Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Basics of the Pardesi Dress Code - Picking Out Punjabi Suits

I'm not telling you all to go out and purchase a specific type or color sari. That would be naive. I am sharing some thoughts and ideas with you so you don't look out of place or embarrass yourself by looking out of fashion.

The first thing to remember is that you're not Indian. You should never try to be Indian through your dress style. Any Indian woman would tell you that even they don't wear clothes that don't suit them. I know women that won't wear churidar because it doesn't flatter their figure and I know married women who only wear salwar to hide their bodies from onlooking men. 

Furthermore, the dress styles will be different in each area of India. So primarily this dress code applies to most of Punjab. Fashion in Delhi and Mumbai is completely different. Still, this may help you when determining what you want to wear.

While most of what I'm posting here might seem obvious, it's not something you would normally have to do in an American store. Picking clothes in Amritsar is quite different and you will likely be bombarded with suits you don't want in colors you don't like in an attempt to make you happy quickly. Don't let it overwhelm you and be firm in what you want and what you're willing to pay for. Not every suit shop wants to sell you their best quality. Some will take advantage of you not knowing the language, etc. and will give you the crap no one else would dare buy. Just think about it, you're visiting a man's store who has spent his whole life learning how to sell to customers. He knows you and how to sell to you before you ever walk through the door and he knows you don't understand local fashion, etc. He can see determine that by your indecisiveness and inability to quickly answer his questions about what you want.

****The wealthiest women in Amritsar are starting to wear more jeans and kurtas or western shirts as everyday fashion. Do not expect to put on a simple cotton suit and fit in with the elite. This tutorial applies to everyday around the house clothing, party wear and wedding attire.

Your Tailor
It is imperative you find a good tailor. This is not easy. So to start out with use the one your family uses already. Be very clear and concise with what you tell her you want. Don't ask her to make your suit into a western-style, she most likely won't understand. Keep it simple for her by asking for something she should already be familiar with. Then be prepared for her to mess up. So DO NOT...I repeat...DO NOT go out and buy an expensive suit as the first thing she ever makes for you. Get a cheap cotton suit to wear around the house. One you don't intend to wear out anywhere.

Regardless of how good she is, she is not familiar with your body. Not only that but many westerners tend to have a larger bone structure than Indian women and she will not likely be aware of this. Expect the tailor to make mistakes on the first suit and you'll either have to have it adjusted or possibly pass it on to the maid depending on how bad the mistakes are. Trust me, you don't want to waste a 15,000 Rs suit or have ripped out stitch lines in it if she had to let it out for you.

After you've gotten all the kinks worked out with your tailor and she's making your suits just like you like them then you can get a party wear suit or sari and ask her to make more complicated designs. You'll have a relationship established, she will know what you want and how to make the clothes for you.

Picking Cotton and Every Day Suits
The best thing you can do for yourself and your body is to wear cotton. This lets your body breathe and helps keep you cool on hot days. Before picking, it's good to know a little about cotton fabrics.
  1. The first thing to do is pick up the whole suit (preferably before the seller unfolds it) and mentally note whether it is heavy or light. Heavier weights mean better fabric (or a higher weave). In the summer you will want the lighter weights and in the winter, heavier weights. 
  2. Visually inspect the kameez fabric. You can see the tightness of the weave. Naturally, cotton with a tighter weave will let less light (and subsequently air) through. So in the summer you want a loose weave and in the winter, tighter weave. 
  3. Visually inspect the design. Whether it's a cheap suit or high quality suit it's bound to have some picks and pulls in the design. Find them and give them a little tug. This will show you how loose the threads are or if it's just random. If there's a lot of loose threads, you know it's a cheaply made suit and you should not pay much money for it.
  4. Rub your whole hand across the fabric. You will feel irregularities, stiffness, rough fabric, etc. Pay close attention to how your palms feel because this fabric is going to touch sensitive parts of your body. If it's rough on your palms, it won't feel better on your sensitive areas. 
  5. Run your hand along the back of the fabric across the design. You're feeling for sharp edges from any sequins or sparkly threads. You don't want these scratching you either.
  6. Check for fuzz. If the fibers seem fuzzy then it's likely the cotton was not singed to remove it. This is low-quality cotton and the fabric is much more likely to pill and look ratty quickly.

