Donning the Dupatta


“Hawa mein udta jaaye mera lal dupatta malmal ka,” or “Oh lal dupatta wali tera naam toh bata,” all definitive songs, which often come up in a game of antakshari, with one thing in common, they are all in one way or the other, an ode to the dupatta, also known as the chadar, orni, odhani, chunri, or chunni. What got me thinking about this mainstay of outfits in South Asia? An article that spoke about designer Gaurang Shah and his brainchild, the Dupatta Festival, a three-day festival in Delhi that celebrates this version of a scarf in its myriad forms and shapes.

From a symbol of modesty to being worn as a decorative, fashionable accessory, the dupatta has metamorphosed over years from what was in its earliest avatar a shoulder veil or in its latter version, a piece of cloth draped over both shoulders and around one’s head. From being worn with only salwar kameez and lehengas, today the dupatta has found a place even in wardrobes that comprise primarily of trousers and dresses, just going to show how versatile this garment is, and how well it has adapted and evolved.
Mansi Saraf, city-based textile and fashion artist who’s working on her soon-to-be-launched multi-medium fashion and art brand Bandish, says, “Indian textiles lend itself very well to the dupatta form. Not everyone can wear a saree every day and because sarees are ignored, so are the textiles, but it need not be so. The same textiles can be used as a dupatta and you can change your outfit’s look in seconds. It goes from chic to elegant in just a drape.”

Meenu Goel, blogger and dupatta enthusiast agrees, “It’s very recently I discovered the beauty and variety of dupattas but it absolutely fascinates me. I love its versatility and am trying to work that into my outfits, wearing it with shirts and denim, kurtas, and even crop top and pants. The right dupatta can do a lot for your look. You can drape it, accessorise; it can change any look, and take it to that next level. Also, it’s a great option for layering.”
Mansi adds, “Festivals like the one started by Gaurang Shah are important and essential. It’s a great initiative to give our wide range of fabrics the push it needs. Paithani sarees from Maharashtra can be heavy and not suitable for everyday wear but imagine a dupatta woven using the same technique, creating a silk dupatta with a peacock border. The same can be true for fabrics like Ikat, Jamdani, Mangalgiri, Tussar … the list and the variations are endless.”

Innovative draping techniques and out-of-the-box styling along with irregular forms and shapes have also made dupattas more versatile. A traditional piece can be draped unconventionally to make it look like a jacket or a sarong. It’s a question of expanding your design vocabulary. And not just through styling. Meenu says, “I also like reinventing my dupattas with mirror work and bells or dyeing them in shades of the same colour. It gives them a new lease of life and me a new piece to play around with.”

Personally, dupattas have always been a wardrobe staple. From Rajasthani lehariyas and bandhani’s to raw silk dupattas with just the right amount of shimmer, my dupattas are my way of working my outfit in a way that it stands out in a crowd. How do you play this game?

Tulika Nair

Tulika Nair is a content strategist and creator with almost a decade's experience in television , print & digital media and a focus on the fashion and luxury industry. She has combined her love for writing with a deep interest in fashion to unearth what fashion means to society, its aspiration , and its identity.

Latest posts by Tulika Nair (see all)