The “Tacky NRI Fashion” Debate is About More Than Style

Allegations that diaspora Indians wear “tacky” Indian fashion sparked internet fury on Instagram account Diet Sabya. But the root of the debate isn’t about fashion at all.

April 21, 2022

The “Tacky NRI Fashion” Debate is About More Than Style
Illustration by Karuna Gangwani for The Juggernaut

Welcome to the internet’s latest, and potentially most contentious, edition of “hot or not.” 

It all started on April 18, 2022, when anonymous Instagram account @dietsabya reposted a Netflix video showcasing Bridgerton-inspired South Asian outfits, calling the styles out for being “absolutely terrible.” The account then posted community responses, asking its over 250,000 Instagram followers to discuss whether “NRIs [non-resident Indians] really have no idea of Indian fashion. Even the most stylish NRI influencers wear super tacky Indian clothes. Something that Indians wore a decade back ! They need to catch up !”

That one comment (and a second slide echoing similar sentiments) unleashed hell and fury as Indian residents put diaspora Indians on the worst-dressed list for their Indian fashion choices. Allegations of tacky subcontinental fashion have reared their head before — South Asians across the world collectively groaned at the orange and pink fashion disasters Harry Potter characters Padma and Parvati Patil wore to the Yule Ball. But with the Diet Sabya discourse, South Asians globally are divided as to who wears it worst.

“I feel the comments both defending and against NRIs went a little too far,” Toronto-based Diet Sabya follower Gurpreet Ahluwalia, 39, shared. “It went from funny to contentious very quickly.”

But is the resulting debate really about patterns, colors, or fit? Beneath the surface of this heated exchange are the politics of immigration and socioeconomic status that explain why a sassy take became a lightning rod for debate about Indian identity and who gets to have culture, taste, or pay homage to their heritage — and how.