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Postcard from India: Fashionista

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Dec. 13th, 2012 | 09:58 am

Women definitely win the clothing lottery in India. Salwaar khameez come in every color of the rainbow, styles from calf-length dresses covered in sequins and swirls to thigh-length plain tunic tops, and you usually buy all three pieces at once. If you do get separates at a mall, or go to a “matching store” to get your dupatta (the scarf normally worn backwards around your neck, tails hanging down behind you), even a male clerk will not let you purchase pants that don’t go with your tunic, or a scarf that isn’t an exact match for your pants.

The dupatta can be worn five or six different ways, used to cover your nose and mouth when the air is dusty or exhaust-ridden, wrapped over your hair if the auto-rickshaw ride is windy, and at a pinch, doubles as a hand towel or even kleenex. And as long as your pants cover your ankles and your top covers your rear end, you’re dressed correctly.

Sarees are a little trickier, and Western women tend to wear them several inches too short. However, they make a great bonding device. At the beginning of the day, I put on my saree and step into the world looking as if a seven-year-old has wrapped a present. Women approach me, almost immediately, and say, “Your saree, it is not quite…”

If I look pathetic and say, “Can you help me please?” I am whisked into a semi-private corner and strong fingers firmly re-pleat, re-tuck, and re-pin me until I can hardly breathe and my saree is correct.

The rest of the day, women murmur to each other, then shyly approach me, “Your saree, very nice.”

I say “Thank you!” and ask about their children.

This knowledge of clothing does not make me kind. It makes me a judging judger. I see a Western tourist, walking down the street with her boyfriend. She is wearing American-style leggings—skin tight, no bunch of extra-long fabric around the ankle—and a waist-length racer-back tank top, with a shawl thrown futilely over her chest. I think, really?


_____________________________________________________
There are much fewer cows roaming the streets in Mumbai. I miss you, cows.

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Comments {27}

Vice Captain of the Universe

(no subject)

from: sweeny_todd
date: Dec. 13th, 2012 03:02 pm (UTC)
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I love the colour that is Indian womens' clothing!

I have often coveted, but then got chewed out about cultural appropriation. sigh. I still think that there is something joyous there!

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whipchick

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from: whipchick
date: Dec. 14th, 2012 12:08 pm (UTC)
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I love it! And I don't think most Indian people would be bothered by it--around here, people come up to me all the time and compliment me for "Indian culture" and they all use exactly those words! Even in Canada, I had a taxi driver pull over and ask about my outfit when i wore a salwar khameez to a non-Indian wedding.

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(no subject)

from: michikatinski
date: Dec. 13th, 2012 03:06 pm (UTC)
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I've never been to India, but this transports me. I always find the colors of Monsoon Wedding enchanting.

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Dec. 14th, 2012 12:08 pm (UTC)
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They're making a Broadway musical of Monsoon Wedding, too!

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(no subject)

from: michikatinski
date: Dec. 14th, 2012 03:42 pm (UTC)
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*drools*

Can't wait!!!

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(Deleted comment)

whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Dec. 14th, 2012 12:10 pm (UTC)
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So glad you are enjoying them--people here are so kind, too! Several times a day, strangers come up to offer help just from seeing me look around, or even just looking like a tourist. They ask what station I need to get off at, and then remind me again right before, they find me taxis, it's all so wonderfully nice :) And makes up for the occasional over-charging/short-changing!

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tigrkittn

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from: tigrkittn
date: Dec. 13th, 2012 04:35 pm (UTC)
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I'm utterly fascinated by your stories of India. Love these posts!

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Dec. 14th, 2012 12:10 pm (UTC)
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Thanks! So glad you like them :)

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(no subject)

from: wolfden
date: Dec. 13th, 2012 06:10 pm (UTC)
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I love colors and the clothes from India. So beautiful.

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Dec. 14th, 2012 12:10 pm (UTC)
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I could watch clothes all day long here :)

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drwex

Thanks for sharing

from: drwex
date: Dec. 13th, 2012 07:25 pm (UTC)
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I love the social aspects of clothing in all cultures.

