Thursday, December 6, 2012

Basics of the Pardesi Dress Code - How to Make Sure Your Suit "Fits"

There's many aspects to what fits. Here in the US we tend to wear our clothes loose fitting and comfortable but most of them are still based on standardized sizes. The majority of us don't have our clothes tailored. In Amritsar it's the opposite. Most clothes are made specifically to fit the individual and "ready-made" clothes are not the norm for women.

So how do you know what fits? How do you know if you look okay? While I'm sure your desi partner means you no harm, it's not likely he will tell you the suit isn't perfect, isn't stylish enough, etc. They may not even know. After all it's not a mans place to understand women's fashion is it? Nope. So even if he helps you out a lot and does most of the work helping you pick a suit there are many things you still need to know yourself. Also, try to remember your partner probably has on his love blinders so if you don't look so hot to the rest of the country, you might still look cute to him.

In the beginning you should try out a wide variety of clothes. The easiest and cheapest way to do this is to go to the mall and try on several styles of ready-made clothes. You'll want to get a stretch churidar (leggings with extra long legs so they bunch up at the bottom), pajami pants, standard salwar, patiala salwar, lehenga skirts and pretty much anything you see on the rack you've never worn before. (Go for're in a foreign country, you're not leaving the dressing room with it, no one will ever know you experimented with Desi clothing that one time. lol)

Go to the dressing room and try each one of them on. Observe yourself in the mirror. Take photos if you can. Try them on in sets or as singles. Take the pictures from multiple angles. Enjoy yourself and try to get an idea of what you like right away. Take pictures even if you don't like something. Then go home and look through all the pictures.

Notice how your legs, calves, ankles, hips, arms, waist and chest look in the clothes. Does it flatter you? Would you be 100% comfortable wearing this in public with the entire city staring at you while you do? Take the time to seriously consider these questions. Talk to your desi partner and get their thoughts and ideas. After all, we're our own worst critics and it's better not to rely solely on our own opinions. Then sleep on your thoughts and check the pictures again the next day to be sure.

After you've decided what you like and don't like, then you're ready to pick out suits and send them to the tailors. There are several important points to keep in mind when picking out or getting suits made for you.
  1. Generally, armholes are much tighter in Amritsar than in America. This reduces bulk at the armpit.
  2. Clothing is form-fitted and shaped like an hourglass. Punjabi's are NOT baggy sweatshirt type people. If you try to achieve this look you will look awful I promise.
  3. Baggy clothing is out of fashion and baggy Punjabi suits do not look good on anyone. You will look old and a lot heavier than you are.
  4. No, you can't cinch your kameez with a belt the way you would a sweater dress here in the US. It's simply not done and the look is not flattering.
  5. Small designs that cover the entire kameez without any embellishment are typically house suits. Most women only wear them to clean the house in and would never leave the house in them. 
  6. Solid colors with no design are generally only worn by maids or other service professionals.
  7. Your suit is customized. You pick the style of pants, length of the kameez, design of the neckline and length of the arms. Have your way with it. If needed, download pictures from the internet, print them and take them to the tailor. You can also ask for an elastic waist rather than the tie string.
  8. Most married women don't wear pajami pants or stretch churidar.
  9. When wearing pajami or stretch churidar pants, wear a longer kameez. You will want your thighs and booty covered. Only salwar look good with short kameez and you also don't want to attract the extra attention to yourself. A common/popular length is just above the knee.
What are some other fashion tips you've learned when wearing Indian or Punjabi suits?
What are some fashion no-no's you've seen?


  1. You have a lot of good points, Kristy. I think many Americans initially think Indian clothes are baggy, so they don't need to be form fitted. But, whenever I have worn it too baggy, I know others think I don't care about my appearance (Indians) and I simply feel frumpy :(.

    Some of the rules for pattern/design may be area specific. I don't see that so much in Kochi. I feel as long as it's form fitted many salvaar kamiz/churdhars are ok. But, I have noticed that most women over 40 and especially 50 in Kochi wear saris, and rarely salvaar kamiz as compared to youngsters and rarely western wear unless it's for work related purposes, though I think many prefer saris.

