The elegant way that Indian women dress is often a surprise to the casually dressed westerner. Whether she is dressed traditionally in a saree or salwar kameez, she is always matched to perfection with a carefully selected saree blouse and petticoat, matching shoes, purse, jewelry and make up. This attention to her wardrobe is on a daily basis and not just for going to a party. Retailers that cater to women clean up.
I was stunned by the opulent setting of the three floors of the store, Jayalakshmi in Ernakulam, Kerala. Though it includes a men’s wear dept, the highlight is the saree shoppers.
Although this is a women’s world, the men play an essential role here and feel welcome. They stand behind the women, watching (the price tags!) and nodding their approval.
The opulence of this store hits you like a tsunami from the first minute you walk into the elegant foyer. You don’t know where to look first. You are hit over the head with color coming at you in every direction.
Gorgeous silk sarees hang gracefully from every conceivable angle. The bright colors cheer you up, inspire you. You know from the minute that you walk in the door there will be treasures to behold here. Jayalakshmi even has its own musical theme song that plays subtly in the background. It is a lilting melody like a butterfly landing on a flower, not noticeable but haunting if you do catch a glimpse of it.
Most Indian women are decisive shoppers but when shopping for an expensive saree, they want to see everything before they finalize their choice. In India, the sarees are not on view the way goods are merchandised in the west. Usually the buyer has an idea of the color and type of fabric that she would like. For example, she will tell the saleswoman that she wants to see sarees in pink that are silk chiffon. Then, one by one the saleswoman will show her pink sarees in chiffon. On a busy day, there will be piles of sarees all over the selling platform. Often there are employees whose only job is to fold!
Some of the husbands prefer to leave their wives while they view some fifty or more sarees. All around the store there are sofas with newspapers for the men, tired women and bored children to relax on. Servers come around with complimentary tea.
Paying for all these purchases is a lengthy process. There are many lines to stand in. The women take their turn enjoying a cup of tea under the watchful eye of the store’s founder.