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Just What Is A Desi Girl To Wear?

Just What Is A Desi Girl To Wear?

April 11, 2012

As NRIs are we always confused about what is the appropriate party wear?

Have you ever sat on the bed staring at your wardrobe wondering what to wear for the night out? Should I wear the bright pink salwar? Or is that too colorful? What if everybody else comes in jeans or party wear? Should I wear the new dress from Macys? But then, what if everybody wore traditional salwars and thought I was the NRI? Should I wear the jeans with the Kurta? But isn’t that what I decided on last time too?

When we get invited to a dinner with Americans or to a party hosted by them, the choices are quite easy. We blend into the crowd with just a pair of jeans and a top or become the center of attention by wearing a kurta. Either way, we don’t feel odd and singled out. It’s only when the party is hosted by Indians and that too, Indians with good taste and mixed audiences I get confused. I don’t want to look too conservative wearing a salwar, neither do I want to sport the NRI chick look by wearing a plunging neckline with little regard to the male audience. What to wear or rather what not to wear is the million dollar question.

That being said, for a while now, I was very comfortable wearing clothes which I furiously shopped for during my last trip home. I would not buy those sweater dresses even though they would fit me well and flatter my complexion. I stayed away from anything revealing even a wee bit of cleavage. There was this voice in my head that kept saying my mom would never approve. I never wore mascara and hardly stepped inside Sephora or Bare Essentials. I was part of a clan that thought make up is for insecure women. Dabbing a little bit of lip gloss would make us feel empty inside. So I was prancing around in turtle necks and blouses that covered my throat until mom told me that I should get more stylish. SIGH!

Something else happened that changed my perspective on the words wardrobe and dressing. Recently my husband was conducting interviews for a position in his workplace. When he finally found a candidate with enough experience and knowledge he was sure the guy would fail the next round. Not only was he dressed shabbily, his communication skills were abysmal. As Indians, we think if we have the knowledge we can get the work done effectively. Nobody should question us on how we look. The irony is that Indians in India dress more elegantly than Indians abroad. They waltz into Bebe and Banana Republic while we stick to JC Penney and Macys. We treat ourselves to Ann Taylors and Ralph Lauren only occasionally.

As NRI’s, our mortal fear is how fellow Indians will judge us depending on what we wear. How do we make that transition without choosing sides? Once we sport the uber cool dresses, would they ostracize us and exile us to the category of NRI’s who have left their India behind? Does sporting the Indian look alienate us from our fellow Americans? Would a dab of eye shadow make us look slutty? Does lip gloss equal flirty? So I stuck to my compact and kohl. \

After three years in the US, I’m getting used to the pedicures and facials. It is not a sin to pamper ourselves. And while we mock Caucasians for dabbing on lipstick just for a trip to the mall, strolling around in jeans and oily hair doesn’t make the cut either. As Indians we always strive to sharpen our intellects but tend to go easy on our physical appearence. We make excuses for overgrown eyebrows and chipped nails. We convince ourselves that it is not important. French women would disagree the most. What is life if you cannot make yourself look and feel better?

While we hope to let our minds speak, we tend to forget that our clothes create that first impression
. Isn’t it important to look suave, svelte and professional even if we our intellects are superior? Springs is here and before we embark on our ritual spring cleaning, let’s take a closer look. Just remind ourselves that fellow Indians are sporting finer leather and sleeker outfits and we don’t need to stick to the salwars and kurtas to prove that we are Indian enough. Treat yourself without making excuses and remember this won’t cut into your retirement fund. 


  • obsessivemom
    14.04.12 10:56 PM
    You're so right.. quite agree with your dillemma despite being all Indian. The safe thing to do would be 'fusion' I guess ... a traditional kurti wuth jeans.. works for me, specially since I just can't sport a sari after the kids came along.
  • Amruta
    13.04.12 12:54 PM
    Totally get what you are saying. It is creditable how your brought all aspects to the table and portrayed every NRI woman's dilemma. Wonderful piece!
  • megha
    13.04.12 01:24 AM
    Very interesting post - I do often have the same dilema - and I see myself mostly under dressed. because i am always thinking..ohh no one will dress up for this..but sure enough the heavy suits are out. I wish we Indians wrote in our evite how to dress.
  • matheikal
    12.04.12 09:04 PM
    What I find funny about women is that they like to expose their body in order to get the attention of men but when men actually pay attention they hate it :)
  • Bindu Gopalarathnam
    Bindu Gopalarathnam
    12.04.12 07:43 PM
    Can totally relate to this post. I think it took me more time to decide what to (or what not to) wear than getting ready . It took me years, but I’ve reached a stage now, where I wear what I feel comfortable in and carry myself better unless there is a specific dress code. And on a side note, I normally include the dress code while hosting a party to relieve others the same confusion that I go through.(with the exception of the last one, if you know what I mean ;))
  • Vikram Karve
    Vikram Karve
    12.04.12 05:54 PM
    A very insightful blog.
    My advice:
    When in Rome do as Romans do
    All the Best
    May you look the best in whatever you decide to wear
  • Atheist Indian
    Atheist Indian
    11.04.12 10:43 PM
    Strictly, a male perspective, so treat it as such and nothing more.

    If you want to stay on the safe side, dress Indian. As a desi, you are 'expected' to dress Indian so you can't go wrong. However, if you want to look elegant and presentable, dress what flatters your body type and projects the kind of 'image' you want to project. Forget about whether a dress is 'Indian' and 'western', these are just labels.

    I agree with you, Indians do take physical appearance for granted, which is quite lame, considering how we look and present ourselves is what makes the biggest impression.
  • Vineet
    11.04.12 07:20 PM
    I think the fact that a Saree can be custom stitched from the Pleats area.. is prob. the easiest, most glam & sensuous drape that not only makes one look & feel indian as well as be ready to look divine!
  • Veby
    11.04.12 03:14 PM
    Great one! Well written,Meera!!
    However, I am agree-but-not-completely over all this situation I would say! Though I have never been outside the country and even never among NRI for a long time, still I feel Indians are no-more Indians-by-clothes most of the times, neither In India nor outside!!! How could you forget that long list of name of big Indians across fashion industry worldwide. We are driving the entire world to look cooler, gorgeous and now don't to hesitate to present ourselves pretty ahead when it comes to have attractive, not-just-traditional-every-time collection of attire!!! From authentic Indian wear to trendy dresses, Indians girls are quiet aggressive in all sorts of dressing styles( at least I think so)!
  • Ekta
    11.04.12 11:30 AM
    Hi Meera,

    I live in Singapore. I would disagree a bit here. When I am confused, I always wear Indian. In Singapore, Indians take efforts to dress just as they would if they were in India. Wearing a elegant bright salwar suit or nice sari does it for me, even in parties hosted by westeners. This doesn't mean I don't wear western dresses. It all depends what you feel like that day.

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