    I have seen 'rules' for pattern of sari based on age. These are a bit complicated for me to understand. I know once in Chennai I went to buy a sari and the shop keeper said 'That's an old lady's sari. You shouldn't wear that."

    I personally think the kamiz should fall below the behind for the pants to look good, whatever type of pants one wears. Besides, that mank salvaar and chudhidar pants can be kind of to very transparent. This is not easy to see in the store, but easier to see out in the sun. It's quite embarrassing!

  2. Remember, the looser the weave, the more transparent the material. So make sure all parts you want covered remain covered.

    The only exception to the 'solid color suit' thing I have seen is Fabindia. I love my simple white, black, and purple kurtas, and I can mix and match with the white, red, black, blue, pink, and yellow salwars as I please (but not the red and purple together, yuck.)

    And I tried on a suit in Chicago that was just a milk chocolate salwar with a dark chocolate kameez and it was fantastic. I hated walking out of the store without it but with no embellishment, no way I was paying $60. I might have my seamstress make me something similar if I can find good fabrics. If you want to wear solid colors, you need to have good fabrics. Thick, textured.

    Churidars are more fashionable than salwars these days in Delhi. Married women do wear churidar. Really slim girls can get away with a "short" kameez (just above the knees) and a churidar but if you are heavy or collect weight below the waist, it isn't a flattering look; keep the kameez long; at least below the knee if not mid-calf.

    Longer kameez are more formal as well. I wouldn't wear a long kameez out just for shopping. The rules are different for Muslim ladies, for whom long kameez never goes out of style.

    That's all I can really think of on the salwar suit front.

    Sarees are a different animal altogether and are indeed daily wear in the south (and also in Kolkata but not among younger women generally.) I'll leave it to Jennifer to talk about sarees as I have never really worn them as everyday wear (but am looking forward to tips since I know I *will* be doing this at some point in the future!)

  3. I don't feel right in baggy salwar kameez either. It really feels more like rags than a nice outfit if it's not form fitted at least somewhat.

    I do remember something about patterns when I was shopping but I don't dress like anyone else lol. I was very picky about my suits and had a specific style ordered for me. Most of the women in my neighborhood didn't wear the same style as me but, I wasn't concerned with fitting in. I wanted to wear what i liked and that's what I did. Within reason of course.

    I also agree with the kameez lengths. The few I saw that were shorter didn't appeal to me. But, I was the kid always wearing long shirts when I was younger too. I don't feel comfortable with shirts of any kind that don't cover at least 75% of my backside.

  4. More great tips! Thanks for sharing. You also brought up a point I completely forgot. Muslim's are a minority in Amritsar and so it was rare to see the women but when I did they always had on longer kameez. When I shopped at the Pakistani stores which were geared toward Muslim fashion their kameez were always longer (and more girly btw) than the typical Punjabi kameez.

  5. Another thing that has totally fallen out of fashion and will make anybody look far rounder than they are is the matchy-matchy look, as in the kameez and bottom made in the same fabric or hue. No longer done people, these are called Auntie suits by a lot of people, contrasting is the way to go and probably why a lot of younger ladies go for mix and match, even in dress material to bring to the tailor, contrasting a light coloured printed top with a solid draker hue bottom, or the other way round adds far more definition to one's figure, basically it turns a person into a person and not a pastel blob with legs and arms.

  6. Good point, block colors are acceptable in higher classes if the fabirc is good quality and textured indeed. And yup I don't think I saw that done well outside Fab India. One thing to really stay away from when going for solid colours is the synthetic chiffon, this is looking very frumpy.

    Churidars are the thing in fashion in Mumbai too, especially stretch churidars as they are low maintenance, but I find them far too thick to wear in a hot climate, they are great in Winter though. But there is no denying that stretch churidars are even better at defining the body than the regular drawstrings one because it elimates the slight bulk of farbic that gathers around the waist and hip once the drawstring is pulled which even make a mid tights kurta looks nice with them.