My mom walks up to an Indian American woman at the local TJ Maxx: “I love your outfit. Where did you get it?”
Wash. Rinse, Repeat… for months…
This post is essentially the guide to purchasing casual and formal Indian clothes in America when you have never done it before and don’t take regular trips to India. (A.K.A. How my Mom, Sister, Grandmothers and Cousins bought clothes for my Sangeet and Indian Ceremony.)
Here is the epic tale of my Mother’s struggles, so that you can skip the extraneous odyssey yourself.
step 1: Check out an Indian bridal expo
As Indian Weddings become more popular in the U.S. (are vendors see the $$$), there have been several Indian Bridal Expos popping up in major cities. My Mom went to one in Boston, and I visited one in D.C.
Pros: They have the latest trends in wedding clothing
Cons: Still breaks the bank and selection is limited
Mom found two outfits that seemed fittingly formal: one for Dad and one for herself. Since this was the beginning of the search, both seemed colorful; but as she would find out, American’s “colorful” is “subtle” in an Indian context. Excited about having an outfit and worried there would be no other options, she bought the gold and red, relatively muted salwar suit and a matching red kameez for Dad. She would ultimately wear this to both the sangeet and the reception in Mumbai. But if you knew my mom, you’d know that one was not enough… there may be a diamond in the rough waiting for her to find it… plus a growing number of relatives wanted Indian outfits, including my grandmothers!
Step 2: “Stores” out of people’s homes
At the expo, my Mom found out that the majority of the “stores” in the U.S. are really just people who have brought back outfits from India and are selling them from their homes.
Pros: You can probably try on items
Cons: You may find it weird to shop from someone’s home. Would they take returns and exchanges? Is it finding a needle in a haystack?
My mom skipped this option.
Step 3: Check out the local Indian stores (if any)
Cons: The prices are astronomical. $300 is a bit much for something you don’t feel confident in and know you’ll only wear once.
Google brought my mom to the store Raj in Waltham. The pre-made outfits she was selling were far too expensive, but she offered a deal: if my mom brought the fabric, she would sew salwar suits for $60 each. This was music to my Mom’s ears. She could pick out the perfect fabric to match my grandmother’s favorite colors for a reasonable price.
My aunt however did find something reasonable that she liked, blue saree:
Step 4: Outfits from scratch
Pros: You can customize and can actually be cheaper
Cons: May be difficult to find a reliable seamstress
My Mom took the Raj owner up on her deal. Together they drew an example of the salwar she wanted – the length and neckline. Mom picked up a light blue and light teal for each of my grandmothers, along with matching trim (aka bling) so that they didn’t feel too informal.
The owner asked for her to bring back “Indian weight” cotton for lining. Add that to the bill. Next, the owner asked for an additional $10 because the trim was complicated to added. A seamstress herself, my Mom knew this was reasonable.
Then the real trouble rolled in. As the wedding got closer, the delivery date kept pushing. My grandmothers were eager to try on their outfits, just in case they needed to find an alternative. My Mom isn’t terribly forceful, but she continued to follow-up until a week before the wedding, she finally got the outfits. The salwars weren’t as drawn: the necklines were different and lacked the princess seams my Mom asked for specifically. And Indian girlfriend warned me this is typical for Indian seamstresses; you have to be very present and pushy to get exactly what you want. They tend to improvise. Also, the trims were a bit loose, so my Mom re-secured the sequins and pearls.
Conclusion: Overall, my Mom said she was 60% satisfied, but insisted the price was still a steal. My grandmothers looked and felt lovely, so I suppose you could call it a success.
Step 5: Online
Pros: Wide selection, great prices and convenient
Cons: Sizes are variable and shipping can be unpredictable
At first they were afraid, they were petrified… and then the cheap outfit they ordered arrived quickly and as pictured. After my Mom’s trials, my sister turned to the internet. Not only was she able to search and filter by the color and style that she wanted, but the prices were reasonable and shipping relatively quick.
Warning: It may be a given that the outfits will need alterations. I’ve consistently found that clothes made in India are tight around the chest and armpits. Luckily, they also include a lot of fabric at the seams, making it relatively easy to alter. My Mom is a great seamstress and made small adjustments to most of my garments. Hopefully, you have someone nearby who can do the same!
Conclusion: Go online! Even if the garments aren’t perfect, they’re cheap enough to come up with an alternative quickly. Check out Amazon.com and Utsav!
The clothing breakdown for the wedding:
Mine – Lengha picked up in India
Mom – Salwar Kameez from Bridal Expo
Sister/Cousins – Anarkalis from Amazon.com
Mine – Silk Sarees my MIL picked up in India
Mom – Saree from my MIL
Sister/Cousins – Matching Sarees I asked my MIL to pick up.