Travels in India, dress sense, east vs west

sari 2There really is nothing quite so elegant as an Indian lady in a sari. I don’t think any other national dress can even begin to compete and what is wonderful is that they are still widely worn throughout the country.  The colours are so vibrant, reds, oranges, turquoise to name hardly any (there is no such thing as a little black sari!) and the fabric and detailing used mean that they shimmer and shine and quite simply, exude brilliance. The lines are so clean cut, with just the elegant swathe of material across the midriff and over the shoulder, generating a certain flow.  They are stylish and sophisticated but also a bugger to wear, apparently.  Yes, all this elegance does come at a price. One can’t slouch in a sari, one can’t slob around in a sari, one must maintain a certain poise. Perhaps this is partly why one looks so graceful when wearing one?

IMG_4741Yet, most of my Indian lady friends (and the odd male, odd as in occasional not weird obviously, though that could be a matter of opinion) bemoan how restrictive they are and  just how difficult they are to wear. But, and I am expecting a backlash from many of my nearest and dearest, just how hard can it be?  I mean, they are worn the length of the country in varying situations, not just ‘for best.’  I have seen ladies on building sights, a stack of bricks on their heads, climbing ladders whilst wearing saris.  I have seen ladies digging fields, wearing saris. I have seen ladies shepherding several kids around markets simultaneously lugging bags of shopping, berating the market sellers for their inflated prices, clipping a child around the ear and ferreting through their hand bags whilst flagging down tuk tuks’, wearing saris.  sari 2 (1)

Now, I can honestly say, I have sampled many thousands of Indian experiences (nice plug for my company there) but, I have to admit, wearing a sari isn’t one of them.  You see, whilst I think that Indian ladies in sari’s look spectacular, I do think that they (how shall I put this politely?)  look a bugger on the western female.  Not that they look shabby in them, I do have a couple of western friends that wear sari’s incredibly well and with about as much aplomb as any western female could possible manage, but for me personally, I just don’t think it looks right.  It has shades of having dipped into the dressing up box, or just a little bit ‘wanna be.’  By all means don one for a Bollywood themed party, but I prefer to leave it to the ethnic experts to truly dazzle, which they do, pretty much without exception.

The other bonus about being surrounded by all this dazzling elegance is that it is very hard to ever be overdressed in India. And yes, for those of you who know me, I do appreciate the irony in this remark, never having gained a reputation for being anywhere near over-dressed.  But in India, if in doubt, frock up and you will almost certainly always be able to get away with it. No LBD (little black dress) will ever look out of place, no splash of colour, no designer frock and sparkly heels can ever overshadow a sari and you can bet your bottom dollar that several of your compatriots will be wearing them.

The shame in all this is, as the world frantically rushes towards all things western as being the path which the global population seems to want to follow, that the younger generations are now opting for that most inelegant forms of dress, aka western.  Jeans and shimmery tops, jeans and cropped tops, jeans and t-shirts and the occasional LBD.  Now whilst I have (I hope) merely gently berated the western female for going native, I also have to share my feelings on the Indian lady in western clothing.  You see, jeans and crop tops or a LBD are so walmartunforgiving.  Whilst it is impossible to look a mess in a sari, no matter your size or shape, you don’t even have to think about it, chose a colour that suits, throw it on and hey presto – elegance on tap; it is incredibly easy to look bloody awful in badly chosen western dress,  and sadly many are following this trend, with disturbing alacrity.  You see, you can’t just throw on any old skimpy dress or jeans and crop top and get away with it.  Western dress is also an art form in a very different way and it has to be incredibly carefully chosen in order to disguise the larger bits and emphasise other bits so that it looks anywhere near half decent.  This a kurta or saree does automatically, western dress does not.

Sari’s are easy, choose a 6m or a 9m (I have refrained from any comments re dress size and length of sari correlation), get the colour right and off you go. But for us over in the western world, we have to endure the torture of having a size 12 bottom and a size 14 top, or vice versa for that matter. Do straight cut or skinny jeans, boot cut or jeggings suit you better, full length, cropped, or with turn ups? Are you better in a fitted top or baggy, tailored or straight cut and do you suit a round neck or v. neck, square neck or polo neck? What shape are your legs, are you better in a mini skirt (rarely!), knee length, just below the knee or full length, straight, flared or tulip cut? It goes on and on and on.  walmart 2The biggest problem of all is also admitting your dress size, so many women choose to squeeze into a size 10, just because that is what they want to be, it just doesn’t work and this is what many Indian women fail to understand. I am not sure why, no matter the size, western dress is purchased a size too small, maybe because bodies have been so well hidden underneath saris or shapeless kurtas for so long and this is a new freedom, but take it from someone who has been dragged through the process screaming and kicking, tight doesn’t necessarily, infact rarely means stylish. No, western dress cannot simply be thrown together and got away with.

I don’t think that it is a case of East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet.  I love fusion Indian clothing and wear it all the time, I love the vibrancy of the colours that one can wear in India that you just can’t get away with in the UK, especially during the dreary winter. I love how forgiving kurta tops can be, my word, they hide a multitude of sins, or for those of you also attending slimming world ‘syns’ and I love the splash of colour a scarf can add to an outfit. Indian ladies can look fabulous in western clothing given the right choice for their size and shape but, to adapt the meaning of the poem for the purpose of a half decent finish:

East is East and West is west and never the twain shall meet

Till Earth and Sky stand presently at fashion’s great Judgment Seat;

But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed(ing), nor Birth (right),

When two dressed women stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth!

Which can make a smaller sized, wrong cut choice of western dress look fabulous

On the wrong shaped or larger sized physique.  

Christian Dior





  • ninagrandiose

    August 30, 2015 at 2:47 pm

    Unfortunately, over time, the sari, especially in north India, is being replaced by the salwar/kameez for everyday wear for its practicality and the sari is worn more on special occasions.

  • arv!

    August 31, 2015 at 9:05 am

    I’m sure type of clothing i.e. western styles and the sari -in this context, must have originated as per suitability. while the younger generation wants to look hip & stylish with western clothing, many of them don these clothes without thinking what suits their body!! you’re right that western clothes are unforgiving. well! fact is that Indian body are shaped differently than the most of females in west and its best to war something that makes you look good rather than simply aping someone! who would want to look at someone with love handles trying to pop out of tight tee??


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