The saree has a plethora of variations, much like any item of clothing. Over time, the saree has changed, becoming brighter and having much more representation in the West. With these changes, the half-saree has also become quite popular, but how are they different?
The difference between a saree and a half-saree is mostly ceremonial. Sarees are 4.5-9 meters long and worn daily for comfort in hot climates. Half-sarees are 2-2.5 meters and used to celebrate a girl’s entrance into puberty. Though both are worn over long skirts, half-sarees are easier to drape.
In this article, we will discuss what a saree and half-saree are, and the difference between the two. We will also go over the cultural significance of half-sarees and whether they’re still relevant today.
What Is a Full Saree?
A saree is a three-piece garment worn by people on the Indian subcontinent. Although the saree is typically associated with women, men can wear sarees as well. The three-piece ensemble typically consists of a blouse, a petticoat, and the saree itself. All three parts of the outfit consist of matching and complementary colors.
Sarees usually measure around 15 to 30-feet or 4.5 to 9 meters long. People that wear sarees normally wrap them about the waist with one end, working until the pallu is draped across the left shoulder. Here are eight simple steps to properly drape a saree:
- Put on the blouse, petticoat, and shoes (to ensure the length is correct).
- Tuck one end of the saree into the petticoat.
- Begin to wrap the saree around your waist, tucking into the petticoat.
- From the other end, begin to pleat the fabric, using your fingers to hold it together.
- Bring the pleated end around your waist and lift to drape over your shoulder.
- Secure at the shoulder with a safety pin.
- Bring the excess fabric from your waist around your back and tuck into the petticoat.
- Pleat excess fabric and secure to the petticoat with a safety pin.
This is one example, but there are over a hundred ways to drape sarees, including but not limited to:
- Himalayan style: also called Kulluvi Pattu and worn in Himachal Pradesh, a northern Indian state in the Himalayas
- Nepali: Nepal is where you can find the Nivi and the Gujrati drape
- Bengali: the Bengali variation of sarees don’t have pleats, unlike most others
In recent years, sarees have become so popular that the fashion has migrated to the United States. The traditional dress has been worn by Hollywood stars and has even become part of a political movement.
What Is a Half-Saree?
Though a half saree may sound like a shortened saree on the surface, it is a little more complicated than that. A half-saree or langa voni (or langa davani) is a traditional garb worn by young girls in South India and Pakistan.
The outfit is also a three-piece ensemble:
- A langa (or paavadai) is a skirt tied to the waist with a string
- A voni (or davani) is a 7 to 8-foot or 2 to 2.5-meter long cloth that’s draped across the shoulder like a saree is
- A choli is the final piece, which is a tight blouse underneath the voni
The color pallet of a half-saree is probably the most interesting part. Unlike saree, half-sarees utilize clashing colors much more often.
Difference Between a Full Saree and a Half-Saree
Sarees and half-sarees look very similar, but there are some key differences. The voni in a half-saree is much shorter, and there is no variation where it has to be pleated. On the other hand, the saree can be thought of as the aesthetic, more mature version of the half-saree.
A langa voni is a traditional dress that is worn by girls transitioning from childhood to puberty. The outfit is representative of a girl growing into a young woman. The transition is marked by the clothing itself, with the paavadai being a skirt usually worn by children and the voni being similar to sarees adult women would wear.
Ritu Kala Samskaram: The Half-Saree Function
The Ritu Kala Samskara ceremony or Ristuhuddhi is a Southern Indian ceremony done within the Indian Hindu culture as a two-part celebration of a girl’s eligibility for marriage. Today, the ritual is simply known as the half-saree function and primarily represents a girl’s maturity into a woman.
The half-saree function is primarily organized by the women of the girl’s household and attended by other important women in her life. The attendees and her family members give her gifts and healthy foods for her developing body.
The young woman’s maternal grandparents give her a half-saree, and she wears it during the first half of the ceremony. Her paternal grandparents then give her a saree during the second half, symbolizing her approaching adulthood.
Young women wear half-sarees for important events after the Ristuhuddhi until they reach their next milestone, which is getting married. Women that do the half-saree ceremony don’t wear their gifted sarees until their wedding day.
Do People Still Wear Half-Sarees?
Langa voni fell out of fashion for a time but helped create the modern lehenga-style saree or lehenga choli. Lehenga sarees are three-piece outfits made of the lehenga: a long skirt, a choli, and a saree. Lehenga skirts are worn at the waist, and the choli is cut in a plunging neck, backless, or halter style. The saree or dupatta is around 14-feet or 4.5-meters long, covers the midriff, and doesn’t have to be pleated.
Embroiderers make Lehenga sarees out of more delicate and rich fabrics like silk, brasso, chiffon, crepe, and silk. Lehenga-style sarees are typically worn for ceremonies, weddings, and festivals and are embroidered or embellished.
Variations of the Half-Saree
Shalwar kameez have supplanted half-sarees as well. Shalwar kameez is an article of traditional clothing worn by women and men throughout South and Central Asia. Shalwars are wide-waisted pants with cuffed bottoms, and kameez are long tunics or shirts. Women use dupattas to cover their heads with their shalwar kameez.
Half-sarees have made a comeback, however. Many women enjoy wearing them because they are easier to wear than the typical saree. You do not have to pleat them or perform any complicated draping. Women can drape half-sarees around their shoulders easily.
At one point, it was considered bad taste to wear boldly colored half-sarees. Now, you can find them in darker hues like red and black. Women can expect to see more ornate half-saree with zari (gold and silver thread) and mirror-work embroidered into them.
Some women use cholis that show their midriff and even opt to use different styled skirts. Today, you can find people wearing mermaid cut, straight, cut, and A-line skirts. Langa voni using other skirts doesn’t have a separate name but is instead referred to by the style of petticoat. For example, a half-saree with a mermaid petticoat is a mermaid half-saree.
Bollywood is mainly responsible for the modernization of the Langa voni. The combination of fame and innovation has reinvigorated the outfit.
The differences between sarees and half-sarees aren’t that big initially, especially considering the modern updates to the latter. They’ve both been around for a long time and are both three-piece outfits. Sarees and half-sarees also have variations that have popped up over their history.
What separates the two garments is the ceremonial differences and how easy they are to wear, with half sarees being easier to drape. Girls wear half-sarees to transition into womanhood, while sarees are for ceremonies and marriages. Both types of clothing have reemerged as a fashion trend that recaptures Indian culture for many women.