In the past I’ve often wondered why many Indian women in America still wear the traditional sari or shalwar kameez. Now that I’ve walked around Cochin for a couple days, I am drunk with colors. Other than in the sari department store (more to come), I have not seen any two women with the same two saris. Every woman in India is beautiful dressed in unique and colorful fabrics. Because there is a certain uniformity to the style, the eye is attracted to the color rather than the size of the woman. I think I would not be altogether unhappy living in India and wearing a the colorful women’s garments.

One of the women in our group discovered a six-story sari “department store” around the corner from our hotel in Cochin. Joel went back to the hotel for a nap and I went for a little look into the sari-buying culture. In actuality, the store was only four floors of women’s clothes (and the other two floors were devoted to children and men’s clothes). There were shelves and shelves full of bolts of material in every color of the rainbow and every pattern imaginable.

On each floor, comfortable chairs were draped with Indian men, heads back and mouths open – asleep while their wives and daughters shopped. The store was staffed with an impressive number of sales girls in their “uniform” blue saris and young men in the traditional short sleeve shirt and dress pants that we see almost everywhere here. I wanted to take photos, but I felt a bit awkward as the only non-Indian person in the store and I didn’t want to impose and be “that rude foreigner.”

When I arrived at the fourth floor, with the pre-made shaldar kameez women’s dress clothes, I made a solid effort to befriend a sales girl and communicate that I would actually like to try on and perhaps purchase an outfit. Most of the women here are tiny, and I wasn’t sure I could find a suitable outfit that would fit – but I figured that the ideal place to look was this sari megastore!

She found an XL outfit for me to try on (just for size) and then she began pulling out a variety of outfits from the shelves. Blues, purples, maroon, green, beige … all with matching pants and scarves of a different colors. Into the dressing room I went to try on outfits, accompanied by a collection of a fluctuating group of 4-8 sales girls – dying to see what the American looked like in Indian garb.

The fit was tight on most, and eventually one of the girls ran one down to the in-house tailors to let out the extra material in the side seam a bit (how handy). There were a few cultural mishaps … I kept trying to figure out why there were these weird hanging pockets on the top (later I made the connection that those were the missing sleeves on the top, which the tailor will sew in for you if you want them). Also, the size tags on the pants are in the front not the back – so my first attempt at trying on the roomy pants I got them backwards.

Eventually we (the sales girls and I) settled on this outfit – I love the green colors and it fit (this being a major factor in my decision-making).

A few of the girls agreed to have a picture with me, but all of them wanted to see the photos on the digital camera and they passed the camera around the group of them to each have a look.

The last step in the buying process is to send the outfit through an in-house tailor who finalized the seam adjustment and takes care of the sleeves (I left mine off, but may add them later). This tailoring cost 5.15 rupees (that’s about 10 cents) and took about 15 minutes. The entire process took about two hours. I haven’t any idea what I’m going to wear it for, but I imagine I will think of something!

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