JACKSON HEIGHTS—This summer, keeping cool in a sari is hot.
The elegant, traditional Indian outfit may be unfamiliar to some, but with the right material and color, the sari can be turned into a simple, timeless classic that helps women beat the heat, enthusiasts said.
"The midriff is exposed in a sari, so it keeps you cool," said Jackson Heights resident and sari saleswoman Raj Prakash, who works at India Sari Palace on 34th Avenue in Jackson Heights. "And it's also lightweight."
While many South Asians get their saris from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, in Jackson Heights, stores selling the outfits line 74th Street.
Costing anywhere from $35 to $350, they come in many materials including cotton, silk, chiffon and crepe georgette, a silk-like fabric with a matte finish.
One end of the fabric is tucked inside an underskirt and draped around the waist to form a skirt, while the other end is draped over the shoulder.
Worn with a blouse, a tank top or bikini top, the sari can be demure, dazzling or daring, depending on how it’s worn.
“It gives you an edge too because you are not in the norm…so you stand out,” said Shazia Dean, a 31-year old production assistant from San Francisco who was shopping at Saawariya sari shop on 74th Street with friends recently.
“It’s lightweight, it moves with your body,” Dean said. "It doesn’t constrict you. It’s nice and flowy.”
Her friend Nabeela Khan, 34, who wears saris to Western events “quite a bit,” described the outfit as a “great conversation starter.”
Bright colors and neon may be the trend with shorts and summer dresses this year, but with the saris, stick to pastels and light shades, merchants said.
“In the winter, one wears deep or bright colors, like red and maroon,” said Gulistan Khan, who owns the Saawariya sari shop. “But in the summer, you want to wear light colors.”
Khan, who has been in the fabric business for more than three decades, sells about 50 chiffon saris a month in the summer.
Nabeela Khan, who works for a nonprofit, said that she loves white, which is "very classy."
“Either that or some pastel with a pop of color like pink or yellow,” she said.
For those looking to pull off a sultry summer look, try wearing a chiffon sari with a backless top, said 29-year old Nyla Khan who came to Jackson Heights from San Fransisco to shop for saris.
“You can wrap the sari tight and show some peeks of skin,” she suggested.