Though I was leaving home for seven weeks, I didn’t pack too much in the way of clothes. Running clothes may have made up half of what I packed. I brought 3 pairs of jeans (which was at least 2 pairs too many, it is far too hot for jeans), and a few pairs of shorts and tank tops that may be acceptable when I travel to Delhi or around the house but I wouldn’t wear outside here. The plan was to buy a couple of traditional outfits when I got here. I was hoping to get a pretty sari, though I admit now I didn’t actually have any idea about how a sari is worn.
Now that I am here I can say that saris are worn quite frequently, but I have rethought my plan to get one. Saris are traditional Indian dress but I’m not sure how light weight and cool they are, after all its 6 yards of fabric wrapped around your legs. Saris also require that you get fitted for a top part which is a very fitted, without any stretch, t-shirt length sleeves, and belly exposing piece. The last piece is a long scarf like piece that is draped over your shoulder to mostly cover your stomach. I must say, at first I was a bit surprised that so many women, especially older (and often not in shape) women were walking around with their stomach’s exposed. Saris are the more traditional, formal outfits in Ahmedabad and pretty much all the middle aged and older women wear them.
Younger people almost exclusively wear salwar kamizes as opposed to saris. Salwar means pants and kamiz is shirt. The pants can either be loose and baggy or a bit more fitted but either way they are definitely pants and not shorts. The tops can be either short sleeved or more of a 3/4 length but again not sleeveless. The shirts are long and hit either just above the knee or just below. They have a large slit at about the waist so it is clear they could not be worn as a dress and must be worn with pants. Like saris these pieces can be very intricate or quite plain.
Mirai wears saris into the office every day and the salwar kamizes only on sundays. She says it is somewhat of a shame that many of the young people have abandoned the traditional style of dress, but she was also the one who pointed out the more cumbersome nature of a sari.
I myself am now the owner of two pairs of salwar pants and 3 kamiz tops. Mirai took me to a store called fabindia yesterday to buy the pieces. The store is a chain and was easy to shop and try stuff on in. Though I was pretty sure I knew the answer, I asked her if poor women in Ahmedabad would shop in a store like fabindia, and if not where would they get their clothes. As expected the poorer women do not get their saris and salwar kamizes from fab india but rather from a market place or street vendors. Often theirs are also synthetic rather than cotton. Nonetheless I have seen some very pretty saris and salwar kamizes on the women who SEWA reaches out to, perhaps they are pieces that are kept for generations or perhaps they themselves made them. Many of these women also tend to have some very nice pieces of gold jewelry but I have learned that gold is considered an important asset for dowrys and the like so it is likely that the jewelry is very special and very old. I hope to learn more about the jewelry culture. I will say this, never before have I seen poor women so elaborately dressed.
Anyway, as for my own new Indian clothes, they are certainly cooler than jeans but I would still prefer to be in shorts and a tank top! I don’t entirely understand why stomach exposure is a large part of the culture but legs are not. I obviously have every intention of dressing appropriately (this is for you mom) but I wish appropriately included shorts.