This is a bit of an awkward story to share. Several months ago, I reached out to a good friend and a fashion-forward one at that to help me with some recommendations on all things bridal – henna, lehengas, make up, hair, all that migraine-inducing stuff. She was prompt to reply and recommended that I get a stylist. I was open to the idea but quite frankly I don’t have an infinite budget so I was pretty honest about that. Nonetheless I got in touch with the woman she recommended on email. She seemed really nice and said she wanted to help even though she knew I would not be a high-revenue client.
In February, when Ike and I went to Bombay, we met her in person as well and we had a pretty honest discussion about what we wanted. See, Indian weddings are no longer Indian weddings – they are Bollywood weddings. Real life weddings are so eager to look and feel like weddings in movies that there is just no sense of reality anymore. I personally know people that have spent 200-250,000 USD on weddings in Bombay, who have spent more than the average budget of an entire Manhattan wedding on hiring a musician for the Sangeet. This is all very real now and it makes someone like me look downright cheap for wanting a wedding that’s beautiful but not Bollywood. Anyway my point is it was initially hard convincing her that given I had to have 5-6 outfits, I did not want each one to cost 2000 USD. In the end, she seemed to get it. She said she knew stores that could do exquisite designs and if that didn’t work, she could have artisans in Calcutta weave a dress from scratch. Now that’s resourceful! She also explicitly said she didn’t care how much money she made off us, she wanted to help out. I was later informed by more than a few people that this should have raised alarm bells but maybe I am too naiive. For the moment, we reached an implicit agreement to work together.
Come April and my whirlwind trip to Chennai and Mumbai to buy clothes for the wedding, things were a bit different.
The Chennai trip was a raging success and I ended up picking three of four wedding sarees in a span of two hours on the very first day despite being surrounded by a plethora of insanely beautiful, gold-laden Kanjeevaram silks. I also ended up being “under budget” simply because beyond a point, there was just too much gold for my taste. My only grouse was that I did not have a classic red coloured saree – red isn’t in fashion anymore. Anywho between beautiful zari borders with multiple hues and dancing elephants and silks in jewel tones, I was happy. I also snatched up a lovely blue-green silk veshti for the husband among other things and we came back with lovely silk sarees for close friends and relatives as well.
Oh and based on some designer lehengas the stylist shared with me, I purchased silk material in Chennai with the intent of getting a nice, lightweight, dance-able lehenga for the sangeet. I was nervous about the 100-150 USD stitching charge she had quoted (on behalf of her tailor) but we will get to that later.
In Bombay the agenda now was mainly
1. to find a tailor who would not fuck up the blouses nor charge me an arm and a leg to not do so. I made a conscious decision to not go with the stylist’s tailor for this as I found the starting price tag a little unsettling.
2. to find a lehenga for my reception – this one I needed help on
Sidebar: Introducing Haley, my brother’s fiancé – a well-grounded 22-year old with a keen eye for fashion, a good sense of pricing and a tendency to sniff out bullshit.
We set a day to meet up in the posh neighbourhood known as JVPD scheme. Haley and my parents came along with me due to a funny turn of events where our hired driver kicked us out of the car (he was an asshole) and my dad ended up fetching us from the middle of the road. We walked into a shop together after exchanging greetings. Haley already knew the shop as one being famous for churning out replicas of lehengas made by famous designers. So far so good.
It became apparent pretty quickly that I was not going to find anything remotely affordable at this store. The dresses were drop-dead-beautiful, why wouldn’t they be? they were carbon copies of runway dresses at about 30-50% of the runway price. That’s probably a good deal but it’s not a good enough deal for me. Especially because I never said I wanted to wear something designer or faux-designer anyway.
The stylist insisted that she knew the owner and would get me a discount and also that if I didn’t like a particular colour, I could get the same outfit in my desired colour and customise the blouse and what not. Funny thing though, the lady showing us the dresses did not agree. She said that customisation options were only available when you bought the higher-end dresses. Okay.
Anything that was in my set budget was made of cheaper materials like georgettes and net and no, I just don’t roll that way. Give me real silk and zari anyday. Not to mention I easily had one extra saree from Chennai so I was not going to die of heartbreak if I didnt find a lehenga I absolutely loved. I felt awkward and embarrassed that the stylist was deliberately asking to see things in a price range that was easily 50-100% more than the budget I had originally given her. Mathematics fail. My parents and Haley on the other hand were downright pissed off and chose to ignore the woman completely.
