Traditional Saree

In Attire
The achol (end piece) of the saree is draped over the shoulder in an indication of modesty
The achol (end piece) of the saree is draped over the shoulder in an indication of modesty

The saree (pronounced sha-ree in Bangla) inexplicably bridges a gap between my Bengali heritage and American upbringing. When my family and I immigrated to the United States, a part of our assimilation to American culture meant that that my mother stopped wearing the saree and opted for more Western choices. 
 In subsequent years as our small network of Bengali friends and family grew, so did the role of the saree within our community.  Growing up, I observed how the saree intertwined cultural norms and social expectations alike. Though once worn primarily for cultural festivities, the garment has evolved into an object that represents more than the culture it came from—it has become a marker of female haya (modesty) amidst the women who wear it. 
For women of my mother’s generation, ensuring that the cloth properly covers the breast area is an unspoken code of conduct. Similarly, when girls of my generation don the saree, a slip of the fabric yields rebukes not only from our own mothers, but from mothers of friends and older women alike. Interestingly, this unspoken norm has now formed the basis for network of mentorship and guidance beyond just clothing amongst women.  Over time, for my family, the saree has become an active process of remembering, retaining, and embodying Bengali culture beyond solely its cultural significance and aestheticism; in the face of necessary assimilation, this garment also represents my family's conscious effort to hold onto traditional Bengali values. 

Place(s): Boston, Bangladesh, New York
Year: 2001

– Ishrat Aishee

Relationship:  Im/migrant who arrived as a child Im/migrant who arrived as a child