A Conversation on South Asian Fashion and Culture

A Conversation on South Asian Fashion and Culture

…With My Friend Nimi

How this Conversation Came About

After taking my travel experience into context, with the understanding that I’m just a lowly tourist experiencing culture in another country, I called my friend Nimi to get her perspective on what it means to wear and experience South Asian fashion regularly. And If you’re new to this blog, I highly recommend making a pit stop at Parts 1-3 on my Shopping Experience in Goa India, to get a full understanding of the story behind this latest post. So here it goes!

I went back and forth about making this post, because at the time I put it together, we were in joyous times living our everyday lives. My friend and I were on the phone laughing, chatting about culture and fashion as she packed for her trip to New Delhi. Today, it’s a different story. I’m making this post at a time when we’re both self quarantining in two separate countries with uncertainty worldwide because of the spread of COVID-19. Social distancing and working from home has become the new normal. So now more than ever, I think it’s important for us to find lighthearted ways of coming together worldwide as we challenge our varying comfort levels with uncertainty. And that’s why I chose to share this post today.

The Beginning

Nimi and I had the amazing opportunity to meet at our girlfriend’s bachelorette getaway and we hit it off right away! From our harrowing travel adventure on the hunt for contraband in New Orleans to our bollywood song dance session on the way to an ice cream shop, here’s my conversation with Nimi on what South Asian Fashion means to her.

Nimi in New Delhi before quarantine

Shari – Can you tell us a little about yourself.

Nimi – Yes, of course! I’m from India, I was born in New Delhi but moved to LA when I was one and I’ve been in the US ever since. I recently moved to Long Beach, a mere 30 minutes from metropolitan LA. I enjoy traveling, trying new restaurants, international cinema and literature.

Shari – OMG Lady, in your last IG photo you were dressed in a beautifully embroidered outfit. Where would you typically wear this style to?

Nimi – In this photo, I was wearing a bridal lehenga and it’s actually a throwback from my own wedding! 😆 It was a behind the scenes shot from when I was able to steal a few moments before the big ceremony. Indians go all out when it comes to clothing and marriages are another opportunity to dress to the nines. I probably won’t wear this outfit again. I’m going to archive it and maybe take it out for guest appearances on special Hindu holidays in the future.😅 Btw when I attend other weddings and Indian functions I wear a lehenga, sari or salwar khameez with churidaar (sleeves).

Shari – What clothes do you typically pack in your suitcase when you’re traveling to India?

Nimi – When I pack for India I pack for comfort but it really depends on what season it is. When I go during the Summer, it’s really hot and humid because it’s monsoon season. So I pack loose clothes like flow-ey gaucho pants, kurtas and scarves, salwar khameezes and modest tops. When I go in Winter the weather is much more pleasant. So I pack jeans, tops, casual pj’s to chill at home and I still wear the kurta occasionally. When I go in Spring, the weather is unpredictable. One moment it’s hot and sunny and the next the weather is thundering with hail storms. For this latest trip I packed jeans, skirts, pants some long sleeve and short sleeve tops, maxi dresses, crop tops and wide legged pants. I was able to find some cute maxi kurta dresses while shopping in India, some fun Indo-western wear!

Shari – Absolutely 💖! You know, I definitely want to see some of those Indo-western maxi kurta dresses when you get back. OMG yes!

Shari – Who’s your go-to designer? And where do you typically shop?

Nimi – My go-to designers are Manish Malhotra, Sabyasachi, and Satya Paul. I only have a couple of pieces from these designers since they’re very expensive. They’re like the Gucci, Louis and Prada of Indian ethnic wear. Instead I get inspiration from them and I look for similar styles in local markets. Also there’s a HUGE market in India in creating custom made clothes. So I find fabric I like and have my tailor create a piece that is unique to my taste and style.

Shari – Okay, as an Indian American representing two cultures, do you think it’s cultural appropriation if people outside of South Asian culture wear Indian fashion?

Nimi – So, this question is like a double-edged sword. When I see someone who is not Desi (South East Asian) wearing Indian clothes I am actually excited and intrigued because Indian culture and clothes are gaining popularity. To me, it’s great when others are embracing my culture which I am so fond of. In fact, I’ve dressed many of my South Asian and Non-South Asian friends in Indian outfits and shared my favorite Indian movies and delicious food as well. I want to share the colorful traditions I’ve grown up with, with the people around me.

Conversely, when Kim Kardashian wore a tikka (head piece) I had mixed emotions; 😲 particularly because she didn’t pay homage to the Indian culture where the inspiration came from. So in that regard I was a little offended and I wasn’t the only one. I took a look at her instagram comments and in fact Desi and non-Desi people alike were furious.

Shari – Speak your truth, Lady! I get it. There’s a fine line when wearing cultural ethnic clothes, but it seems like it can be done in an honorable way. I’ll admit that as a Caribbean American I feel a little out of place wearing Indian ethnic garb without you and our group of friends around. I personally feel more comfortable wearing less traditional Indian styles and more Indo-western styles that incorporate both cultures.

Shari – Because we’re living in the US, how do you feel about wearing your Indian clothes outside of cultural events here?

Nimi – I used to be a little awkward about wearing Indian clothes outside of Indian places because of the stares. Throwback to the time when my family and I made a pit stop at the grocery store going to an Indian event. Everyone was literally staring at me and my mom and I just felt out of place. However, my mom just rocked it and I loved her confidence! As I grew older my mom taught me that most people are interested in Indian culture and our outfits.

Another experience I had was when I attended an Indian Independence Day festival. I had plans to go to Hollywood with friends later that evening. When the time came I was too tired to change from my sari to jeans. So I decided to rock my sari out in Hollywood! It was a social experiment, if you will. 😉 My Indian friends praised my bravery and outfit choice. When we arrived at the bar, literally everyone from the security guards to random girls in the bathroom were telling me how much they loved my sari! 💖 I was shocked they knew what a sari was and I was impressed with how the general public embraced my Indian clothes. It was a great experience and 100% I’d do it again!

Shari – Okay promise, last question. Nimi you’re seriously one of the smartest people I know. As a fashion enthusiast, how do you fit your intellectual self into your everyday work life?

Nimi – I am a Program manager at one of the largest healthcare plans in California. I work in the department of strategy and provider integration and collaboration to head the pilot programs that provide access to tele-health to seniors in rural areas.

Shari – Thanks for taking time out to share your experience with me Nimi. Stay safe and I hope to hear more about your travels when we’re all together again. 💖

Leave a Reply