The Fancy stores in India are the places where women buy their glass bangles, their bindis, their kajal, their mehndi and their imitation jewellery amongst many other things. Some of the shops that are more Indian in their goods or their manner of exchange include the Kirana shop, the Paan shop, the Iyengar bakery and the Fancy stores.
These days, one can also find in the Fancy stores – the white and red plastic bangles that are worn customarily by Bengali women but became quite fashionable at weddings in cities all over the country as young women moved from adorning themselves with objects of cultural significance to objects of pure aesthetic. This was an aesthetic that was modern and in its abstraction gave colour importance over motifs and symbols.
The shopfront is often a glass showcase completely filled with colourful glass bangles, sometimes a mannequin of a woman adorned with many of the items that the shop offers for sale. This is one kind of an ‘indian shop’ because it has fashion accessories that are so much a part of an Indian woman’s attire and sense of propriety.
The Kajal or Kohl is a home-made eyeliner which was traditionally prepared using a mixture of castor oil, sandalwood paste and ghee. It was originally used for preventing infection in the eyes. Today, you can buy kajal made in local small-scale manufacturing units or the branded ones such as Lakme or Himalaya.
Mehndi or Henna is a powder made from the leaves of a shrub, used as a conditioner and for colouring the hair. It is also used extensively during weddings to adorn the hands and feet of the bride and all her women friends and family with coloured floral and geometric designs.
The Bindi is worn on the forehead as an auspicious symbol and many varieties of Bindis are available at the Fancy stores. The variety in Bindis begins with the red powder or kumkum to the plain red bindi stick-ons to the fancier bindis with gold and silver designs.
This kind of shop also sells imitation jewellery. There are innumerable gold and silver jewellery shops at the main markets in any city. But, if you need to buy something not so expensive for a smaller function or for your teenage daughter’s cultural evening at school, the Fancy stores is where you go to.
The fancy stores mostly have a standard L-shaped counter or sometimes a C-shaped counter if it is a shop of larger area. This counter has a glass top because beneath the entire counter are displayed earrings and necklaces to make the choosing so much easier and of course, these glass displays do not fail to attract the lady customers to things they had not even intended to buy.
Shopping at the Fancy stores has a good percentage of ‘impulse purchases’. Behind the glass sales counters are the salesmen who help you try out the bangles or simply open and close boxes for you that contain endless varieties of jewellery or bangles. There are shelves that cover the entire wall length with perfumes and other cosmetics. There are mirrors fixed at a few places in the shop that allow you to try out a piece of jewellery to see how it looks on you before you finalise your buy.
My first stop in Gandhi Bazaar was the Mahila Bangle stores. This was the largest Fancy store on D.V.G.Road. The prices were higher compared to the smaller shops. One dozen glass bangles that sold for Rs.12 elsewhere were priced at Rs.15 here. But the variety here was phenomenal. They had three floors of goods categorized into Cosmetics at ‘O’ level. Level One had “All Bangle varieties, Chains/Haras/Malas, Necklace sets, Kumkum/Bindis, Ear tops, Hair pins, Baby clips” and Level Two had “Bridal Jewellery and Jewellery kits” for hire.
After having seen this all encompassing range of bangles and jewellery, I walk into ‘UmaShankar Fancy Bangle stores’. This is one of the smallest fancy stores here. It’s a simple shop, about 8ft.x 12ft in size and seems a bit dark after having been to the glitzy well-lit Mahila stores next door. There are only two salespeople here and seem more than sufficient for a small shop. They are both busy arranging things in their display cases, as I walk in but immediately pay attention as I start to show interest in some bangles. The goods are simply arranged. Necklaces and earrings just hang on simple boards against the wall. The prices are just normal, what one pays at the local fancy store in one’s own neighbourhood. The Saleswoman is also the Cashier and transactions take place quietly.
My next stop is ‘Patel Bangle store and gift articles’. It has some glass bangles on display loosely kept on a stool outside the shop and I’m curious to see how this one will be. There is a little boy whom I first encounter and decide to play my role of “interested buyer”. I ask for this colour and that colour. I am now using the Bangle shop parlance and asking for size 2-6 with some confidence. It gets them interested straightaway, implying that I must be a seasoned bangle buyer to give them the size needed without being asked.
This young boy is a good salesperson and is continuously making conversation to guage what I want. His sales pitch goes “These plain colours are for everyday use, which you would need anyway. Why not try this bangle set for festive occasions? It looks good…” He is talking non-stop in a completely jovial manner, making the looking around so much easier. I finalise the purchases. I then ask if I can take a few pictures. He smiles again. “Well, if you include me in your pictures, you sure can!” I gladly take a picture with Deepak giving me a natural pose.
Deepak's shop is deeper compared to the UmaShankar store. It is a shop that belongs to Marwari shopowners. They sell bangles but also sell Facial Scrubs, Massage gels, Lotions, Oils, Henna, Hair dyes and Products for skin and hair care. Everything that you would need in Cosmetic care is available here.
My final stop for the day is the Shringar Fancy centre. This one is a bit further down on H.B.Samaja road. What you find here which is not in the other stores are dance dresses for hire. In addition to that, it has cosmetics, hair dryers, curling irons and so on at the ground level and a wide range of glass/metal bangles and hair clips on the first level.
Is Bargaining a part of a Fancy store? Not really. Prices are usually fixed. You buy glass bangles at a given rate for a dozen. You usually cannot buy less than a dozen. Prices of mehndi packets and kajal are fixed too. It has a Maximum Retail Price (MRP) printed on it. These are not products made by the shopowner. Every item he sells is sourced from a manufacturer located elsewhere.
And, where are the Fancy stores usually located? You invariably find one in each neighbourhood or the next main street junction, since these are small shops and meant to service small needs of daily dressing up. However, in the main shopping areas of the city, you often find more than one fancy store along a single street. For instance, in Bangalore, in the Gandhi Bazaar area, along D.V.G. Road, there are several fancy stores in just one street. It increases your chances of getting exactly what you are looking for!