Monday 3 June 2013

What not to wear in India

Just because I wear the odd kurta and churidar does not mean I’ve gone all ‘effnic’.  It means that I wear clothing that is sensible for the climate, that is easy and comfortable to move around in, and even better; it is cheap and easily updated/replaceable.  For someone such as myself that sometimes works in an NGO environment, it means that I also feel culturally sensitive if I have to visit one of our communities.

And surely, who can resist the variety of colours, fabrics, designs and combinations that makes Indian style clothing a joy to wear?  For someone who only used to wear black, I now love experimenting with looks - by mixing up my colourful churidar/kurta or salwar kameez tops and bottoms.  It’s fun!  Some of the embroidery and workmanship to be found on Indian clothing is to die for - although you may have to be careful how you wash it.  And I love the array of Indian designers now appearing on the worldwide platform, who create ranges with western influences.

WRONG!! And have a bath young lady!!
I have entitled my post ‘What not to Wear’ because I do want to highlight what I consider unacceptable ethnic apparel in India.  You know what I am talking about – you see it mostly on Goan beaches and on the touristy streets of Colaba.  The  ‘Look’ - which consists of elephant print balloon pants (for both women and men), saggy vest tops and dreadlocked hair.  Ugh, what would Audrey Hepburn have said about it all? (I am a devotee of elegant 50s fashions when I am not wearing kurtas and leggings!).   Even as a university student, it never once occurred to me to look like I hadn’t washed for two weeks – and when I did go to Goa as a 20 something year old, I stuck to my normal shorts and t-shirt.  I’m sorry but I just don’t get why you have to look like a hippy if you visit India – after all, do you see any locals walking around dressed like that?

So now we have got that out of the way, I would like to recommend to you some of my favourite clothes shops in Mumbai.  These shops sell clothes that are mostly for everyday wear and they are all very reasonably priced by western standards.  The sizing is ‘good’ in most of these shops -  as I am no longer a UK size 12 myself, I am used to shop assistants coming up to me and saying “yes mam, we have that in wery wery big size”.  Yeah great, thanks a lot.

Anokhi - Western styles
with ethnic prints
First off is Anokhi - which I have mentioned on my blog before when discussing home accessories.  In fact, Anokhi also makes a line of clothing for ‘East’ – a women’s retailer in the UK.  The designs are both ethnic and western shaped, using hand-blocked fabrics created at their headquarters in Amber.   The longer dresses can be worn over leggings or on their own.  I have recently bought an ankle length kaftan shaped dress but with fitted sleeves, which is great for wafting about in at dinner parties. It cost about 2,900 Rs, but I saw the very same dress at a branch of East in the UK for £125!!  Anokhi also makes shorter kaftans which are perfect for wearing over swimwear on your hols and a nice array of scarves (dupattas) for placing loosely over their crisp white cotton tops.  I find that the clothes in Anokhi are wearable wherever you are – both in India and abroad.

Next on my list in Anita Dongre.  This is a retail group that also encompasses AND and Global Desi - with Global Desi being the most ethnic and affordable line, AND being mid range, western collection (see pictures below). Anita Dongre’s label itself, is a mixture of high-end Indian formal wear and clothing with an ethnic/western bent.  Within the Anita Dongre range is ‘Grass Routes’ which I love – beautifully made, some of it is plain with the odd embellishment - but totally wearable in most daytime situations.  She also has a slightly more expensive line called ‘Inter-Pret’ which does well for more formal events.  I bought a beautiful navy blue jersey dress with chiffon sleeves and beading around the neck and wrists for about 4,900 Rs, which I wore to the Bourbon Street Bash. And I have bought absolutely loads of clothes from Global Desi.  Admittedly these are a lot more ethnic – with bright colours, Indian prints and Indian shapes such as kurtas and salwar kameez.  But the tops are great value – usually no more than 1,600 Rs (£20) and the leggings to co-ordinate with your tops are usually only around 650 Rs (£7). I haven’t had to throw anything away that I’ve bought from this line in the last year – it’s all well made.

Ritu Kumar - always elegant
One of my absolute favourite designers in Mumbai is Ritu Kumar.  I love the beautiful structured shapes of some of her 50s style dresses. All made using beautiful but individual Indian fabrics and colours.  Her output is a bit more unusual than most other designers and you will always find something unique for your parties, day and beach wear. When my friend Helen came over from the UK to run the Mumbai Marathon, she went a little crazy in the Ritu Kumar sale – which was especially good value - and bought everything she could for her summer holidays.  Dresses for a couple of thousand rupees or less and tops for under 1,000 Rs. Unfortunately, the sizes do come up a bit small and I can barely fit into the largest size available.  But as soon as I go on that diet (and end it), Ritu Kumar will be my first port of call!

Biba - colourful and traditional

Biba – a brand that was famous in the 70s and now produces western clothes for UK branches – is completely different in this country.  It makes Indian clothing in typical shapes – kurtas, salwar kameez, anarkalis etc.  However, everything is made in stunning bright printed fabrics with funky designs.  If you ever want something a bit different – perhaps you are going to an Indian wedding or event, then this is a good place to start looking.  It also does a range for youngsters.  It’s all very well priced and well made.

Finally – and another place where I’ve bought some great stuff is Bandej.  Their main shop is actually

in Ahmedabad – which I discovered on a trip there and where I went a little wild buying up flowing linen tops and an anarkhali for a wedding.  The Mumbai outlet is in the shopping centre at the Grand Hyatt hotel in Santacruz.  It doesn’t carry as much stock but they still have a small array of colourful designs with western touches.  In particular are the dresses that are made of a knitted cotton material – quite heavy – that would do in an English winter.  Bandej is also a good place to find clothing for that special Indian occasion. Their embellished, ankle length anarkhalis are stunning.

With the exception of Bandej, all retailers listed have multiple branches all over the city.  Please follow the links to their websites in order to find your nearest shop.

Do let me know in the comments section if you have any favourite Indian clothes shops or designers - I will be doing a Part II to this post some day!


Clothes from Anita Dongre group of retailers:

Anita Dongre - gorgeous georgette dress
with flowing sleeves
AND - top that goes great over jeans
Global Desi - crisp white cotton kurta
- works well over jeans or churidar/leggings


  1. I love this post! Agree whole-heartedly. In addition to your discoveries, you can also check out Cottons in Bandra. They have the best Patiala shalwars. One of my favourites, the other being Anokhi.

    1. I love Cottons too - and Kilol. And another one of my readers mentioned FabIndia which produces some lovely designs in beautiful fabrics. Unfortunately I only had space to mention my absolute favourites but I think I will have to do another post at some point with more recommendations!



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