Indians Dressing Badly

Why do so many desis dress badly in Silicon Valley? Shallow as this makes me appear, it's a question I can't help but ask. I don't think this is true for Indians in India at all - walk around in a major metropolitan area in India and you'll see folks wearing a mix of well attired, trendy, traditional and functional clothing (plus the usual share of eyesores just like anywhere else). One exception - bell-bottom pants stuck around a full decade longer in India than elsewhere but with the India fully plugged in to the global media network and a major producer for textiles, it's become fascinating to track fashion hybrids emerging from the subcontinent. This brings us back to our original question - when it's possible to find Indian-influenced clothes in your local Bay Area Macys, when your countrymen are nattily dressed at home and elsewhere, why do so many first generation Indians in Bay Area continue to putter around in jeans, t-shirts and sneakers?

Any of those elements could become fashionable statements in themselves - it's easy enough to find designer brands for all three. But no, the pattern is invariably the same: the jean pants are tapered and conical in shape, the tees have horrible horizontal convict-like stripes and the shoes are gleaming white tennis sneakers. And it's not always men we're talking about either. Desi women are invariably in that same uniform, barring occasional relief in form of the salwar-kameez and sneaker combo! I think it's stating the obvious when I say ladies hold themselves to much higher dress standards than men. Hence, it can be argued, this slippage by the desi sisters is that much more egregious.

What are the reasons for this? Is it financial? I think we can rule that one out, given the sheer amount of moolah in play in the Valley. Could it be the desire to conform to the geek chic present here? Maybe - after all, a portion of the first generation Asian population in the Valley also sport similar garb, so I suppose that's part of it. Could it be the eternal North-South divide? As stereotypes go, there's the one about North Indians being much more ostentatious and showy and the South being precisely the opposite. And it's my sense, the South has a greater presence in the Valley, so perhaps there's some correlation there. One last thought: consider the greater society in which we live. In India, there are norms, dress codes and expectations for Indians resident there. In this part of the world, that's not necessarily the case, particularly when it comes to the mainstream US media where desis are still mostly invisible. Has that led to a desire to "let go" when it comes to appearances, especially in a part of the world where your job skills supposedly count far more than the way you present yourself?

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- November 19, 2005 5:27 PM // Bay Area , Diaspora