless.
People seemed happily surprised. A few ladies examined us with a more critical eye, as if to verify that we got it right. Thankfully, we had expert help! Otherwise, we’d have looked a hot mess. On the surface, saris may seem pretty easy to conquer. But, there’s a strict art to draping and wearing them.
Overall, I got the sense that folks were thrilled to see just how much we’d embraced their culture and style. I believe it even encouraged them to be more welcoming to us. If it’s one thing I live for, it’s the dovetailing of different cultures. It’s such a beautiful thing. We got tons of compliments. Several guests even asked to take photos with us.
We mixed, mingled, ate like crazy and enjoyed a beautiful ceremony. Best of all, I got to do it all wearing a sari! Oh…and in case you didn’t know, the best part about wearing a sari is it’s built-in belly-concealing mechanism. Saris are cool and all, but that crop-top piece of the outfit will have you looking less-than-stellar if you aren’t ready. After eating everything in sight, I could no longer “suck it in.” So, resourceful little me expanded my sash and voila! Pudgy tummy safely tucked away.
I encourage you to immerse yourself in someone else’s culture. Let’s learn and grow in new and different ways. You never know what you’ll discover—even if it’s just a cool belly-concealing trick.
Nikiesha McLennon was born in Germany and raised in Queens. Artist, culturalist, and computer nerd, she's visited more countries than there are subway lines. This Guyanese/Jamaican mix likes her food spicy and her beach water clear. Currently resides in Brooklyn and loves window seats.