Costumes Everywhere but Nothing to Wear

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Mumbai has great shopping: clothing, jewelry, furniture, fabrics, books, you name it. And, of course, there are great bargains to be found if you know where to look. The one thing I really admire about the culture here, at least with respect to women’s clothing, is that you’ll never see two women wearing the same thing. Every sari, selwar kameez, and kurta is different from the other and women don’t seem to be too impressed by this or that trend. It’s refreshing to go to a party and see others dressed in pink (India’s navy blue), gold, orange, green, turquoise – everything other than head-to-toe black. Such individualism is hard to pull off in America.

This whole week has been about searching for something fitting for the big, expat Halloween bash. I’ve been thinking about costumes for this event for the past month, but haven’t really been able to come up with anything. I figured, too, with all the bright textiles, incredible jewelry, and general costume-like appearance of regular clothes in India, I’d surely be able to walk into just about any store and find something. Alas, shopping here isn’t always easy.

Browsing is impossible. If you’re planning to shop in Mumbai (and I’m sure this is also true in the rest of India), know what you want to buy before you set foot inside a shop. One of the problem’s with having a country of over a billion people is that you’ve got to keep them employed. So, once you go inside a shop, there are usually about 15 store clerks per every customer. They hover. The make-up ladies tell you they have some wonderful new colors for you. If you lift an outfit off of the rack to have a look, someone will immediately ask you if you want to try it on.

I suppose I have to put some of the blame on myself. In the U.S., we shop for sport, for fun, for stress relief, for no reason whatsoever. Whereas, I think, in the rest of the world, people go shopping with the intent to buy. Also, I think the sales clerks here look at people who look like me strictly as a visitor looking to unload some tourist cash.

Nevertheless, I can’t shop in that type of environment. Other expats have also told me that shopping can sometimes be distressing. A colleague of mine says that she’ll immediately tell the store clerks, “I’m not going to buy anything if you don’t leave me alone.” I’ve tried with my own, more polite, “I’ll let you know if I need any help,” but that doesn’t seem to work. Still, there’s no use being an ugly American if you don’t have to. So many times I just get flustered and leave a store without having purchased anything.

Unfortunately, there was still the issue of the costume. Halloween and masquerade balls don’t really exist here in India, so costume shops are few and far between. Still, with our proximity to Bollywood, Anthony (who was also in the same costumeless boat as me) knew there had to be something out there.

We were tipped off to the Maganlal Dresswalla on Marine Drive, kind of a sorry looking shop where mothers bring their spoiled children to get outfitted in custom-made costumes. We flipped through some of the photo books for some ideas. They had all sorts of animal costumes (plush costume in 90 degree weather? no thanks!), some traditional India wear, and Indian God costumes (Ganesh, Shiva, Lord Krishna, but being the latter meant painting your skin blue). There were also military uniforms and (gasp!) a costume that looked kind of like a jihadi. I shouldn’t have to tell you that dressing like Bin Laden for an American Halloween party when you’re this close to Pakistan just isn’t very funny.

Anthony decided on an Indian police uniform, badges and all, that would be made for him within 24 hours. It wasn’t exactly cheap (about 40 bucks), but it was authentic and he wouldn’t have to rent it. I considered renting (rentals, about 8 bucks) one of the more traditional Indian dancer outfits, but I wasn’t really into it so I left empty-handed.

So, the next day, with only one afternoon left before the party I headed to the mall to see if I could fashion together something. The mall is a little less stressful than shopping at boutiques and stand alone department stores, I think because the stores there are used to dealing with western customers. Plus, I knew my way around.

I decided to go with my friend Nicole’s suggestion to be Jeannie from “I Dream Of Jeannie.” Basically, I would need some pink pants, pink/red half shirt (like a sari blouse), and some pink or red scarf to fit around my ponytail. I wasn’t going to go all out, but I was at least going to try. Jeannie was also a good costume because it could be amusing without being too tawdry – after all, I wouldn’t have to expose my navel.

I actually managed to find everything except for the shirt at one store, and all for about 10 bucks. Surprisingly, when I went searching for a sari blouse, no one knew what the hell I was talking about. I even went into a store that sold saris and they couldn’t tell me where to get a sari blouse. Are these blouses some kind of national secret that westerners aren’t allowed to find out? No one would help me (it was almost as if I were back in the U.S. or Italy again!). Eventually, I came across a store that sold disco-type wear. And, thanks to the popularity of Britney and Xtina, they had just the shirts I was looking for.

So finally I had it. The pants, a scarf (with some beading, even), and a top. Now the question was, would Anthony let me out of the house in a midriff bearing Jeannie costume?

Well, we didn’t even have to find that out. About 4:30 on Friday afternoon, I suddenly came down with flu-like symptoms and had to go straight to bed. I slept through the entire Halloween party (missing, of all things, catered burgers, onion rings, and hot wings – Dang!) and my costume never even saw the light of day. What a waste. On the other hand, Anthony looked outstanding in his cop uniform and won second place in the costume judging contest.

As for me, I now have 365 days to work on next year’s outfit…and zero excuses.