Are You Sari Yet?

I blame Sanjay Gupta for dragging me away from my studies and back to the bunker. Today, when Dr. Gupta posted a picture on Twitter of the sari his wife was wearing to tonight’s state dinner at the White House – I couldn’t help but be drawn into the fashion maelstrom that marked the visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India and his wife, Gursharan Kaur. (Sorry Abhi, you can have your fancy dinner menu. Give me saris and ball-gowns any day.) But where to start?

mrs. obama.jpg

Ah, Mrs. Obama. Always the fashion darling. She wore not one – but two desi designers today.

She was tending to her hostess duties in a strapless silhouette with the beads forming an abstract floral pattern that was custom-made by Naeem Khan…She wore a matching wrap, a stack of bangle bracelets on her wrist and dangling earrings… Earlier today for a preview of the event, Mrs. Obama wore a skirt by Rachel Roy, also an Indian-American…Khan told CNN’s Larry King that his goals were to dress the first lady in something “Indian, chic, simple but very glamorous.” [Fashion director of InStyle magazine, Hal] Rubenstein said he was impressed that Mrs. Obama used her fashion knowledge to choose a sophisticated and regal style that paid homage to India without wearing a traditional sari-style dress, which could have come off as a costume next to India’s first lady. [Link]

Rubenstein may be right about the costume part, but I admit I would love to see Mrs. O in a gorgeous sari. Maybe someday. Check out the picture of Mrs. O wearing Roy here. You may remember Rachel Roy when we featured her on SM as one of the fashion industry’s best-dressed, young designers. As for Khan, according to his website, he was born in India and grew up in America, before launching his first collection here in 2003. There were many well put-together outfits tonight. Katie Couric definitely stood out in her royal blue evening gown + sari shawl (help me out here, readers). I liked the fit and elegance of Bhavna Shyamalan’s white with black accents sari, but would’ve loved to see her in something more colorful. According to the fashion blogs I’ve read so far, however, Semonti Stephens, Mrs. Obama’s deputy press secretary, rocked the best outfit of the night - a traditional red lengha that she wore for her wedding. (Although I’ve seen more than one site refer to it as a ‘sari.’) Sari? Lengha? Lengha-style sari? She’s in the last few seconds of this video. You tell me!

Okay, now it’s your turn, SM readers. What was your favorite outfit from tonight’s dinner? Feel free to post links to your favorite outfits in the comments section. What did you think of Jhumpa Lahiri’s outfit? Supriya Jindal? (I say sari is the new black, but I’m a hater.) And if there’s one thing I learned tonight, it’s that I really, really need to learn how to tie a sari. As my mother and several friends pointed out, certain saris were – how do I say it – lacking in the pleating department. (*Coughs, “Mrs. Gupta!”) The Washington Post’s fashion editor, Robin Givhan noted, “It is probably for the best that guests who have never worn a sari before do not choose Tuesday’s state dinner as the moment to start.” So true, Robin. So true. (One mutineer told me, “Can’t imagine aunties not pulling her into a restroom to fix it!”) Although to be fair, perhaps that was shot at a bad angle?

UPDATE

falu shah.jpg

Also at tonight’s event was singer Falu Shah, shown alongside Taku Hirano and Steve Haney, A.R. Rahman (L-R), who all performed tonight at the White House. I say the real show-stealer was Shah’s simple lengha with its shishas (mirrors) embroidery. Lovely.

Thankfully, there were no fashion faux pas involving errant sari pallus. Except for Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania losing his cummerbund, all was right in the world of fashion tonight. And now back to your regularly scheduled evening gowns. *Yawns.

62 thoughts on “Are You Sari Yet?

  1. It looks like a lehnga to me, personally.

    Perhaps, instead of trying the traditional saris, they should have considered the quickie sari. The last time I went to India, about three years ago, they had ready-made saris that come with the pleating sewn in. You slip the bottom on like it a skirt, and then just wrap and toss the dupatta over one shoulder.

  2. If I could tell Mrs. Gupta one thing, it would be: Wear the sari, don’t let the sari wear you. Cause that poor woman got WORN by her sari. And then some.

    A damn shame, since it was of a beautiful color and design.

