When you have kids in India, you will inevitably have to dress them up in something ethnic be it for a family gathering or a special day in school. And there is no shortage of ethnic fancy wear in stores and market, some ridiculously overpriced, some at a steal price.
One of the recurrent discussion among ladies married to Indians with kids is about kids wear. What sizes are available, is it practical to dress a baby in a saree, is there some more everyday type of dresses available…Kiddos in ghagras, salwars, kurti, pajamas and saree score high on the cute-o-meter.
The problem however is that most toddler don’t really care about the dazzling cuteness a fancy looking lehenga gives them. Most actually hate it, and I remember the first year we decided to dress Ishita up for Diwali we had a meltdown, party due to the fact that the outfit in question was not designed and planned with a small toddler in mind. It was in 2010, Ishita was a few months over one years of age, we realised at the last minute (as usual) that we didn’t get anything for Diwali, so we rushed to the mall and bought party clothes. There was a few items for small kids, I decided to opt for an anarkali/churidar set and looking on it I would have done better buying a lehenga, but the outfit looked cute, the size was perfect, and since we were in a rush I didn’t check if the thing had buttons, zips, or anything. On D-day we realised that the outfit required the wearers full cooperation and help to wear…as in raise your arm up and let us slip it through. The anarkali had just one tiny zip that was not letting the dress be open enough, Ishita panicked being stuck in it while we figured it out, and by the time we finally got her dressed she was traumatized, and feeling itchy, because synthetic fabrics aren’t something kids this young really are used to, after a few pictures (it’s not the one up there by the way), a visit to a friend, and enough fussing we removed the offensive-wear and she spent the rest of the evening running around in her diapers happy to have her freedom back.
The outfit was such a perfect fit for her that of course the next year it was too small, and we had a trip to Lucknow this time, with plenty of relative that would want to see her in uber-cute ethnic wear, the only part of the outfit that all thing considered did cost us 1k too much was the bottom, these churidars were very long as they need to have a lot of ruffle at the ankle.
This time we played smarter however, having learned from the experience, and having a 2+ years old who started having some like and dislikes, we headed to the store prepared. Interestingly there was no lehenga on a budget that year, not in the store we targeted for all our shopping need, there were plenty of the dreaded anarkali suits for girls, the only lehenga was white (worst colour ever with kids), and at nearly 3k…eeek no thanks. As usual the shopping assistants/stalkers tried to push all kind of things on me, and I told them to leave me alone a solid amount of time. The all wanted us to pick some costly, very adjusted form fitting outfits that I knew would spell my doom on Diwali and have my in-laws and assorted relative ask me 10 thousand times what was wrong with Ishi.
I finally located the perfect outfit which was decently priced at 1200 something rupees, had a string in the back to close the outfit and that my daughter pronounced pretty. Bingo! I even took the outfit in a size a tad bigger than her actual size to make sure there would be no tears and no trauma trying to slip it on.
Having seriously learned my lesson the previous year, I even decided to do a test run with the outfit inside our home, in familiar setting with no rush, no stress, no pressure, and that is the picture you have above, we let her be, and take her time to feel comfortable in it. At first she was a bit reluctant about it, the fabric felt different, the churidars were a bit itchy, but we had no meltdown, no tears and the thing was a breeze to slip on and it was clearly loose enough at the chest not to bother her (it actually did look a size too big on our skinny girl).
What I inadvertently learned from that purchase just dawned on me last year however. You see when I bought the thing a size bigger it was just for comfort and practicality issues, never did I think further than that, but here I am now 2 years later, and Ishita is wearing that very same outfit to her school Diwali party as I type. In the past 2 years that outfit has been used a solid 8-9 times, it is now just starting to be on the short side for the churidars (they don’t ruffle much, just look like regular pants) and the top is now just really feeling adjusted at the chest since Ishi is a tall and skinny one. This outfit ended up being used for several festival days in school, a dance number during the annual event last April, and if we are lucky might even last a few more months, enough time to wear it once or twice more before it really gets too short. That my dears is money super well spent.
So rich from my experience, I can give you a few tips when it comes to kids ethnic wear.
First it looks cute, and you might find yourself going totally gaga over the options you have, but keep in mind that your baby and young toddler will probably revolt against the outfit. So go for something that is loose fitting enough not to restrict their movement, and something that can open wide enough to let a wiggly kid in.
Then remember that these outfits don’t come cheap…at all, even the budget ones bought in a bazaar will still cost you too much money considered that these are worn only on special occasions and kids do outgrow them before they had a chance to wear them out enough. Or go for a size bigger and take the extra fabric in or go for a style that will be forgiving looking baggy. As tempting as it is to have the outfit tailored made, don’t do it with a small child, not worth the hassle and running around to get it done, save that for when the child turns 4-5 at which age they will suddenly be into wanting pretty dresses.
When you go to a party that will ask for your toddler to be dressed up, and know you are going to be there more than an hour, pack something more comfy to change them into, take your pictures, show the child to the crowd, let them oooh and ahhhh, say a few “shoo shweeeeet” and then the instant you see your child fuss, head for the bathroom, and change them back into their everyday wear. And since Diwali is coming, don’t let any kids go burst firecrackers in these fancy flowing synthetic dresses…fire hazard!
Last but not least, as your child reach the kindergarten age in India, these festival days will in all likehood multiply, so by this age it is a smart move to get one or two outfits that are still one size bigger at the time of purchase and rotate them, for girls typically get one kurta/churidar set, and one lehenga choli. Some festivals like Janmashtami has school asking girls to dress as Radha, and Radha usually wears a lehenga not a salwaar suit, the lehenga, or ghagra as it is also called is also pretty much the norm for Dandiya. Skip the saree all together, they might look stinking cute, but this is the outfit of a lady, who can hold herself together, on small kids, it would look awesome for a picture, but will come undone very quickly and be totally unpractical when your daughter needs to go use the loo, even with the fact that kids sarees are usually pre-pleated.
As for daily wear, I might burst the bubble here, but not many kids do wear ethnic on a daily basis, and very few stores will even have such thing, western wear is far more practical, and easier to maintain for most parents at the most you will find short kurti and leggings around to build a “set”, a thing that has even started becoming the norm for ladies in cities these days.