My father walked out of the store silently and started asking to see dresses in other stores. Minutes later, he called my mother on her mobile to say that in fact, two of the adjacent stores were selling lehengas at about half the price that this store was. And that people that had left this store emptyhanded were already buying things at the other stores. Great! So you’re telling me that in a complex with around five boutiques, she’s brought me to the one with astronomically higher prices? Hmmm I wonder what is in it for her.
By this time, I made it clear to the stylist that none of this was interesting to me. I still asked if she had other options, hoping that she would suggest …oh I don’t know…the stores next door? And it is painful how insulting the conversation that followed was.
Her: “We can go to seasons or bawree”
Me: “Uhh those stores are tacky; I don’t think I’ll find anything to my taste there” (Mind you this is like someone recommending that you go to zara…it’s not exactly classified information given these stores have tacky banners of white models in revealing Indian outfits plastered all over Mumbai)
That was it. She had no other recommendations save for random store in a market in Bandra which was not open that day. No more boutiques and secret sources.
At this point, we somehow separated and I went to the other stores my dad mentioned and he was right. I saw raw silk lehengas (not just one) well within my budget and they were beautiful! Hope was not lost!
In one particular store, a man pulled out a striking neon orange and fuschia lehenga with a large gota-patti border. It was fucking stunning despite being lighter on the embroidery. I gingerly asked for the price. The lehengas I had seen prior to this one were not even silk and they cost a reasonable amount of money so I expected this silk one to more dear. The price-tag made us all reel because ummm…. it was too low? The store manager noticed our befuddlement and explained that the piece was created to keep the artisans busy when they did not have commissioned work. As such, it was not, I repeat, not a designer replica but rather just a random, original piece with not much thought put into it.
Well would you fancy that? An original piece made in real silk with good embroidery and motifs – who would want that?! Answer: my dad! Admittedly the dress may have been a little light for the reception but mom and dad were not leaving the store without it. So the plan to stitch a silk lehenga went out the window and in came the orange orphan. (Interestingly, my mother still likes this piece a lot more than my much grander wedding lehenga).
The stylist had no role at all in this entire process and was pretty embarrassed at the turn of events. She started trying sarees for herself and even interrupted my sale with questions about the saree she had on. (I should mention that even at the other store, she was busy commission other clients’ work). She then brought up another market to go shop at – a place called Hindmata. This is literally a roadside market! I know I can’t afford 2000 USD Sabyasachi replicas but for fuck’s sake, don’t send me to a fucking flea market! My mother did not mince words when she told her that she was a true Bombayite and that that was a shit recommendation.
We parted ways shortly but before we did, she asked me if I wanted to meet her tailor. Needless to say I was not prepared to waste any more time on this woman or her outlandish recommendations. So I said (truthfully) that I was busy and with only a day more to spare in Bombay, there were other urgent matters I needed to attend to. I never saw or heard from her again. I may still have humoured her had it just been me, but it was clear as daylight that my parents and Haley were all infuriated and aggravated by this woman.
Budgets are set for a reason. My parents, Ike and I all make our money legitimately through paychecks that we pay taxes on. We are not choc-full of vulgar black money to burn. Do I have enough money to afford a Sabyasachi replica? Fuck, I can afford the real deal with the money in my bank account right now. But I don’t need it, I see better uses for my money, our money. There is a life for my parents after my wedding and there is a life for me and Ike after our wedding. Just because I want to look like a million dollars at my wedding doesn’t mean I want to spend a million dollars. So no, a budget of 1000 USD does not mean 2000 USD nor is it so lowly that you suggest a wholesale market!
Now the silver lining in this story is not just that I landed a beautiful dress. It is that I discovered my new bridal stylist – Haley! She took me and my mom to another boutique in Thane where I managed to find what I was looking for – a red and gold bridal lehenga. Well I found a pink lehenga and ordered for it to be custom-made (apparently by artisans in Calcutta) in red silk. More on that later. She and I also scoured the markets around Ghatkopar for “latkans” – the bells and whistles (quite literally) that hang off your skirts and blouses. I love hanging out with her and being a girly girl and I am grateful that she was and continues to be selfless in helping me out in running my bridal errands. She listens to my (borderline) mental monologues about the right nail colour, highlights and accessories without getting impatient. And best of all, she knows Indian fashion just as well, if not more than any person working in fashion and knows how to get a look done in any budget.
Stay tuned for more fascinating updates on my bridal wardrobe or should I say bridal trousseau?! …a shishilala word that’s only used in India! Still to come – how tailors think they can get away with anything and how both my lehengas ended up with a waistline of 38 inches. Edge of the seat stuff!