Friday, April 23, 2010

salwar anyone?

Quite a long time ago finding it necessary to get a job in what we euphemistically call 'the real world' I discovered I had no clothes at all suitable for wearing to an interview at a bank. By age 30 I'd been designing and making everything I wore for the past 15 years, that is, when I wasn't wearing vintage clothes made from natural fibers rather than chemically produced ones. My wardrobe was not only extensive but also pretty colorful. Looking for subdued colors and conservative cut in my collection soon proved to be a futile effort so I caught a bus downtown and went into one of the last big department stores still left in Providence and purchased an outfit. In all honesty it was a uniform of sorts but it worked and the next day I was offered the job.

30 years later I'm fed up with my professional apparel - black jackets, black skirts, black pants, black shirts, socks, stockings, underwear, shoes and purses all black. If it weren't for the painted silk scarves I'd disappear into darkness altogether. All the really old clothes are gone but I'm thinking about color again and the fact I won't be working at a job much longer. Not being a t-shirt and sweat pants kind of female I've been looking at Indian clothes instead. Now a sari is completely out of bounds since I have no idea how to fold and wear 9 yards of fabric - never mind walk while wearing one. More likely than not I'd have the whole thing on the ground trailing behind me before I was half way down the block.

The answer might just be what's known as the churidar salwar kameez. The salwar is the pants and churidar means pants with narrow legs. The kameez is essentially a tunic style dress. The dupatta is a matching shawl-like scarf. There's a picture of one at the top and here's a typical description from an Indian web site:

* This frock style cotton salwar kameez is all over quiet amazing.
* This cotton salwar kameez is the best outfit for anytime this summers.
* Intricate designs and vibrant colors makes it a trendy.
* So choose this awesome beige, maroon and olive salwar kameez with floral and geometric print.
* Paired along with salwar and dupatta.
* There might be slight color variation .

The remarkable thing is that many of them are quite cheap compared to what we're used to paying for clothes here (the one pictured sells for US$75) and the manufacturers will make them exactly to your size and specifications. They can also be made to suit practically all climates.

Since I'm not embarrassed about the idea of walking around wearing strange clothes the salwars sound pretty good to me. I think I may be ready to start a whole new non-black wardrobe and if I can work up the energy I may even make some of my own design. What do you think?


marja-leena said...

I think these are gorgeous!!! May I come shopping with you? Where do you get them? I suppose there may be some shops here in Vancouver as we have quite a large Indian population. There's a lovely fabric store of Indian silks where daughters and I chose material for their high school graduation dresses which I sewed up for them. I don't sew much anymore. Do you still?

susan said...

marja-leena - They are, aren't they? I used to own a couple of beautiful antique Indian wedding dresses so I've been aware of the idea for a while. This place looks like a good online bet but there are others. I did buy a new sewing machine a year ago and have been practicing :-)

La Belette Rouge said...

I can't help it, I am a daughter of parents in the rag trade, and so I have a bit of a fashion- entrepreneur penchant. But wouldn't it be BRILLIANT for you to make Salwars out of your hand painted fabrics not just for yourself but for a larger market?? Or, just for yourself.;-) That said I am sure people would love Salwars made of your amazing fabrics.xxoo

CDP said...

I love salwar kameez (es?) I worked with several Indian women, scientists, who wore them to work nearly every day; I always admired them.

susan said...

belette - I can definitely see that making some could be fun but doing them right would take some time what with the embroidery and mixed fabrics. More than likely they'd be for me and perhaps a few close friends :-) Meanwhile I'm going to buy a couple just so I can get used to them.

cdp - Nice to see you again. Most of the Indian ones are very bright which is why I'm thinking of making some of my own. The designs are beautiful and very flattering.

Randal Graves said...

Disdain for none more black? Why do you hate Spinal Tap?

Lisa said...

Gorgeous. Yes is my answer.

Nancy said...

Love it! Go for it and post pics when it arrives. You may start a whole new trend in forward-thinking Portland. Besides - does anyone look out of place there?

susan said...

randal - Damn, I always hated Spinal Tap.

lisa - I think so too :-)

nancy - I promise not to buy any purple ones :-)

Seraphine said...

its tough giving up black. black is the foundation of my wardrobe, especially outerwear.
the farther out it is, the more likely it is to be black. i have a black sweatshirt, a black jacket, a black wool coat.
sometimes i wear khaki, tan, beige. is tan a color?
i hate yellow. red is too bright. green? no. orange? hell no. so my "other" color is either white or blue.
i love blue. it means i am available.
so sure, wear some colors. it suits you. cerulean blue. alizarin crimson. dioxazine purple. if you are going to do color, do it big.
just make sure whatever you wear goes with black. and stay away from tan.

