How to Wear Ethnic Pieces to Class

We all have something in our wardrobe that holds cultural value to us – an item from home that reminds us of comfort, care and cuddles. It might be an intricate piece of jewelry passed down to you or an ugly item that you don’t throw away just because it was from Grandma. When I moved from India to the United States six months ago my mother lovingly packed a few clothes and accessories from home – I bet you have something similar. But don’t let the loudness of it deter you, there are ways to wear them with Western pieces and still look casual. Here I have used pieces from India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, but you can use these guidelines to sport any ethnic piece you have and look stylish.

  • Start small

If you usually go to class in grubby sweatpants and you happen to show up one day in an elaborate costume, there are bound to be some eyes rolling. So, take baby steps by slowly integrating ethnic accessories into your outfit while keeping the rest of it still Western and simple. I had a pair of intricate earrings that are quite attention-grabbing, so I wore them with black, round shades that didn’t have any detailing and a simple outfit.

Image courtesy Michelle Michael
  • Balance busy prints with solid colors

A lot of ethnic items often have busy prints or intricate details – loud animal or floral motifs, extremely small designs repeated a thousand times, delicate embroidery scattered across the entire garment. These pieces can be eye-catching so pair them with solid colors to provide a blank background for your ethnic piece to enhance its design. I wore a colorful dupatta (a long scarf from Pakistan) with floral motifs along with a white tee and shorts so that my scarf is the focus of the outfit.

Image courtesy Michelle Michael
  • Jeans make everything casual

There is a reason why jeans are everyone’s go-to clothing item – it can make you look put-together without any effort. Pairing it with ethnic pieces is easy because jeans go with everything. If you want a more streamlined look go for a fitted pair of black jeans, if you want something more relaxed try wearing blue jeans with a boyfriend fit (don’t forget to roll the bottoms!) I paired my soft, blue kurti (a long top worn commonly in India) with a pair of stripped boyfriend jeans and black boots.

Image courtesy Michelle Michael
  • Pair bright colors with neutrals

Western fashion takes a lot of inspiration from French fashion, so it is dominated with neutrals. Black, white, brown, beige, navy blue and grey are the most commonly-worn colors sometimes with a dash of bright hues. So, take an item with any of these colors and pair them with something bright – this combination is easy on the eyes and looks like you really spent time getting ready. I am sporting a sarong (a long, fitted skirt worn popularly in Sri Lanka) that has an interplay of blue, gold and red shades. I paired it with a black tee to make the outfit simpler and a black leather jacket.