Desi-fying Every Outfit

Renuka standing in an indowestern outfit with teal embroidered pants and a pink trench coat

As I have been redefining my personal style, I find myself drawn to a lot of motifs that I grew up around in Indian fashion. It feels really fulfilling to learn about the cultural significance of these pieces that I’ve worn my whole life instead of mindlessly wearing what my mom picked out for me. 

I also feel inspired by Indian clothing because I have always felt beautiful in Indian clothes, in spite of my tenuous image of my body. I have always been excited by Indian clothing because of the vibrant colors, diverse fabrics, and complex embroidery work. Indian clothing always distracted me from whatever negative thoughts I had about my body because I was way more interested in examining the intricate details of the outfit. 

So far, I have a few favorite ways to incorporate Desi elements into my day-to-day wardrobe that I’d love to share, but I’d like to make one note before diving in. I’m still learning about the history of South Asian fashion and about how a lot of designs attributed to South Asian fashion wear are actually appropriated from Indigenous tribes within South Asia (and even outside Asia). It is important to me to note how my actions and purchases contribute to the erasure of Indigenous cultures and I plan to uplift Indigenous creators and brands as I find them. 

1. Colors

Part of my goal in exploring my sense of style recently has been my concept of “wearable colors.” For most of my life, I was drawn to neutral clothing pieces. Not because I thought they reflected my personality well, but because I thought they were most flattering to my body type and would “hide” my body the best. 

The only exception to this rule was my South Asian clothing, which has always been vibrant and eye-catching. Incorporating colors is natural when looking at a Desi wardrobe given how many different vibrant shades are represented in South Asian fashion. 

Recently, I’ve been challenging myself to pick up the more colorful pieces in my wardrobe each day and restricting myself from purchasing any more neutral items. I find this brings me more joy when getting dressed because I feel like my personality is better represented with a colorful outfit. 

2. Jewelry

There’s no question that South Asian jewelry has some of the most intricate designs in the world. Incorporating the unique shapes and gems transforms otherwise plain Western outfits into statement and bold combinations.

I’ve personally always gravitated towards fancy earrings because I love how they pop under my thick hair. I love using the different shapes and shades to match my mood for the day, whether that’s a brassy gold sun shape to brighten up the fit or an intricate silver peacock earring to add maturity and depth. 

3. Clothing

Photo by Thirdman on

The most obvious way to incorporate Desi elements into an outfit is to literally use Desi clothes and mix them in with your Western wardrobe. I’ve been developing this crossover a lot in the last few months and it’s honestly my favorite mix. 

Some easy starting points involve using clothing pieces you already own. Trade out a crop top for a long sari/lehenga blouse or (if you’re really fancy) a dupatta tied into a halter top. If any of the salwars you own have straight leg or palazzo pants, use those as bottoms with a neutral top. 

I personally also look for Indowestern fusion pieces whenever I’m shopping for new clothes to supplement my wardrobe, and Global Desi has some of my favorite pieces in that category. They also have a sustainable and ethical line called rECOgnise which focuses on using renewable fabrics and uplifting women through livable wages and sustained livelihoods. There are many other brands that offer sustainable and modern Indian-inspired slow fashion, so those are definitely next on my bucket list. 

Desi fashion is intended to be fun and adventurous, so you really can’t go wrong when playing around with Desi styles in your everyday Western outfits. I have found a renewed sense of joy in both my Western and Desi wardrobes when I combine them. I hope you can find some comfort in this style as I have by using familiar themes in unfamiliar ways.

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fat positive, ethical south asian fashion model & blogger

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