Decorating your wrists with plastic dollar store bracelets is fun but down in Bangladesh, where the rainbow of bangles at every street market comes with a little culture, a lot of fashion and at about the same price, gives you the ability to wear something unique. Plus, should anyone come barking up your style tree and ask where you got your bangles, a quick, “in Bangladesh, bitch!” should get them sniffing elsewhere in no time.
The Big Bang
Bangladesh did not birth Bangles; we just think those two words are great together. Bangles actually originated in Egypt and are by definition not flexible. They are traditionally made from gold, glass, shell or bronze. Women usually stack several, but for a guy, a single one (known as kara or kada) does the trick.
Back in the day, bangle-jangling was a way to show social class and status. Proof of them being worn dates back to a time when riding an elephant was the fastest way to cross the Himalayas. The traditions around bangles and their significance varies greatly across a number of cultures. In a traditional Indian marriage ceremony, they’re as important as a bride’s virginity. She, with the help of her mother and sisters, puts on as many as possible. Punjabi women wear a set of white and red bangles, known as chooda. Other women oil up to slip into the smallest one possible—because the tighter the hole, the better the marriage (ain’t that the truth) and the honeymoon’s over when the last glass bangle breaks. When a woman is widowed, she takes them off.
In south India, there’s Valaikaapu, a baby shower that literally means “bangle ceremony” where women put green and red glass bangles on their prego friend, and she has to wear them until she pops. Some people think the baby can hear the sweet tinkling sound they make. Colors have significance too: red is for energy, yellow for happiness, and gold means either a girl is a virgin or that her husband’s a baller.
While it used to be bad form to wear one that wasn’t a gift, today bangles are bought and sold online, in flea markets, in superstores, and on city streets next to fake Ray-Bans and Rolexes. You’ll have no trouble finding them, but not all bangle markets are created equal. Most markets carry a wide variety of bangles but some specialize in certain materials and styles.
OTP Tip: Shankhari Bazar in Dhaka is where it’s at if you’re looking for ones made from conch shells.
If you end up cruising around southern India and get an urge to go bangle-buck wild, the Laad Bazaar in Hyderabad is the place to do it. Bangled up to the brim, this market is known around the world for its wrist-adorning wares. A half mile stretch, the bazaar is a rainbow of jewelry that sparkles and glistens for your attention. Within the shops, business is conducted on the floor where a cushy mattress is laid out for customers to sit on while being presented with bling. A comfortable way to jazz up your style, the Laad Bazaar has been pumping out bangles since the 16th century.
Bangles are as much fashion as they are tradition these days. Elaborate old-school bangles are still worn for ceremonies and events, but teenagers also stack on trendy ones to complement their outfits.