Thursday, July 9, 2015

Wearing Indian attire when nobody else is wearing it

There are a lot of people out there (Indian and non-Indian alike) who are afraid of wearing Indian attire - especially when outside of India. Thankfully, neither husband-ji nor I fall under that category. Even if that means we are the only ones wearing it, we represent it proudly!

Last month, we attended a family friend's baptism which was held at a beautifully historic Italian church. The baptism was around noon, followed by a reception lunch at a local community centre. For weeks, I was musing about what I should wear. Lately, I have been wearing a lot of colorful long maxi dresses which I can hike up to my knees if we are going to the beach. Wearing maxi dresses has become my day wear this Summer (like I wore for Maya's birthday); and if we go to dinner, I have been wearing my beautiful embroidered Salwar Kameez sets (like I wore for husband-ji's birthday).

For the baptism event, I decided to wear a cheerful hot pink Salwar Kameez; Maya wore a matching block-printed Anarkali; and husband-ji wore a dapper maroon Kurta Pajama. On top of that, stylish husband-ji wore his matching red velvet sunglasses and traditional embroidered shoes!

  We were the only ones wearing Indian attire that day. Our outfits were greeted with collective gasps and coo's, with people remarking about the beautiful craftsmanship. One girl said she "loved my saree" (and I told her it was actually a Salwar Kameez, and thanked her). One Canadian-born Indian girl came up to me and told me that she loved my outfit and that she wished that she had the courage to wear hers too. All the guys went nuts over husband-ji's outfit, asking him to style them too. I felt really proud of our outfits that day, and that we wore it with elegance and poise. There have been many times where I have worn Indian attire to non-Indian functions. 

Many Firangi Bahu's only wear Indian attire to Indian functions. Many will say they avoid wearing it because they don't want "unwanted attention". On that, I call bullshit. As a mixed couple, we are going to get "unwanted attention" anyway - so we might as well look fabulous! 

Indian attire should be worn and cannot be confined to one type of event only. If you feel like wearing it, just wear it! Even if it stands out, carry it well and carry it with pride. A lot of times, people are so concerned about what others are wearing that they completely lose their own intuitive sense of wearing what they want to wear. And that day, I just wanted to wear some hot pink!

Working in the Fashion industry, I know that you're supposed to wear things that make you feel good. You should wear things that are unique, and suit your personality and mood. You should dress for yourself, and not dress for others. And you should always dress a little fancier than normal - because it's better to be well-dressed than not. Spend on quality, and always wear things that are comfortable.

Part of the reason why Westerners are apprehensive about wearing Indian attire is because they are not exposed to it very much. Westerners don't know how or when to wear it. Indian attire looks fancy to them so they may only wear it to functions, if they wear it at all. Many Indians who live abroad choose not to wear Indian attire. Unless you have lived in India, you'll have no clue that Indian attire can actually be worn every day. It can be worn to school, work, dinner, temple, travel, functions. The only thing that depends on the type of event is actually the intricacy of the fabric, not the attire.

The first trick about wearing Indian attire in the West is that you can't overdo it - don't pile on the accessories, and also keep your hair and makeup simple. I also prefer to keep my jewelry to a minimum - for example, I wore a small antique Ganesh pendant with a gold "M" on it, to the baptism. And, in order for something to look effortless, you have to be confident and wear it with ease. If you want to represent India through your clothing, you have to know what you're wearing - respect the style, craftsmanship, and the process. If people are asking about it, tell them what it's called in it's proper name, and tell them how you got it made, and the ways in which you can wear it. And also, wear it only when YOU truly want to wear it. If you have to force yourself to wear something, you're not going to do the garment any justice.

I was not afraid for us to be the only ones wearing Indian attire. In fact, I was very proud!


What we wore:
My Salwar Kameez and matching purse from Taruni
Husband-ji's Kurta Pajama from Manyavar
Maya's Anarkali from Biba


Dear readers, have you worn Indian attire to non-Indian events? 
Have you often been the only one wearing Indian attire?



  1. Wow... Lovely all of you look.! Love ur salwar suit but if its from taruni I can actually estimate how much you got ripped off. Haha.. Taruni was really famous once upon a time for its exquisite designer pieces and being the only one in park lane. But now millions of shops have sprouted in the very same parklane and with malls too, the choice is endless. :)

  2. When I am back home visiting in the US I wear mostly Indian clothing.
    I get all sorts of compliments & oohs & aahs!!
    Like you I don't feel the need to wear a lot of jewelry or accessories as my Indian attire is often heavily embellished with embroidery, beading or gemstones.
    It's also a great conversation starter as people wonder what the tall blonde lady is doing wearing Indian clothes?

  3. Alex,

    You both look lovely in your new outfits. Such a gorgeous family! Love to see you in your indian outfits they are so beautiful.


