you are what you wear (kind of)

Although it may not seem like it at first arrival into this foreign land, the women in South Asia have a lot of variety in the way they dress. And I don't just mean the colors. My friend, Chrissy, asked on the other blog if it's hard to wear a sari, and I thought it might make an interesting blog to some of you.

The picture above has several styles of clothing represented. On the right half of the picture, you see two women wearing salwar kameez suits. A
salwar kameez consists of three pieces - a long shirt (kurta), a pair of baggy pleated pants with tapered ankles (salwar) and the scarf piece (dupatta). The salwar pants are usually one size fits all at the waist because they are drawstring. But you usually have to take them to the tailor anyway to get the length you want, and sometimes get them taken in a little. They are very comfy. Usually, the dupatta and the salwars match each other, with a coordinating kurta to complete the look.

The dupatta, by the way, should almost always be worn with a suit if you want to stay modest. That's because it represents the woman's virtue, and you stand out pretty big time if you don't have on a dupatta with your suit. You don't play with your dupatta, men should never touch it, and it shouldn't drag on the ground. Unfortunately, they are very annoying, because they slip off easily and also are pretty hot. Husband calls them stupattas. I would agree.

The woman in pink is wearing a suit also, but instead of salwar pants, she has on tight legged pants called
churidars. Her kurta is also longer than what you normally see in the Capital and other cities in the north. I'm not sure if she chose this for stylistic reasons, or because she is from a different state.

The woman in green is of course wearing a
sari (or saree). I posted about it before that there are several ways to tie sarees based on the region you are living in or the design of the saree. This woman looks to have hers tied in the traditional way. Saris are very difficult to tie and wear, but they are definitely fun and flatter most figures. Since they are 6-9 meters of fabric, they are obviously heavy. Not only that, but South Asian women can spot a cheap sari a kilometer away, and I've been told that we foreign women look odd when we walk in saris. That is probably true, because they can be very awkward! Underneath a sari is what is called a petticoat, which is basically a straight long drawstring skirt. It has to be drawstring and it has to be tied tightly. (not good if you have flab you'd rather camouflage!) Also, a short top ("blouse") that is tailor made is worn under the sari as well. Let me see if I can sum up the traditional tying process into one sentence: you wrap the sari around once, tucking it into your petticoat along the way, then take it and fold in 10-15 or so pleats, tuck that big piece under your naval and attach with a safety pin, then wrap the sari around one more time, this time under the right armpit, across the chest, and then over the left shoulder. Whew. Keep in mind, the pleats have to be just so, as well as the length of the sari. Stylish sarees are worn long, and cause lots of tripping. Add in heels, heavy fabrics with heavier embroidery, and sucking in your tummy the whole time, and there you have why South Asian women think we walk strangely when wearing sarees.

Some women wear burqas, like in the picture to the right. (notice there is also a woman in green, wearing what you now know is a salwar kameez) Because the culture is very modest, most women will do their exercises in salwar kameez suits. The men will be out jogging in shorts (which they never wear any other time) but the women are still out power walking with their suits, dupattas, and tennis shoes. I even saw women in suits at the gym that I went to last year! However, clothing tends to be more modern in big cities, especially with the younger generations and in the "posher" areas of town.
And then for fancy occasions, women will sometimes wear a long skirt with a top and a dupatta, altogether called a lehenga. The traditional bride will wear a lehenga. If the woman wears a short top with spaghetti straps, that is a choli, and I've only seen this in Bollywood. I'm sure the super modern women wear them as well, though.

Something interesting is that women will even swim in their suits or sarees. Or wear swimming costumes. (Andrea will probably be blogging about that soon!) A 50-something Auntie I know went parasailing in a beach city down south a few years ago. I have never seen her in anything besides a sari, so I asked if she wore a sari while parasailing. She laughed and said something like, "Oh goodness no. Obviously, I wore a suit." She thought the question was ridiculous - of course she wouldn't wear 6 meters of fabric and a petticoat ; for water sports, it is far more practical to wear baggy pants, a knee-length shirt, and a scarf. (said with a facetious tone, of course :)

When I first moved here, I couldn't tell the difference between village-y fashion, upper class fashion, fancy or every day suits. My friend Priya even once told me that my fashion sense was pretty bad. (said in what she thought was a very helpful way!) Now I can usually recognize cheap from expensive, or North from South, but not always. There is just so much variety to the clothing here that I don't know if I would ever understand it all!


SouthAsiaRocks said...

Fun post :) I love all the different clothing styles :) There's so much to learn as far as style goes here! There's also the different types of fabric and the types of fabric you should wear what times of year and where.... it's all so complicated :) haha!!
Fun post :)

Dana said...

Wow! And I thought the way they dressed here was ridiculious and uncomfortable. You sound very culturally educated to me!!

Deanna said...

That sounds so complicated! Thanks for sharing. I love how colorful everything is and how it's beautiful. Here everything is subtle, modern, tight-fitting and sometimes gender-confusing. Rarely beautiful. The photo of you on another blog getting your nose pierced is priceless - you look great!!!

Dana said...

Well its just a little unpredictable. Some people have had their packages opened with things missing. Thankfully it hasn't happened to me yet. You could say anything that is slightly related to gov. is going to be corrupt. But it was such a fun package to get. Mom was sad b/c it came the day after my birthday.

Christine said...

Oooh! I feel honored! That was a great post. I feel enlightened.

My parents will be leaving the country for three years in a few months from now and I now have them looking back on your blog to see what to write about! You've done a great job - I will miss the S Asia posts.

Tales of a Girl said...

I don't think I realized at first how different the clothes were...until that day. That day was when I moved from a village in HP, where I considered myself one of the most fashionable girls in town, to a very big city in the south. Man, did I look like a hillbilly. Maybe I'm beginning to get it, but I doubt that I'll ever really be one of the most fashionable girls :)