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whipchick

Re: Thanks for sharing

from: whipchick
date: Dec. 14th, 2012 12:10 pm (UTC)
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Me, too :) And I love that here the women are the peacocks!

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Andrea Blythe

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from: blythe025
date: Dec. 13th, 2012 07:40 pm (UTC)
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I love clothing as a conversation starter. They have some wonderful stores around the Bay Area here that have lovely sarees. I've always wanted to wear one. :)

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Dec. 14th, 2012 12:11 pm (UTC)
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You should! It's a little challenging at first, but very comfortable. I recommend georgette at first, as it drapes easily and the fabric is less bulky. Also--shhhhhh--my party saree is "ready-made" with the pleats already in it, and a hook :)

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Andrea Blythe

(no subject)

from: blythe025
date: Dec. 14th, 2012 04:49 pm (UTC)
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A "ready made" sari! Lol. I didn't even know those existed. I'm sure it makes life a lot easier for social occasions.

Also, are you living in Inida, I mean, when you're you're not flying around the world performing? Somehow I thought you were just visiting.

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Dec. 15th, 2012 10:51 am (UTC)
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It does - you can get them with just the pleats sewn in the front, or with the pallu (shoulder piece) pleats also in, and you can even get the underskirt sewn in, though I don't care for that style as much. The big fashion question right now is "Saree with tight stylish pants, yes or no?" The yes people think it looks fantastic, the no people want to know how you're supposed to pee (Sarees are held in place by being tucking into the waistband of the underskirt).

I was in India for five weeks and now I'm headed to South Africa (I'm in Johannesburg connecting to Cape Town right now). I'm on a six month sabbatical from circus, though I'll work in January and then take another three months!

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Andrea Blythe

(no subject)

from: blythe025
date: Dec. 18th, 2012 08:14 pm (UTC)
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Wow! What an awesome sabbatical! :D

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similiesslip

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from: similiesslip
date: Dec. 13th, 2012 09:47 pm (UTC)
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I admire your willingness and bravery in choosing to wear "their" clothing styles.

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whipchick

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from: whipchick
date: Dec. 14th, 2012 12:12 pm (UTC)
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Thanks! They're so much more comfortable, especially in the heat, and people appreciate the modesty and the desire to honor the local culture.

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blahblahblah, whatever

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from: kathrynrose
date: Dec. 13th, 2012 10:11 pm (UTC)
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However, they make a great bonding device.

I love this. I think if you expanded and wrote about your conversations with these women it would make a good NPR piece.

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Dec. 14th, 2012 12:12 pm (UTC)
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Ooo, I'll add that to my topics list! Thanks :)

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The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphors

(no subject)

from: halfshellvenus
date: Dec. 14th, 2012 01:22 am (UTC)
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Indian women's clothing is beautiful (and colorful!), but I sometimes wonder if it wouldn't become far too heavy in the heat. The more layers, the worse it gets!

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Dec. 14th, 2012 12:14 pm (UTC)
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It's not too bad - my salwar khameez are the most comfy pants ever, it's like wearing really loose pajamas :) And since shorts (and even skirts shorter than ankle length) get a lot of stares, I'm a lot more emotionally comfortable in one. Sarees are a little hotter, depending on the fabric, but it's all skirt on the bottom and the top exposes the tummy, so it's still pretty breezy.

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Rowan

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from: mzrowan
date: Dec. 14th, 2012 03:55 am (UTC)
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I'm totally loving these "postcards"!

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whipchick

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from: whipchick
date: Dec. 14th, 2012 12:14 pm (UTC)
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Thanks! More coming :)

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Jemima Pauler

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from: jem0000000
date: Dec. 19th, 2012 09:53 am (UTC)
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It sounds beautiful. :)

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Dec. 19th, 2012 09:20 pm (UTC)
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I could watch ladies' clothes ALL DAY :)

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