  4. Oh yes! You always need and must wear what you feel confortable and happy to wear. I myself really don't like salwaar suits, they make my look bulky and boxy, and it is even worse with the dupatta. So When I feel like wearing something ethnic, especially in the Winter, I go for stretch churidars. Which basically are leggings, it remove a lot of the boxy look Salwaars give me, and I loose the dupatta, I HATE the dupatta worn as a dupatta. As a shawl or a throw with a tea shirt, fine, not with a kurta.
    In the hot months I feel far more comfortable wearing palazzo pants and tee shirts, or shorts and Kurti paired together. I accessorise accordingly to make a very casual pants and tee look a bit more dressy for most occasion. I really only keep the full ethnic regalia for uber formal events where I really could not go wearing anything else.

    Even in India you will have some people looking and questioning what you wear, and I really don't give much of a hoot anymore. I also am. To much for gold, so I wear funky Jewellry too.

    1. Those leggings are good so long as the kurta paired with it doesn't have slits at the closed kurta which during even a slight rustle of the wind doesn't move. There are actually particular types of kurtas available to wear with leggings. I have seen women in India wearing all kinds of kurtas with them. Sometimes I want to scream at them saying leggings are not pants. Just wear jeans instead. They basically stick to your skin. It's just like a coloured version of your lower body. And when the area gets exposed it looks horrible.
      I think they got popular because the actual churidars are quite confining. Unless tailored perfectly which not all the tailors in India can do that.

    2. Sorry to disagree with you, leggings are pants, remember the 80's when we used to pair them even with a t-shirt. That you personally don't like feeling that exposed is one thing, totally understandable. But it is not a crime to wear them differently. Like most I wear them with whatever kurta I want. In the winter month you might even find me roaming around in my neighbourhood wearing them 80's style with a sweater or a tee shirt.

      I would love to know what a leggings expose that a pair of skinny jeans or a pair of yoga pants does not really.

    3. I don't think you got my point at all. What anyone chooses to wear shouldn't be my concern by any means. In India women take leggings to be formal wear which here in California isn't. Since I was onsite in India for 6 months where even sneakers and jeans aren't allowed in India's office it is a little surprising to see women wearing leggings. I didn't understand why jeans wasn't allowed and leggings were. When questioned I got the answer that sarees and kurtas are ethnic formal and leggins are just churidars which they are definitely not. Even during a major presentation a woman chose to wear leggings where her kurta rode upwards during the session, it became a problem. It just is awkward.Of course later she got a good talking to later by our project manager. I certainly do not know about other work places but I know you cannot wear leggings with a T-shirt to work in any corporate/private office unless it is in the fashion department . It just isn't done here like it is back there in Bangalore.

    4. True, leggings are really out these days in the West and it makes me sudder to think I wore them in the 90's. Then, personally, I would never wear Indian clothes at a non-Indian venue in the West because I am not Indian and I don't define myself primarily as the wife of an Indian man, therefore I don't want people to notice me or talk to me because of Indian clothes. However as a lover of textile and fashion, I like to wear discreet reminders of Indian textile skills. (Padparadscha)

    5. You might want to at least keep you updated on where I live if you are to play Miss Lecturing.
      I live in Mumbai, haven't lived in Bangalore since 2011. And it is funny that it is the second time this week that someone online assume I am Bangalore based.

    6. Hi there, I'm quite confused! I bought a lovely (second hand) kurta which I adore, it is very long but has slits up the side. I bought matching new leggings to wear with it but I'm hearing I absolutley need pants and leggings aren't ok? The kurta is very, very long but there are slits up both sides...I don't want to embarrass myself so your thoughts would be greatly appreciated!

    7. Leggings are ok, this is how a lot of Indian ladies in India wear kurtas nowadays and the fashion this year has gone back to very long kurtas too. The current trend is to wear them over leggings or palazzo pants which are loose cotton pants that are fitted at the waist and gradually flare down the length. Some are so wide at the ankle that they look like you are wearing an ankle length skirts instead of pants.

  5. I love all your outfits -- they look fab!

    When I was living in India I would wear Indian clothes every day. I loved it because Indian clothes are so comfortable and it was so easy to get dressed in the morning. I would just scan my pile of kurtas and choose the colour I felt like wearing that day then select a matching salwaar or churidar and dupatta and I was ready to go.

    Now I live in a small village in Croatia! I sometimes wear a kurta with jeans but that's about it! If I wore a full Indian outfit I would definitely stand out but I'm not the type that likes attention!

    Before leaving India I gave away most of my clothes, keeping only the saris and kurtas I really like. When I go back to India for visits, it's such a pleasure to wear my Indian clothes again!

  6. Your daughter is so cute, god bless her.

  7. I love this article :)
    so inspiring take care and god bless xo

  8. I love wearing my suits...I don't love finding the time to iron lol. I do have several I can wear that don't require that much ironing but those I wear with jeans or leggings so I have to be in a setting that calls for those.

  9. My wife wears indian outfit everyday and that too Saree. She is american. Looks gorgeous in and always gets complements. Once she walked 20 mile (it felt like one :)) long dunes wearing a saree. Indian girls were surprises/super impressed.

    I think there is a balance between wearing indian outfit vs western. If you are invited to an event with a dresscode, one needs to respect that.

  10. Hi Alexandra! My husband and I just found your blog. He's Tamil and I'm mixed, Latina and Caucasian. Reading this post inspired me to wear a salwar to a non-Indian event. Thank you!


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