A Non-Indian Woman’s Guide to Indian Clothing
Terror crept upon me as my boyfriend (now husband ) echoed, “I’m going to introduce you to my parents in two weeks.” I swiftly blurted out what in the world am I going to wear? He gestured “we’ll have to get you some Indian Clothing to wear.” I thought to myself, from where? I didn’t want to look like a buffoon, or the black girl that was trying too hard, the black girl that just did not have a clue, the black girl that obviously doesn’t have any Indian girlfriends to help her/like her/rooting for her. I had watched several Bollywood movies with my boyfriend and noticed how the women in the movies looked so vogue and feminine in their sarees, salwar kameez suits, and lehengas (no, I could not differentiate between the garments at the time). I just knew, like most Americans that Indian women wear some very colorful and beautifully adorned clothing that isn’t readily available at a department store in the U.S.
With my boyfriend as my wing girl, we went on a massive hunt for Indian attire throughout downtown Chicago. Of course, we got “looks” as we traveled from bouquet to bouquet. My boyfriend was quick to diffuse any confusion by asserting that “I’m going to introduce my girlfriend to my parents soon.” “Can you help us find her a salwar suit for the occasion?” Some mumblings of words eschewed between the boutique owners and then they would pull out a variety of non-US sized outfits. Size thirty what, I thought to myself? What is that? How do they know what size I am? I haven’t tried it on. Then like magic 9/10 times the size they choose fit. I had found one outfit we both liked for the occasion. However, I had secretly wished there was more of a selection for me to choose from. Luckily, I had made some great Indian girlfriends through my husband who also helped me look presentable. One, in particular, went above and beyond and brought me some items of her own to wear just in case. I know you are waiting to hear about each of the clothing styles, how to figure out your size, and even some places to find quality Indian clothes. So let’s get to clothing styles first!
Indian Clothing Styles
The Salwar Suit
When you see the # on the tag (e.g. 28-40+ it represents the bust size of the clothing).
In U.S. terms for ready-made salwar suits, lehengas & saree blouse:
- xxs, size 0, 28 bust, waist 22, hips 32
- xs, size 2-4, 30 bust, waist 24, hips 34
- s, size 6-8, 32 bust, waist 26, hips 36
- m, size 10-12, 34 bust, waist 28, hips 38
- l, size 12-14, 36 bust, waist 30, hips 40
- xl, size 16-18, 38 bust, waist 32, hips 42
- 1x, size 18-20, 40 bust, waist 34, hip 44
For custom-made Indian clothing, which lehengas and sarees traditionally are, you will have to have your bust, waist, and hips measured or know the measurements.
When To Wear What
From my experience for formal occasions such as weddings/wedding receptions sarees are often the attire of choice. However, if you don’t know how to wear a saree then select a lehenga or salwar suit. For casual events (e.g., a kids birthday party) choose a salwar suit; otherwise, you may look overdressed in a lehenga or saree.
Any color you love or highlights/works with your skin tone works.
However, wearing all white is customarily observed for funerals and red can be worn for most events with the exception of weddings. Red is commonly the color worn by an Indian bride. Similar to how white is traditionally worn in the U.S. by a bride.
Coordinating accessories are a must to finish off your look including a set of bangles, earrings, and a bindi or tika.
How To Set A Tika
Check out the video below on how to effortlessly set a tika on your forehead.
Where are they (online and brick and mortar)—these are not paid endorsements, just my experience.
this online store was my go-to place for finding a lehenga for our destination wedding and numerous lehengas for parties, sangeets, and weddings, etc. They have a wide variety of clothing for men and women and coordinating accessories. *Shipping times can be slow because the majority of their inventory comes from India. However, they do have a U.S. based store in NJ that offers a range of readymade clothing and faster shipping. Additionally, they frequently have pop up events in cities throughout the US. Sign up with them online to find out more about their events.
2.) Indianclothstore.com and Kaneesha.com
I have heard great things about these two online stores.
3.) Indian Friends/Girlfriends-ask to raid their closets.
Thanks again to those friends that brought me clothing from theirs.
4.) Amazon.com & Ebay.com
Both Amazon and Ebay seem to have everything these days.
5.) Other Places To Look
Check out your local community boutiques. How to find them? Look for Indian websites and online magazines based in your community. In Charlotte, we have an Indian magazine called Saathee. You can subscribe to Saathee (for free) and find out about all the Indian festivals and events that will have clothing showcased at them for you to buy or glare at.
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