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 #2: One Wedding or Two?

Great!  You’re engaged!  And your fiance is Indian.  Now it’s time to plan a multi-cultural wedding.

You’ve worked through so many cultural difference in your relationship, this one can’t be that different, right?  Maybe.  But more likely, this will be the most complicated and fraught merging of cultures so far.  Just to start, it involves the complexities of culture, religion, emotions, social pressure and In-Laws!  I’m going to walk you through our process (or more like my process, because as much as I love my Husband – we haven’t mind melded just yet.)

First thing first, I took some time and asked myself, “What do you want?”  A lot of people will ask you: “What has your dream been since you were a child?”  But I think this is more harmful than helpful.  There is no guarantee your image has stayed the same or that you even have one.  The question is: What will make you happy?  What will you not regret (regret doing or not doing)?

Second, what do your two families want and how much do you care?  It’s a fair question – you can disregard their opinion all together.  But when you’re in the moment, that may be harder than you think.  I know I would have regretted not at least asking my parents opinion on certain things.

Side Note: One factor in our decision was that my in-laws pleaded that we not move in together before we got married.  We already lived separately, but we were so ready to start the next phase of our lives and be together that this was a big concession.  However, it did mean our wedding planning would not linger.  We got engaged Jan 1.  And we wanted a wedding August – October of that year.  Good news – it can be done!

This is what we netted out with after some soul-searching:

I want: A modern American ceremony (loosely structured on Christian traditions) in central Massachusetts where several generations of both sides of my family have lived.

He wants: To go to Court tomorrow, move in together immediately and save a bunch of money

My family wants: Whatever I want as long as they’re there

His family wants: A traditional South Indian Hindu Ceremony with as many of their family members involved as possible – close to 300 invites

Everyone wants: A really fun party

Conclusion: Since my Husband respects and loves his parents dearly, he was inclined to do what it took to make them happy.  **Note: This decision was debated and fought over on at least one destroyed date night. We almost decided to not have the wedding and save the money.  But only minutes later, I caved.  Life is short.  What if one of us died young?  I wanted the memories.  I wanted my family to feel involved in creating our new family unit. As they say, “You can’t take it[money] with you!”  So, Court was out and at least one wedding was in…

But it was then that a running theme emerged from the discussion: equality.  If we had an American wedding and not an Indian wedding, it would be difficult socially and emotionally for his parents. So it was either court or two weddings.

Now, how do you make it work?  The easy answer might seem like – have two ceremonies and one reception in a day!  But this is easier said then done.  We had friends, a North Indian and Chinese couple, get married this way.  It worked because the North Indian ceremony is relatively short and the Chinese tea ceremony was even shorter.  However, the Tamil ceremony can run 2-4 hours.

Here’s how it broke down for us:

My Worry #1: Could we find a space that holds that many people that would also give me the ceremony I dreamed of?  I’m a fan of nature, historic buildings, gardens…  I would need a hotel ballroom to hold 300.

Answer:  I would do the American ceremony elsewhere and then end up at a ballroom for the reception.  No problem!

In-Law Worry #1: If I feel strongly about Massachusetts, can we get the Indian family there?

Answer: “It might be too difficult, so let’s do a completely separate Indian wedding.  Sunshine, be free and go plan your American Wedding.  We will plan separately, that way we won’t interfere with your dream.”  This was difficult for me as I wanted everyone to feel involved, but I was overwhelmed and trusted it was the right course.

In Law Worry #2:  If not Mass., Where?  And how much would it cost?

My husband’s parents live in D.C. – wouldn’t it be easier to orchestrate something there?  The prices would be higher than India, but fewer people would attend since price and visas would be an issue for international visitors.  Most of the extended family lives in India – wouldn’t it be better to have a full Hindu wedding in India? Their family would be closer, but amongst their peers, his parents would have to fully embrace the traditions, making it much larger and more expensive than holding it in America.

Flash to me on the venue hunt for the American wedding.  I was trying to balance atmosphere, price & convenience.  I was torn between the Colonial Inn and Chocksett Inn – the pros and cons were not the same but seemed to balance themselves out.  I would wake up at 3am unable to sleep and tortured by the choice.  My time was running out.  Each venue had only one Saturday or Friday date left that year, and it was going to go fast.

Colonial Hotel - Venue Option
Colonial Hotel – Venue Option
Chocksett Inn - Venue Option
Chocksett Inn – Venue Option

 

 

 

 

 

 

That is until my mom insisted that we check out The Harding Allen Estate in Barre, MA.  The historic mansion was built to be a replica of the Newport Mansion by an eccentric, wealthy New Yorker.  It had the exact “Jane Austen” feel I wanted, with immaculate gardens and a real historic flair.  Plus, the ballroom was built to look like an elegant tent, but with climate controlled. The owner was the caterer, making the packages extremely well-priced.  I made sure to read between the lines and found a few hidden charges/rules, but felt I could comply.  They could fit 225, way above the 180 that my Husband and I felt was the maximum we wanted to attend.  The one major con… it was 30 minutes from any hotels.  I felt guilty for giving on the convenience category, but promised myself that we would hire transportation.  There was one Saturday left – Labor Day weekend.  Crap… that means some people would be upset that they had to spend the vacation at the wedding.  My parents insisted that anyone I truly want to be there, would make the effort to come.  After a quick call to my Fiance, who wasn’t able to make this trip up North (we made a venue trip up 2 weeks prior), I wrote a check for the deposit on the spot.

Harding Allen Estate - Winner!
Harding Allen Estate – Winner!
Harding Allen Estate Ceremony Space
Harding Allen Estate Ceremony Space

 

 

 

 

 

 

My parents, sister and brother-in-law sat with me at an Au Bon Pain to digest what had just happened.  I was slowly letting myself accept that I committed and get excited.  I called my future MIL to tell her the good news.  But right after I told her, she replied, “Good.  We decided that we’re going to have the Indian wedding following right after the American wedding.  That way our closest relative traveling from India only have to travel once.  We’re heading up to MA to check out venues that can accommodate our number next weekend.”

Then I did something unexpected: I burst into tears.  I had just made a commitment on a venue catering solely to my dreams based on one set of information.  Now, I was being told my base information was incorrect, and there was a whole other set of variables.  I couldn’t handle the pressure or the guilt.  His entire family would be traveling from far and wide to the middle-of-nowhere Massachusetts and go to an American Wedding 30-50 minutes from their hotel and 2 hours from Logan airport.  Both sides of my family worked to calm me down.  They emphasized that at some point you have to make a decision and move forward and told me everything would be perfect.

And they were right.  Everything did turn out perfect, but it was a long road to get there.  Part Two of this post will include how we determined the location of the Indian Wedding and exactly how we would schedule two weddings in one three-day holiday weekend.

Thanks for reading!

Please email me at samosasandsunshine@gmail[dot]com if you have any questions about this post or want me to elaborate further.