Pagan Sphinx said...

I've loved natural fibers and that is mostly what I own for clothes. I can wear whatever I want to school, really and I love putting together outfits with scarves and jewelry. The kids actually comment on my jewelry a lot - they are interested in it, especially if it is some sort of stone they've never seen. I often will take it off for them to examine and if I know something about it, we discuss it! Fun.

I LOVE the outfit above but the one that struck me most was the turquoise tunic. Lately, I am dreaming of that color with some form gold thread (not too much) decorating the neck and sleeves. Stunning.

For me, the leggings would not suit as I am too heavy for that look. But you are slender will look fantastic! And making your own - I can't wait to see the results, as everything you make is stunning!

Sorry I have not been by. In my desire to stay busy while WP is held up in Zurich, I've taken on too much and have over-committed. He will be home on Tuesday and life should get back to a normal pace.

I'm so excited for you to begin this new chapter in your life of living free of a job, in a good country, wearing lovely clothes and creating all sorts of lovely things with your brilliant talents!

Elaine- said...

love 'em, i live in an area chock full of eat indians, and wish i could wear a sari without getting dirty looks from them haha... thank you for your well wishes, i will take them, tho money would have been nice too!! lol

susan said...

sera - I know in my heart I'm never going to completely give up on wearing black. In fact I may barely give up wearing it but I'd like to add more color. A flash of bright yellow or turquoise or blood red would make for interesting highlights on a black and maroon tunic. I like off spectrum colors for clothing now and that's something hard to find with most of the new Indian stuff I've seen. Yesterday I ordered some dress patterns I can experiment with since it looks like I'll be making my own versions. You're right that tan is the worst color of all.

pagan sphinx - I know you have wonderful taste and I'm sure the outfits you wear at school inspire the children to express themselves in many ways. That's wonderful all by itself.

I've pretty much decided to make salwar kameez of my own design since I'm a bit scared about the flamboyance I see in most of the Indian ones. I'm simply not cut out to wear excessively bright colors, nor chiffon (gasp!), or things that can't be easily laundered. Besides, I'm very fond of Japanese fabrics too and it would be fun to work with them. Overall, the kameez are very flattering and I think you'd look wonderful in a turquoise one and the pants can be any width at the bottom.

I'm glad to hear all is well with you and sorry to know WP got stuck so much longer than was planned.

We got the fbi background report in the mail yesterday - weeks earlier than we'd been told to expect it :-)

elaine - Most western women can't wear saris but you could buy one and make it into something else perhaps? Sorry about my lack of funds :-)

jams o donnell said...

I think the salwar kaneez looks great. I bet it is dead comfortable in summer

Spadoman said...

Okay with me, as long as you keep wearing the black underwear!
Sorry, couldn't resist the stereotypical male response. Luckily, I've been away as I'm not at all versed in women's clothing and fashion design.
But knowing you and your talent, I'd say you'd have no trouble designing this kind of clothing style at all. and it might lead to another career after retirement!
But keep the black underthings, they sound so sexy!


linda said...

this is so funny because i have been thinking of exactly the same thing!!! i haven't got the black for work thing going on but i do have lots of black... but color is more appealing to the pale skin and pale hair thing i suppose ... for whatever reason, i seem to want to wear a little more color...and found these and they were so cheap...but if they were a total bust, then not so cheap...there's a few places i have seen in Berkeley but not planning on going back down, so will wait to see what you come up with....they do seem very sensible and feminine at the same time and not quite so large as a caftan, of which i have several, but they are very maybe we will start a new style on the west coast?! ;)

i haven't looked on etsy, maybe another place to look...

linda said...

ok, now that i've spent time actually read more of your thinking, if you are making them, i want one email me and we'll get it figured out for me too...chiffon? oh no no no....linen is actually my go-to for summer down what are your thoughts on linen? ;) oh, how exciting!!

dyed linen? hmmm......
hoping those pants are comfy like leggings....these would be cute with leggings on the bottom, capri length, i am thinking...well, email me!!!