    Mrs. Shymalan gets my vote for best-dressed of the night. It was simple, but extremely elegant–and 100% appropriate for a White House dinner. Anything more and she would’ve looked like she was heading to a shaadi.

    Great post, PG. If law school doesn’t pan out, I think you could def land a job with Vogue India :)

  3. Loved Michelle Obama’s dress. Gosh, she looked elegant. Didnt like the hairdo though. I think Katie Couric looked lovely in that blue dress. Shyamalan’s wife looked nice too.

    Everyone else was just meh~.

    The table setting was a bit too colorful and bright (that green!), but maybe thats just the lighting/camera.

  4. I really like the Bhavna Shyamalan’s B/W saree. Saree is great but it is hard to pull off the first time around. I’d take the Lehanga / Salwar Kameez route. Much easier. Supriya Jindal was boring.

  5. Everyone looked fabulous. But when I first read the AP story on the event, which described Mrs. Obama’s gown as “flesh-colored,” I couldn’t help but think, “whose flesh? certainly not anyone who’s brown.”

    They rather quickly changed the wording to “cream-colored.”

  6. Falu looked incredible! She and Mrs. Shymalan were my best-dressed for the nights, with Mrs. Obama as second.

    My mother took one look at the First Lady and said “Ehh, she looks nice, but she would love so lovely in a silk sari, with her height.”

    Momma is right. Maybe when the Obamas visit India, Mrs. O will rock the traditional desi look.

    Mrs. Jindal = BLAH.

  7. Just looked at the menu and found references to not one, not two, but three (!) ethnic slur vegetables: potato, eggplant, and coconut. If you think I’m being paranoid, just see the dessert menu: “whipped cream and caramel sauce”. See? It means the saucy caramel-skinned people are going to whip the cream-colored people! It’s all in there, people! Be afraid. Or not.

  8. Best dressed = Michelle Obama, Bhavna Shyamalan, Falu (of course) and Jennifer Granholm’s jacket (I want)

    Special mention = Gursharan-ji looked quite regal and poised, especially compared with our model of a first lady towering over her in ivory.

    Meh = I’ll bet you the naada on Mrs. Sanjay Gupta’s petticoat was loose (not that I speak from experience or anything cough).

    Worst = Supriya Jindal. I understand if she doesn’t want to have anything to do with the nation of her ancestors (sorry, have to get a dig in at my former governor here) but there are a hundred different colors she could have chosen from, but instead blended in with Bobby’s tux.

  9. stop being so critical!! darn, the sari is a very difficult thing to wear unless you are like my mum (or your mum) who’s been wearing it for about 150 years!

    Gursharanji is fabulous, she always gets it right! Remember when she met the Pope with the other Group of N 1st ladies at the Vatican. She was dressed in a suit with the dupatta wrapped around her head, as she would if she were visiting a Gurdwara! What class and sensibility!

  10. Can we all take a minute to give props to Rahman for being the only man there to represent in Indian clothes?

    I swear, if I ever get invited to one of these I’m rocking the pancha all the way.

    Okay, maybe a sherwani. But only because it’s too cold to go bare(more like “bear,” amirite?)-chested.

  11. I hated Mrs. Singh’s sari to the state dinner.

    Compared to Mrs. Obama, she looked homely and unbecoming.

    Mrs. Gupta, it was a horrible choice for her as a white woman. Something less gaudy would have been better. White women look better in simpler saris.

    Katie Couric’s choice was sensible and flattering.

    When a white woman dons a sari, she has to be aware not to come off wearing a Halloween costume.

  12. Can we all take a minute to give props to Rahman for being the only man there to represent in Indian clothes?

    I find it interesting that South Asian women have to wear “traditional” garb while South Asian men almost always prefer a Western tailored suit for formal occasions.

  13. pingpong,

    I’m a “coconut” as I’m sure most of the ABCDs (American Born Confused Desis) on Sepia Mutiny which was a term introduced to me by Indian nationals attending my college.

    Indians from India I know look at the overseas Indian populations as being “non-Indian.” My Desi friend from Malaysia was proud to be Malaysian.

    My Desi friend from South Africa would lament, “All to often, Indians are seen in Africa as not being loyal to their natal countries, as being opportunistic. Look, the white Boers of South Africa are proud Africans, but Desis are not! Could this perceived quality explain the expulsion of Desis by black Africans?”