Picking Nice Suits
These are for outings like the mall or dinner. They can be cotton, silk, polyester or other synthetic materials. The difference between these and every day suits is the embellishments. Typically there's a lot more embroidery and bead work on these suits.
  1. Check the fabric for picks where the threads are coming loose and other imperfections. 
  2. Check the design and embellishments to ensure they are sewn on well.  Pay close attention to the edges of the design. If it is sewn on (and not embroidered into the fabric), make sure the fabric was pre-washed before it was. If not, the fabric could shrink and leave the design looking crooked and unkempt.
  3. Wet your finger (you should always have bottled water with you when shopping in the markets, especially in the summer months) and touch one corner of the fabric. Hold your finger there for a few seconds then check to see if your finger is dyed the color of the suit. If it is, the dye job is not good and your suit will change colors with each wash or worse - dye everything else you own too! Don't spend a fortune on something you can only wear once before it needs to be handed down to the maid.

Picking Party Wear Suits
Party wear suits are worn to special events. You should never wear these to the mall or an ordinary dinner out. Special occasion dinners at nice restaurants are fine but they're not suitable for the local dhaba, visits to tourist attractions, etc.

  1. Pick up the entire suit. They can be quite heavy (some up to 40 lbs!) and you need to consider how long you will be wearing it. You do not want to put on an extremely heavy garment and have to wear it for 8+ hours. If it's your wedding, then by all means pick out any dress you want because you'll be sitting down a lot anyway. 
  2. Never pick a heavily ornate suit to wear to someone elses wedding. Just like in the west, it is unacceptable to be more decorative than the bride. I know that sounds hard but trust me, you do not want a heavily decorated suit. Dress down some.
  3. Check the garment thoroughly for any picks, holes or damages. The ornaments on the garment have been known to cause damage to the fabric. Turn the garment over and observe the back side so you don't miss anything.
  4. Check the back side of the garment for loose threads. You do not want to purchase something that is already falling apart. 
  5. Check the front side of the garment for missing stones. All the designs should be consistent. Even the most pricey boutiques have damaged goods. This is a universal concept. Don't let all the sparkly stones go to your head, you still want to get your money's worth and you want a garment that is made right. 
  6. Find a special tailor who knows how to sew the fabric you purchased. Not all tailors will be skilled in sewing silk, etc. Just like with your cheap suits, test their capabilities on something meaningless before you give them your expensive party wear. 
What other tips would you recommend based on your experiences?
Do you have any tips for other areas of India?
Do you have tips for larger cities in Punjab?
How do you avoid getting ripped off or cheated while shopping in the bazaars and markets?


  1. I lived in Delhi so this advice might just be applicable to the city. YMMV.

    Going shopping with your friends or family (preferably people close to your age) is absolutely indispensable, no matter where you are.

    Avoid any print that you might see on your bedsheets. :D Exception: actual block print work from actual artisans. Just keep it fresh and funky and don't get something with the same pattern printed all over. One design in the border and a contrasting one in the rest of the kameez - or no design at all - is classic and won't go out of style anytime soon. Make sure to follow all the tips in the main article about fabrics.

    If you don't want hassle, go shopping in the malls. You're likely to get fairly decent quality and fashion-forward things and all prices are fixed. Stores like Shoppers Stop, Westside, Fabindia are good if you're in cities. My advice is five years old, but I wasn't too impressed with Shoppers Stop "ethnic wear" but Westside is great as is Wills Lifestyle.

    I still wear a ton of my Fabindia stuff YEARS later - just be careful with black, red and indigo-dyed fabrics as the colors do run. Always make the first wash in cold salt water.

    Dark colored suits are considered more formal than light colored ones. Jewel tones are always a hit.

    In Delhi, dupattas are often optional these days even with ethnic wear but carry one with you anyway, even if you don't wear it.

  2. Thank you! You're right, always keep a dupatta with you. It's important in case you decide to go into certain temples or if you need a way to cover your face, etc. Definitely a versatile accessory.

