How to Wear Indian Style to a Non-Indian Event
By Navi Sidhu
You receive an invite to a work party, a non-Indian wedding, or a gala of some sort. What do you wear? Do you wear something you already have or do you go shopping? More importantly, do you wear a dress, a skirt, pants, perhaps (dare) rock a jumpsuit, or do you defy all expectations and wear a sari or salwar suit?
I have, in the past, worn a sari to events at which one would not expect to see culturally specific attire. Including at least once as a friend’s date to a sibling’s wedding. Another instance was to my husband’s (then boyfriend – gasp!) work/school Christmas party. These were instances when I was a poor student and couldn’t just go buy a new dress but I had many saris on hand.
Now it’s been over a decade since I’ve worn Indian attire to a non-Indian event. I’m not quite sure why. It may be that I already own many dresses that need a night out on the town. It may be that with so many Indian weddings to attend (see Style Tips to Survive a Marathon Indian Wedding), I appreciate getting glammed up in non-Indian fashion. It may be that I adore shopping and the hunt for a new dress gives my late night web surfing purpose. Or it may be that I don’t want to scream I AM INDIAN to everyone in the room.
Whatever the reason, I’m happy to wear a dress when given the opportunity, but I do sometimes find my Indian accessories and jewelry sneaking into my non-Indian wardrobe.
If you do wear an Indian outfit to a non-Indian event, here are some of my style tips to avoid looking like a Bollywood extra who wandered off set (unless you want to):
- Keep it simple: Indian outfits can be really bright and colourful with heavy or shiny embroidery – I save those for Indian events. Try to keep your outfit to a single colour and avoid options with too much embroidery or too many laces (gota). In the same way that either your lip or your eye makeup should be bold or that a dress should either be tight or be short, wearing an Indian outfit might be novel enough without it also being orange and fuchsia (although, see the vest below – oops!).
- Be thoughtful: Many Indian outfits are much more extravagant or dressy than their non-Indian counterparts so consider what you will look like standing next to someone wearing a simple LBD.
- Keep it appropriate: I would avoid a lehenga choli that shows off midriff and I would drape a sari so that the midriff isn’t obvious. Out of context, a belly button can be a strange thing to see.
- Accessorize appropriately: You do need jewelry with more presence than your everyday studs to carry an Indian outfit, but avoid large or very ethnic pieces – reserve those for Indian events.
I do love to use my Indian accessories with non-Indian outfits.
Here are some tips to bring Indian flavour to your mainstream:
- Add a print: Bringing in a sari printed purse or scarf is a good way to incorporate some ethnicity so long as the item isn’t too casual for the event.
- Add a stack: Stack a couple of your simpler bangles to adorn your wrist.
- Split it up: Wear either the earrings or the necklace of a less intricate set.
Mild: If you’re looking for “mildly Indian” I would start by adding one small accessory.
Why this look works: The red and gold bangle offers a pop of colour and offsets the minimalism of the rest of the outfit. You do want to tie in the one lone piece so that it doesn’t seem misplaced; the gold of the bangle is repeated in the clutch and I would repeat the red of the bangle in my lip colour.
Medium: If you want to try the Indian look with a little more spice, you can add an Indian piece that makes a statement.
Why this look works: A plain, shapeless LBD has been given structure and interest with a bright, embroidered vest over it. Again, the black of the vest and dress tie into each other which makes the vest flow with the rest of the outfit. I’m aware that this vest is not for the faint of heart, but note that all of the accessories are very simple and I’ve only added one small piece of jewelry, a statement ring. I would wear my hair in a ponytail and also keep the makeup very clean, with a muted coral or fuchsia lip.
Spicy: If you like it hot, you can try a bonafide Indian outfit.
Why this look works: This sari would be considered very mild for an Indian event due to the colours and the thread embroidery with a simple, soft gold border. Simply wearing a sari will make a statement but the muted colours will avoid undue attention. I’ve kept the accessories very simple here; small earrings and one bangle, neither are Indian but I have worn them with Indian outfits.
These are some tips and tricks that I have used to style these outfits. These are not hard and fast rules and I don’t always follow them – I broke one of my own “rules” just in the span of this article. You’ve got to stay true to your personal style and do what works for you. Besides, what’s the fun in getting dressed if you can’t take a fashion risk now and again?!
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