    My family’s native tongue is Farsi/Dari and Pashto. I lack proficiency in either and I don’t speak Hindi or Urdu.

  14. Mrs.Shyamalan and Mrs.Obama looked the best from the pictures I saw. I thought the wrap Mrs.Obama wore looked a bit cheap (maybe a different material would have helped) so she lost a few points there but her Rachel Roy outfit made up for it.

  15. I love Michelle Obama she is definitely the most beautifula and stylist first lady in my opinion.The dress is just so wonderful she looks so glamorous! I love this dress she looks great! It also was nice that Michelle chose an Indian American designer as well for this big event. I agree with the designer it would of been politically incorrect if Michelle just wore a Sari.

  16. My mother took one look at the First Lady and said “Ehh, she looks nice, but she would love so lovely in a silk sari, with her height.”

    the odd thing about saris is the belly and navel display. i dont think anyone in the west would be comfortable with showing the jelly belly and the tidd-flower.

    i know this was the ladies’ night and guys are supposed to conform. but there are tasteful ways of doing so. kumar looked good in the skinny tie. rahman looked like he was wearing a sofa. dr gupta was wearing a white tie [uh..no!]. gov jindal looked good. not in the clotheshorse way but like a well-dressed working man. [i think the guy's great so am biased]

    p.s. hat tip to phillygrrl. when someone’s that nice it just shows in the prose.

  17. Worst = Supriya Jindal. I understand if she doesn’t want to have anything to do with the nation of her ancestors (sorry, have to get a dig in at my former governor here) but there are a hundred different colors she could have chosen from, but instead blended in with Bobby’s tux.

    Amartya Sen, Fareed Zakaria, Sanjay Gupta, & Kal Penn all wore tuxedos. Do they not want to have anything to do with the nation of their ancestors as well? Or is that a hitjob solely reserved for the wives of politicians you disagree with?

  18. There was this one couple during the arrivals, I THINK is was some state-level senator or representative. But anyway, they were this old white couple, and the guy was wearing a sherwani that was about two sizes too small for his stomach, and his wife was wearing this awful boring salwar that was the same color as her skin. It was just all so…horrible.

  19. in addition to michelle, bhavna, and katie, i think AG Eric Holder’s wife/date’s gown looked amazing. great colors and good fit!

  20. This is sort of off topic, but still has to do with a wedding.

    Look at this picture of Aishwarya attending shilpa’s wedding reception with her father in law and them holding hands! isn’t that a bit much? Amitabh Bachan must be a very possessive and controlling family man.

    Doesn’t this newly married couple want to have their own space and their own lives?

    http://www.pinkvilla.com/entertainmenttags/amitabh-bachchan/aishwarya-bachchan-amitabh-bachchan-shilpas-wedding-reception?page=1

  21. Mr. and Mrs. M. Knight Shy hands down most beautiful! M. Knight is really cute. Loved Mrs. Shy’s sari. Michele and Prez looked lovely, Supriya and Jindal not so much, but that my be my politics effecting my sense of style.

  22. I liked Mrs. Singh’s sari. I went hunting for close-ups but couldn’t find any. My sariwalli, Melina, says that Mrs. Singh has been wearing Orissa and bomkai saris. I love Orissa saris, have two.

    “Sari shawl” on Kati Couric? Do you mean that she was wearing a dupatta? It looked just like a satin wrap to me, not a dupatta. Without a closeup, hard to be sure.

  23. Doesn’t this newly married couple want to have their own space and their own lives?

    How about you start giving them space by minding your own business and not plastering details about their personal family lives all over the interwebs huh?

  24. Bhavna Shyamalan was the best dressed IMO, because she wore and carried her Sari the best. Mrs. Singh looked very graceful and age-appropriate in her Bomkai sari and stood her own next to very tall and ‘modelesque’ Michelle. I loved all the dress choices of Michelle O (and have to mention that I loved her choice of green and purple table settings). Jhumpa and Supriya were yawn-worthy, so were all the dress choices made by men, except Rahman. Loved Katie Couric’s pairing of the India stole !

  25. Amartya Sen, Fareed Zakaria, Sanjay Gupta, & Kal Penn all wore tuxedos. Do they not want to have anything to do with the nation of their ancestors as well? Or is that a hitjob solely reserved for the wives of politicians you disagree with?

