Samantha in a Sari

Western women wearing Indian clothing is on the rise & so are the scoffs.

As seen on celebrities and wanna-be celebrities alike, the trend of westerners rocking (or attempting to rock) saris and other India-inspired clothing is on the rise. With vibrant colors, patterns and styles, Indian formal attire puts our prom dresses to shame.

The real endearment is the embrace of culture seen in Indian tradition which flows over into their clothing and accessories. Whether or not it is OK for any ol’ American to wear a sari or don henna is a matter of taste, traditionalism and personal subjectivity.

Attributed to a rise in Bollywood popularity over the years in the west and/or the biggest embarrassment to the Real Housewives Enterprise (the couple who snuck in to the White House party where the respectable event attire included saris), images of western women in Indian clothing are more prevalent than ever.

Opinions on the matter greatly depend on age, race and the ever-changing personal view.

“While these women are not intentionally seeking to do any “harm” (and in many cases are exhibiting their fondness for Indian culture), to me, as a person of Indian descent, I find the whole spectacle rather patronizing and yet another effort to both “trivialize” and unnecessarily “exoticize” Indian women and their lifestyles,” International Business Times columnist Palash Ghosh said. “In short, Western women look ridiculous wearing saris and most of them likely know nothing about Indian culture.”

In his article, “Western Women Should Not Wear the Indian Sari”, 46-year-old Ghosh went on to say that it is a trend he can tolerate considering there’s not much he can do to change it.

“I think it's appropriate for anyone to wear saris, or any ethnic clothing for that matter, if it's done with good intent,” a young Indian American who was recently wed in Austin told the Chronicle. “I don't think for fun or costume sake is good intent but if you are, for example like my bridesmaids, of various ethnicities and in the bridal party of an Indian wedding, a sari is very appropriate.”

“For me it’s a compliment; why not? Something created in my country is worn by other countries – I’m proud of it,” New India Cuisine owner Anusuia Mangaokar said.

Mangaokar is a self-proclaimed liberal-minded person, having traveled and lived among many different cultures. For her, carrying on Indian traditions is a way of paying respect to her family, especially her mother. When home in India, she wears the respectable attire, which was designed to keep women looking modest while at the same time comfortable in the heat.

“In India there are a lot of celebrations done; every month there are two or three festivals celebrated so people can come together. It has become more of a trend that they are wearing very colorful (clothes) because every color means something,” Mangaokar said. “Like green, you see it at weddings; it’s a color of youth. Red, they wear when they get married. It’s the color of sex, like roses. Indians barely wear white. They wear white when they are widowed. We don’t wear black and white. We don’t wear very much black, because India is a very country.”

The tradition of applying henna (also known as mhendi) during special events has been around in India for ages. It is often applied in intricate designs to the hands and feet of brides, and sometimes the groom as well.

“Henna helps calming your body. It gives you a cooling effect,” Mangaokar said.

Turmeric has been used in Indian weddings for ages, another interesting and reemerging trend. “Indian women, when they get married, the tradition is to apply turmeric to their body,” Mangaokar said.

Trends come and go. People should be mindful of what exactly their clothing represents when attempting to be exotically fashionable.

The passing of cultural fashion trends among continents is a sign of globalization. How people deal with this is a science in its own right.

It boils down to respecting traditions, however you deem fit, and how the varied tastes of others will receive your interpretation of their culture. You might just have to wait for that Indian friend to ask you to be in her bridal party for the opportunity to appropriately wear a sari. Again, it’s up to you and how much possible eye-rolling you can tolerate if choosing to wear ethnic clothing in an everyday setting.

For Indian clothing shopping in the area, check out Marigold-Gateway to India in south Austin or Manju’s on Guadalupe Street.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

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