Sexy choli-sholi haan?’ commented a fellow (female) journalist recently, triggering a chat on the alchemy of the sari blouse. My definition of sexy is very obvious. I find deep-cut blouses or itsy-bitsy backless incarnations provocative. After all, if there is one common thread between the seemingly puritanical (and hysterical) TV housewives; badnaam Munnis spilling Victoria’s secrets, film heroines with liberal wardrobes and women lusting after designer wear—it is the revealing choli.

They all wear the cheeky little concoction made from 50 cm of hugging fabric, dipped in mouth-watering sequins, tied up at the back with two zany strings. As tools, these strings are an engineering device to prevent a plunging and wide-at-the back blouse from a wardrobe malfunction. But as metaphor, work is in progress to understand why they tie together the item girl, the bahu, the Bollywood “it-girl" and the fashion victim as one client group. All turning out a familiar prototype: behenji-turned-mod-turned-imitative dresser-turned-boring.

Who am I then to argue for the intelligent high-necked choli? “I find covering up sexier so I prefer high-necked ones with long sleeves," says the journalist friend, recommending a choli drive for my R&D.

An outfit from Joy Mitra’s Spring/Summer 2014 collection
An outfit from Joy Mitra’s Spring/Summer 2014 collection

What really started the fire was Madhuri Dixit’s Khalnayak choli in 1993. Vamp and villain rolled into one, it cocked a snook at the gapers and made Dixit the unquestioned protagonist of a chapter on “Life of the Bollywood Cleavage" that’s crying to be written.

Give it up for Dixit (don’t forget the dhak dhak blouse from Beta) for the critic’s choice Bollywood choli and to Mandira Bedi’s noodle-strapped bustier as the bodacious TV blouse. My vote for the finest boob buddy in fashion is for Suneet Varma’s gold breastplate worn by model Shyamolie Varma for his 1992 collection Birth of Venus.

Even Venus needed body measurements. So take this advice from assorted designers. Keep the bust point is cheerily high when masterji is sizing you up. Plunging backs work for most body types, including busty and plump women. If you are slim, you could add or subtract sleeves, short or long. But if weight is on your side, sleeves are a must, as are those twin strings, else the flesh on your back could bunch up inelegantly.

Slim-fit blouses tucked into petticoats only work for the waist-conscious. Short and stocky women should ignore full-sleeved shirt blouses as they look boxy and instead, try a crop top in stretch fabric. The old-style high neck with elbow-length sleeves is a classic (remember Rekha in Ghar?)—but tone your back first with lateral pull-downs to give it snob value.

Remember, you are displaying shape, not flesh. Flesh needs waxing but shape demands discipline. Ask your designer for inbuilt boob pads. If not, get a crash course on the right bras for blouses, detachable cup pads and transparent straps—our best boot-strings. My two-bits: Wear lacy bras under diaphanous blouses (I can’t get the image of Nanda in a white sari, a white see-through blouse and a white bra creating a three dimensional see-through game while playing wife to an angsty Shammi Kapoor in Parvarish out of my head). Last: Stop covering your blouse with your sari pallu. Sari and blouse, like spouses in a marriage (good or bad), need to be treated as separate entities.

The Body is a monthly column on the body’s language in fashion.

Also Read | Shefalee’s previous Lounge columns

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