  3. Comment left on FB via Noelle Koshy.

    someone who has suits made for her without the tailor ever having set
    eyes on her, I can say that it is extremely important that
    the tailor takes proper measurements (I had my sister help me take
    mine, but usually a tailor would do this). Have them measure everything:
    across the shoulder, upper and lower arms and a full arm measurement,
    around the bust (in a bra that you would most likely wear under the suit
    and preferably a good bra), collarbone to waist, waist to top of leg,
    around the hips and waist at widest parts, upper and lower leg and full
    length leg and inseam, around the wrists and ankles, around the upper
    arms and thighs, top of waist to crotch. If you want a good tailored
    fit, make sure these are done right and accurately. If you like your
    clothing a little loose, then add two inches to all the width
    measurements (I personally would recommend this around the bust to
    accommodate for the...ehem...difference in lift between different bras).
    If you're going to go to a tailor at all, make it worth it by getting a
    good set of measurements taken."

  4. I say if you live in a big city and are new to India better stick to fixed price outlets like Westside, Lifestyle and Shoppers Stop, there might even be some ready made suits that will fit or need very little alterations that can be taken free of charge by the store in question. I had Shoppers Stop cut the long sleeve on a Kurta I liked into short sleeved once.
    That said Shoppers Stop is the most annoying, they have a nice selection these days but the staff has that nasty habit of shadowing people and breath down their neck. I much prefer Westside for casual ethnic. People in Mumbai are also more the mix and match type of people, finding full suits is not as easy as it was a couple of years back in retail chains, the advantage of the mix and match system is that you can buy a kurta you like and pair it with bottom you already have or buy something that fits you int he bottomwear section.
    Fabindia is good, but it's has a lot or artisanal dyes, they will fade and need to be washed speparately for a few washes, especially if the garment comes in shades of red or dark blue.

    One of my tailor tip for party wear is to first head to a reputable shop, and ask them directly which tailor they recommend, they all know a few that works for them from time to time, they are far more likely to know how to cut a suit right because tehy are used of treating with exigent customers shopiing for a bridal trousseau. When I got married I did my bridal shopping at one of the big boutique in Bangalore, and I asked them if they new any good tailor, that lady stitched all my saree and my lehenga perfectly without me needing to even ask for any correction to the finnished outfit. Big stores will not tarnish their reputation recommending bad tailors, especially for lehenga choli that can go in the 20-50k range.

  5. Same in Mumbai, the Dupatta is very optional, but depending where you go it still comes handy to have one even if you don't wear it.
    I think that actually in most big cities in India ladies are doing away with the dupatta more and more even when weraing salwars teamed with a kurta.

  6. Cyn, your tailor tip to go into a reputable shop is gold worth! Until now I had only rather affordable fabric to be tailored but I ALWAYS ended up with suits which were only after the third or even forth change bearly wearable (different tailors, mind you!). I will try that one once back in Mumbai with my more pricy fabrics.

  7. I had bad tailors too, they seem to take your measurements and then decide after wards that they might have hallucinated them and still stich something that will be too tight, or have one sleeve bigger than the other..sigh, like you I didn't care it was cheap fabric but it's still annoying to have to go back 3 times just so they would get the arm opening and chest circumference right, I'm 42 inches at the chest, it's not weird, and no I won't fit into 38 inches just because they are more used to that measure! I'm not even fat, so that is probably what misslead them, I am tall and have a heavy bone structure and broad shoulders.

  8. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I think Shoppers Stop is overpriced for what they sell. I found the exact same product (brand, quality and all) at Reliance Trends many times. The associates at Reliance were much less annoying as well.

  9. It is and that's always the store I visit last when I am looking for something, the only time I shop there first is when I have enough points on my credit card or my loyalty shoppers card to get myself I would otherwise not buy :-) I could still bear with the prices, but the staff is beyond annoying, there have been many instances of me just leaving the store without buying a thing simply because their breathing down my neck was wearing super thin, they still don't get the hint it seems, everybody I know complains about the same thing.

  10. Hahaha, I can absolutely relate. I am a lil bigger, but still slimmer than some of the Indian aunties but when it comes to my bust area the tailor visit gets nearly tragic.

  11. I want to find out what tailors in Delhi are expected to charge because I think that I have been over charged at 1500r per suit and in the punjab, similar suits cost me half the money to get stitched and they were beautifully made with lining. Dori , zip etc. This tailor Sewed some suits and charged me about 800r so I was expecting to pay similar amount but she has jumped to double the rate.

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