Dress

I was not this much of an Indian in India, really, like salwar kameez was the last thing I would wear because, I mean, you naturally wear salwar kameez there, you don’t have to make an effort … here you don’t get to do that because, I mean, weather constraints and you want to be one among the crowd, you don’t want to stand out in everyday life so it’s just celebrations when you can wear Indian clothes so you just want to show off. Things that you do rarely you enjoy the most  …. I think Indian dress is very colorful, alot of jewelry it’s very elegant, it’s very fancy I would say. …… it’s a big Indian community [here in Muncie] and you want to look good so I make sure that I have all the latest fashion clothes that have come out of India. – Radhika

At the Diwali event in November 2010, Pruis Hall on Ball State University was filled with a colorful array of shimmering fabric with glittering rhinestones, hand-stitched accents and bold tye-dyed hues. Local Indian residents forwent their typical Western wear for more traditional Indian dress for the celebration. Men dressed in kurta and sherwani while women modeled their newest sari, salwar kameez or ghagra choli.

Many of our informants spoke about dress as an important part of their identity.  These informants stated that though they typically wear Western style clothing (both in the USA and in India) when they attend Indian events, those hosted by the local Indian Student Association, the South Asian Muncie Association or friends and acquaintances, they dress in traditional clothing. Most interviewees brought clothing from home and some received packages throughout the year with the latest fashions. Nalika stated that she filled her suitcase with traditional clothes knowing that she could easily purchase Western clothing in Muncie. However, she only wears what she brought over to Indian festivals or to events on campus which encourage international students to wear traditional clothing.

However, though most informants brought traditional dress not all informants wear it, even to events with other Indians. and this seems to be a difference in gender. While all of our female informants stated they enjoyed dressing up in some form of traditional Indian dress for festivals a few of the male informants choose to wear Western clothing even when they attend celebrations like Diwali. Sabrang, a Hindu male, stated he does not wear traditional dress to events unless he plays an active role in the event. However, if he is an audience member he prefers to wear Western style clothing. Makesh did not bring any traditional clothing with him from India because he “didn’t really see the point,” however during the conversation he stated he does not even own any traditional clothing so he does not wear it in India either. Chitesh brought a single kurta which he wears to the different events because “its something different than wearing shirt and jeans.” Danvir takes a similar approach, he has two kurta here in the United States and he typically he wears a kurta to cultral events and festivals because “it gives a feeling of India and kind of represents Indian tradition and culture.”

Most informants choose not to wear traditional dress everyday though because as Nalika said, “its kind of awkward wearing here,” many do not want to stand out in their everyday lives as different and the material of the clothing is not suitable for the cold and frigid weather of Muncie.

Traditional dress is more than identifying oneself as Indian; for Jiya the jewelry she wears with her sari or salwar indicate her status as a married woman. Without the bangles she wears on her wrists, the bindi she attaches to her forehead and the mangala sutra around her neck her marital status is unknown by people familiar with those markers. Asked if she would adopt the habit of wearing a wedding ring which would indicate she is married in Western society she stated no, she had no intention of doing so.

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