susan said...

jams - They do look comfortable, don't they?

spadoman - Since I'll never be wearing a pink or white salwar you need have no worries about the black undies getting tossed (but I do have some nice colored ones for special occasions :-)) So far as a design career is concerned I'll just mention the time I made a dozen silk and velvet vests for sale that only fit me. Guess who still owns them?

linda - That is funny and so is the fact I spent my whole three day weekend researching the darned things and could not make up my mind to just buy one from the Indian manufacturers. I had no idea what to post about once I realized I should so posted about my exploration. Most are too tight, or too pink, mauve, green or whatever. I'd be embarrassed to go outside and I've seen a few cultural crossover failures around here so I do know. Then there's the whole chiffon thing (!). No no no. Then my husband mentioned washing them and I realized he was right. So yes, I've decided to try my hand at making a couple. We'll see how it goes.

gfid said...

just arrived in Ottawa for a HFH Canada AGM (and our 25th anniversary in Canada) and was covetously watching a woman dressed exactly this way making her way gracefully into the Ottawa airport with her bags as i scurrying out with mine. i couldn't take my eyes off her - so elegant and colorful without being flamboyant. Yes, by all means. set a trend. i think once i get my little townhouse painted and fixed up, i'll be setting up my cutting table and sewing machines, and dabbling in some garment design again too. thanks for your kind words. still in a funk, and now fighting a killer cold. but Ottawa is full of gorgeous tulips blooming their brains out, so impossible not to walk around with a smile on my face here.

susan said...

dear g-fid - So glad to see your little fiddle posted here again. I've been worried about you and am so sorry about your friend.

When I lived in London and was moving my stuff to an aunt's place before going to the continent I had a long walk to the tube where I had to change trains and then had to catch a real train at Waterloo. I wore jeans and carried my own stuff. The next time I wore a dress. As soon as I went out the door a guy offered to help me carry my bags. The same thing happened all the way south. There are advantages to dressing like a lady :-)

I'm happy the tulips have welcomed you (and there's a new story posted next door if you need a small read).

okjimm said...

//churidar salwar kameez.//

ya, say that real fast ten times! I kinda like kameez, though.

as in, "Kameez! I sure could use a beer right now."

or... "I stubbed my toe and, kameez, did it hurt."

I need to work on this; cause I don't think I can wear that to my next job interview.

Liberality said...

I love Indian clothing. Yes, yes, yes. You could also design your own to wear. But I do like black as it goes with everything. I also wear a lot of purple too. I like bold colors. I'm sure you have gorgeous taste in everything you do.

gfid said...


will save the new story for bedtime. just killing time on the laptop before joining a group for dinner. raining in Ottawa, the tulips are lifting glad voices in joyous chorus. good thing i brought my brolly.

susan said...

okjimm - Yes, kameez is a good word - as in, 'Where in kameez are my keys?' We could start a trend.

liberality - Except perhaps for runway models the real stuff only looks good on Indian women but I think a western version is doable. I ordered some fabric on Sunday and we'll see what develops :-)

gfid - I hope you have a nice time at dinner and that the rain has stopped by the time you go back out. Out here I carry a brolly every day between Oct and July.

linda said...

i shall be waiting to see what and if you come up with anything... now i am burning to buy that sewing machination but hate to spend the money in case it sits idle in the end...

ah is temporary anyway

susan said...

linda - One of these days I'll have something to show :-)

Steve Emery said...

I have long fantasized about wearing bright colors, flamboyant hats, a long cape (black on the outside, but with vents that open when it swirls, to reveal iridescent, brilliant golden yellow and rose silk linings), my hair long, thick, silver, and wavy all around my shoulders, and soft black boots that roll down on top. Swashbuckling clothes, without the sword.

I think you should go for it. I think Indian fashion is marvelous, and I think more of us should be wearing it. We need to import more of the world's great culture, so we replace some of what exported American culture is erasing...

And I think it would be wonderful to wear what you design and color yourself - going beyond the scarves to entire oufits. Truly one of a kind.

susan said...

steve - I know you would look magnificent in such garb. Do you ever get the feeling some of us may have lost our way home to the 18th century?

But yes, I am going for the modified Indian design idea and I agree we'd be better off importing our fashions from older cultures. That's a far more positive thing than exporting the crude stuff we've come up with.