    What part of “sorry, have to get a dig in at my former governor here” did you not understand? Nancy Pelosi’s black dress looked awful, too, but I don’t expect much from her fashion-wise. Again, there are a hundred different colors Mrs. Jindal could have chosen from, especially knowing that her husband would wear black, too.

  26. Re: #35 above – Admittedly, you would have to have knowledge of Bobby Jindal’s acknowledged cultural affiliations (or disavowals) to understand where I’m coming from on this one. ;-)

  27. Words cannot describe EPA administrator Lisa Jackson’s ensemble, so you all will have to click here and see for yourselves. Is that supposed to be a sari?

  28. @lifelong- I was also wondering where her friends were! And why is it so rumpled? And why can we see her bra strap? So many questions.

    @phillygrrl- It does look like curtains! But it’s funny that the maroonish top doesn’t match the gray striped bottom.

  29. My comments: Am I the only one who sees similarity between Katie Couric’s dress last night and Frieda Pinto’s at the Oscars?

    Michelle Obama wins for best-dressed for sure. I want that dress – too bad I’m too short to pull it off. Mrs. Singh was commanding and classy in her silk saree as well.

    Supriya Jindal’s dress would have been gorgeous if she’d have gotten it hemmed.

    Rebecca Gupta should have known better than to wear little-girl pink to a White House state dinner. I don’t care if it’s a sari. Didn’t Martha Stewart teach us all that lesson? Also, “blondes can wear any color” doesn’t work when it’s Indian dress. I would have gone with black, cream, or if it was so necessary to go pink, a deep yet pale rose color. And I would have gone with a typical formal drape instead of ulta pallu as well.

    Men in tuxedos look like penguins, but I guess that tradition isn’t going away any time soon.

  30. Rebecca Gupta should have known better than to wear little-girl pink to a White House state dinner. I don’t care if it’s a sari. Didn’t Martha Stewart teach us all that lesson? Also, “blondes can wear any color” doesn’t work when it’s Indian dress. I would have gone with black, cream, or if it was so necessary to go pink, a deep yet pale rose color. And I would have gone with a typical formal drape instead of ulta pallu as well.

    My thoughts exactly.

    White women do not look good in really bright colors when it comes to Indian dress.

    Some more demure and less flashy would have worked.

  31. I’m not Indian, so I’m going to say that Mr. and Mrs. Manmohan didn’t look good adjacent to the Obamas. Some here described them as “gnomes” compared to the more modelesque First Couple of the United States.

    For most of the traditional female Indian garb worn by women in attendance at the state dinner, it was less than flattering.

    I guess I’m too conditioned by the standards of Bollywood.

  32. “Supriya Jindal’s dress would have been gorgeous if she’d have gotten it hemmed.” Yes! The maxi dress look was so last summer!

    Who cares about his wife!

    Bobby Jindal’s skin is so blotchy.

    Homeboy needs to see a Persian dermatologist in Beverly Hills if he vies for higher office.

  33. Manmohan Singh and Gursharan Kaur look graceful and dignified. I am proud of Sardarji, and I am proud that we have such a classy, dignified, humble and intelligent man representing us as our leader around the world.

  34. “I’m not Indian, so I’m going to say that Mr. and Mrs. Manmohan didn’t look good adjacent to the Obamas. Some here described them as “gnomes” compared to the more modelesque First Couple of the United States.”

    They’re a pair of septuagenarians for crying out loud. Of course they are going to pale next to a much younger couple. Put your wizened grandparents next to them, and you get the same results.

  35. Manmohan Singh and Gursharan Kaur look graceful and dignified.

    They look like the handsome couple they are…they do look so grandparently with their age. Reminds me of Mrs. Bush Sr. and how elderly and dignified she looked when standing next to her husband, who for some bizarre reason looked so much younger than her. But the PM and Mrs. Kaur, perfect :) . I wonder how old they are…have to look that up…

  36. My vote is for the Shymalans. Both man and wife looked classy and stylish. Manmohan should have worn a gold/rust/ochre colored turban to offset the charcoal gray suit. The Cambridge blue is fine for everyday but doesn’t he have a hat for special occasions?