I used to feel really great about my wardrobe and fashion choices. I had a look, I had preferred silhouettes, and I could hold up an item in a store and instantly know whether or not it would fit both my body and my wardrobe. I used to be able to spot a great piece with just a cursory stroll around a store. Shopping used to be very quick, easy, and enjoyable.
But for the last few years, something hasn’t clicked. I began to focus more on my career and less on my wardrobe, until one day I caught a glimpse of myself in a reflection. (I realize this sounds cheesy, but it’s a 100% true story.) To my horror, I saw my usually voluminous curls tied back in a ratty bun, sallow skin and makeup-free eyes, an unflattering key lime-colored polo (I’m a Fall – very much not my color), saggy black pants that were a little too short, and lumpy, faded black flats that accentuated my cankles.
Needless to say, this was a huge wake-up call for me. I barely recognized the girl in the reflection. I realized it had been forever since I had read a magazine, browsed any fashion blogs, or even stepped foot inside a shopping mall. Had I lost myself?
I realize it sounds like my life was spinning out of control, but in reality there were actually a lot of wonderful and amazing things happening in my life: I had recently gone to India and married my husband, and was swept up into this new Indian-American life. I brought back almost an entire suitcase filled with fancy suits that were gifted to me, as well as some casual clothing for day-to-day wear. I also picked up some jewelry, bindis and sindoor, clutches, dupattas, and juttis. I thought I was totally set with a new wardrobe and a new me.
But when I arrived home, I had a hard time reconciling my existing wardrobe of tailored neutrals with my bright, shiny, colorful new stockpile. On one hand, I didn’t want to simply wear a fully Indian outfit day-to-day for no reason. Not that I would have been appropriating Indian culture, it’s just that I’m American, I would look and feel out of place, and there really wasn’t a need for it. On the other hand, I wanted to infuse Indian pieces into my normal attire, but I couldn’t figure out a way that worked for me.
There is currently a trend called “Indo-Western” or “Indowestern”, which is a category of clothing that attempts to walk the line between Indian and Western styles, as the name suggests. While these designs are sometimes inspiring, the majority are either too weird to understand, or simply a provocative version of Indian staples.
While I definitely commend the effort to create a category that makes Indian clothes new and “trendy”, I also find myself disappointed that Indian fashion feels the need to Westernize in order to be modern. Why does a kurti have to be more like a shirt to be marketable? I understand that the category in itself implies the convergence of both cultures, but isn’t there a way to combine them without sacrificing their integrity and rich histories? Isn’t it just as “Indo-Western” to wear jeans, a kurti, juttis, and a sun hat?
I, for one, would much rather use my own creative energy to combine authentic pieces from both cultures to create my own unique version of Indo-Western.
I’m happy to report that I’ve been exploring Indian fashion and getting inspired again. I was recently at a local mall with my husband and for the first time in a long time, the pieces started to speak to me: a pair of shorts that would have paired so well with the right kurti; a top that would look amazing with a certain dupatta. Something finally clicked.
After a long time, I finally feel like I understand what Indo-Western means to me. I am Indo-Western, my husband is Indo-Western, and one day our children will be Indo-Western. We won’t teach them to speak a strange combination of English and Punjabi – we will teach them both languages separately. We won’t celebrate holidays that are a mix of Indian and American ones – we will celebrate Indian holidays the Indian way, and American holidays the American way. We won’t vacation in Europe because it’s in the middle of India and the U.S – we will vacation in India and the U.S. (and also Europe but that’s because we want to 🙂 ).
And when it comes to fashion, I plan to combine fully Western elements with fully Indian elements in the best way that I know how. I want to preserve my culture as well as my husband’s, and prove that neither has to sacrifice in order to look great together. So here is my pledge:
I pledge that I will wear at least one Indian and one American item every single day and work towards combining Indian and Western clothing in new, interesting, and respectful ways.
Note: I’m not counting my bindi or sindoor, since I wear them every day regardless of what else I’m wearing or doing. Also, underwear doesn’t count, so I’ll have to get creative when I’m wearing a full Indian suit on festivals!
I can’t wait to get started on this new fashion journey! If you have any tips, suggestions, or words of encouragement, please share them in the comments!