Why a #sari is both #hot, and #cool

Indian garments like the sari, dhoti and lungi adapt beautifully to varied weather conditions, shows research!


Only a Bollywood heroine can cavort around the Alps in a chiffon sari without losing her extremities to frostbite. But the idea may not be as ridiculous as it seems.

The sari, says fresh research, can alternately cool and warm a body simply in the way it is draped.

Dr Madhavi Indraganti, a Hyderabad-bred architect and scholar who teaches at the Prince Sultan University in Riyadh, has established that the sari is all-weather wear in a paper published in a peer-reviewed journal Architectural Science Review.

The nub of it is: you can go from summer to winter in the same sari, and you’ll have all-round comfort just by making small changes with the pallu and a few add-on accessories. And it is not just the sari that is weather-versatile Indian wear.The four-yard dhoti, the two-yard lungi and the pancha (dhoti tied through the legs) are all capable of shielding the body from extreme heat and cold to varying degrees, says Indraganti.

“When comparing Indian thermal comfort data from the field, I wanted to know the exact value of the clothing insulation of the sari (standard insulation values have been derived for almost every article of clothing and common clothing ensembles in the world), but there were no published standards for the sari, says Indraganti. Computing the insulation value of indigenous clothing (measured in units called `clo’) can help researchers prescribe more accurate thermal comfort models for India. The insulation value of the sari has been determined earlier but only Indraganti had studied it in its various drapes.

In 2013, on a Fulbright-Nehru Fellowship, Indraganti collaborated with other scholars to conduct a year-long study on the sari. She tested two saris, a lightweight yellow silk Kalakshetra sari from Tamil Nadu, and a heavier green polyester sari from Gadag, Karnataka. These she draped around a female thermal manikin called Monica, in the common Nivi style, with the length wound around the body from right to left, pleated in the front at the waist, the pallu swept back over a shoulder.

The $200,000 thermal manikin contained a heat engine which could simulate the temperature of the human body and its thermal responses to stimuli like humidity , room temperature, ventilation, and clothing insulation. Maintaining the chamber temperature at 20 degrees, and Monica’s skin temperature at 34 degrees, the team outfitted her in nine ensembles complete with undergarments, a sari under skirt and bodice. The ensembles corresponded with the way saris are usually draped in summer, monsoon and winter.

The results showed that the sari can handle a wide range of weather conditions. The clothing insulation values were increased by as much as 47% just by changing the drape on the upper body alone. Winter drapes provided al most as much insulation as coveralls, long-sleeved thermal underwear and long underwear bottoms. The sum mer and monsoon ensembles simi larly came close to the Western pairing of turtleneck blouse, skirt, socks and formal shoes.

“You can reduce the clothing insulation of a sari to the value of a pair of knickers and take it up to that of a three-piece suit,” remarks Indraganti.

In field studies, she’d seen domestic workers lift the sari hem up some inches to the calves by tucking the pleats into the waistband. This created more legroom and im proved air circulation up the legs.

Indraganti points out that women can wear a sweater over the blouse when it’s cold, the way she did in Japan at 5 degrees Celsius, or drape the pallu over their heads the way they do in Jaipur and Rajasthan to protect against a severe sun.

Dhoti dynamics
Dr Indraganti has also researched the thermo adaptability of dhoti, lungi, pancha and salwar kameez with different dupatta drapes, but she hasn’t published the data yet. However, she computed the data for the first three for STOI.Interestingly, she says, the dhoti ensemble offered the lowest insulation compared to the lungi and the pancha.Obviously, it exposes the skin more and so lowers insulation, she explains. It probably explains why some men pair their dhotis with knee-length socks when the weather bites.

“We also investigated how the insulation varied with the lungi and pancha folded up to the knees.Interestingly exposing the calves reduced the clo value of these only by about 8-10%, unlike the wider variation possible with the sari,” Indraganti reveals.

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