How to Shop for Indian Clothes in America (Wedding Trial #3)

My mom walks up to an Indian American woman at the local TJ Maxx: “I love your outfit.  Where did you get it?”

Woman: “India.”

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)

SriHeather_Ceremony_Small-79Pros: You can try on clothes in the store

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:

SriHeather_Ceremony_Small-348

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.

Heather_Sangeet_Small-173The 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.

Grammie

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

www.utsavfashion.com
http://www.utsavfashion.com

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:

Sangeet

Mine – Lengha picked up in India

Mom – Salwar Kameez from Bridal Expo

Mom and Dad Indian Outfit

 

 

 

 

 

Sister/Cousins – Anarkalis from Amazon.com

Heather_Sangeet_Small-809

Ceremony

Mine – Silk Sarees my MIL picked up in India

Mom – Saree from my MIL

Heather_Ceremony_Small-1130

 

 

 

 

 

Sister/Cousins – Matching Sarees I asked my MIL to pick up.

Cousin in a Saree
Cousin in a Saree

Wedding Trial #1: The Guest List

Hand HoldExcuse me?  You want to invite who?  His dentist from 3rd grade?  His father’s  dry cleaner?  His 3rd cousin 5 times removed who he’s never met?

I’m not being dismissive to disrespect any of these wonderful people… I’m letting future MIL’s and FIL’s know what it sounds like to an American bride when she’s reviewing the Indian in-laws’ guest list.  For American brides and grooms, the guest list can be the greatest subject of contention.  Mostly, it involves many awkward conversations with people who want to go, but you have no room for.  Luckily, it’s generally understood as the norm and doesn’t hurt too many feelings.  In fact, it’s frowned upon to cause a (public) stink if you’re not invited.  But for Indians… it’s not so simple.  Before I get into why, let me breakdown an American couple’s mindset to make it as understandable as possible.

Why are American Brides & Grooms forgiven if they cut the guest list?  Why is it acceptable for American Brides & Grooms to stick to a number between 50 – 200 guests?*

  1.  The American Wedding is allowed to be “intimate.” This is the Bride and Groom’s day! You’re told that this is the most special day of your life, and you really only want the people you care about most to surround you.  You don’t want a near-stranger messing up your dream day!
  2. It’s EXPENSIVE!  Food, favors, transportation… the cost per guest adds up quickly.  You don’t want to be paying for any-ol’-person, who may or may not be in your life 5 years down the line.
  3. The venue has a limit.  For every bride that lies and says, “The venue doesn’t allow too many people, so we have to keep the guest list down,” there is a bride telling the truth.  The increasingly diverse and unique wedding venues on the market often have a cap at 100, 150, 200, 250, etc, simply because of space, number of bathrooms or the fire code. (They also have a minimum for specific nights, but that’s no help at the moment).

* There are many, many exceptions to this. For example, I know some religious communities have a very large ceremony and a smaller reception.  But this has been my experience and the internet wedding industry seems to support this.

I would like to note that I never thought I’d be writing this.  All of my adult life, I always said, “When I get married, the most important thing to me is people.  I will sacrifice other places in the budget to have everyone I love there.”  However, after the initial month of meeting with vendors, I understood what I was truly up against.  It helped that I didn’t get married until I was 29.  By that age, you realize you’re not as close with your freshman college roommates or you know that your first boss won’t keep in touch 5 years later.  I was able to reduce my list without more than a sleepless night or two.  Seeing how many actually accepted is drama for another post…

CoconutsIndian families follow one saying: the more, the merrier!  Or more accurately: the more, the more blessed!  Indian families feel very strongly that EVERYONE should be invited.  To not be invited is an insult.  Imagine a rural village in India.  When a wedding comes around, you invite the entire village!  It’s not uncommon even today to jump open the doors of the wedding hall and let anyone come in for a meal.  For my husband, parring down the list was heart-wrenching.  For my in-laws it was nearly impossible.  They were positive they would need a hall for at least 350 people.

From what I can tell, this perspective is based on at least three principles:

  1. The more guests, the more blessings!  There’s no cap!  And who doesn’t want good luck and blessings?
  2. The wedding is a merging of two families and two communities, not two people.  This is a day for the families.  The wedding is very much a platform for the parents, much like America many decades ago, I might add.
  3. What goes around comes around.  If everyone invites everyone, you will be repaid for your investment with many, many wedding parties in the future.

There are probably more philosophies behind this, but these are what I’ve devised so far.

So, how do you have an Indian wedding in America without going bankrupt?  Do you have the wedding in India? Is it even cheaper there?  How many relatives would have to travel?  Can they even get visas?

How do you have an American bride’s dream wedding in a small barn or chapel with 300+ guests?  How does an American bride still feel like it’s “her” day, when she sees a sea of unfamiliar faces?

The answers aren’t just about the numbers or even about culture.  They’re about feelings too. My next post will tackle the many combinations of weddings for an American/Indian couple. And I’ll let you know what we chose to do… including the regrets.