Eye-catching colours, bold bling and dresses that looked straight out of a Bollywood movie. It’s been just over a year since I went to my friend’s wedding in Delhi, but I still remember how much time I spent searching for the right outfits to wear. Choosing a dress to wear to a wedding is stressful enough as it is, but choosing what to wear for a wedding in a different culture is even more challenging. As Indian weddings are spread over several days, I needed an outfit for each day of the wedding – that’s three outfits!
I especially loved my outfit for the Mehendi ceremony, where I was able to have henna drawn onto my hands and palms for the first time ever.
A few years ago, I went to a wedding in Jamaica. Like many Jamaican weddings, it took place on the beach and as the temperature was so hot and humid, it was acceptable to dress more casually. As was the case at the wedding I went to, the bride might choose to wear a light, floaty dress, while the groom will often wear a beige or cotton suit, or perhaps a waistcoat. The male guests also wear suits, while women wear cocktail dresses.
I wore a royal blue cocktail dress from Lipsy, paired with some flat silver sandals.
Together with Charles Tyrwhitt, retailers of timeless menswear, I’m looking at what to wear for a wedding in a different culture.
What will the bride be wearing?
While traditional UK brides where elegant white dresses, often accompanied by a long train and veil, our wedding dress customs are very different to those in other cultures, such as in India, Japan and China.
In India, the bride’s dress depends on the part of the country they come from, and whether they belong to the Sikh or Hindu religion. In some regions, the bride wears a saree, which is a garment that looks like a long drape, while in other parts of India, the bride wears a long skirt known as a lehenga. In most cases, she will be wearing red and her garments will feature carefully embroidered intricate designs.
Japanese weddings are very elaborate. It isn’t unusual for families to spend close to £75,000 on a single wedding day. It is often the parents of the couple who organise the wedding, and they are willing to spend as much as it takes to ensure their son or daughter has the perfect wedding day. It’s quite normal for the bride to have as many as five outfit changes changes!
At a traditional Shinto wedding, the bride wears a white kimono, but more recently, Japanese brides have taken to wearing dresses with a traditional print.
In China, the bride dresses in red as it is considered a sign of good luck that can warn off evil spirits. In some regions, typically in northern China, the traditional attire for a bride is a one-piece dress that is embroidered with gold and silver designs. In southern China, the typical wear is a two-piece frock.
Some brides also wear a bridal crown, often for photography opportunities, or for show at a grand occasion. When it comes to footwear, a Chinese bride will wear a pair of shoes embroidered with a symbol such as a turtle or a deer, to bring happiness and longevity.
What will the groom be wearing?
Although men of different cultures often have traditional dress codes that they are expected to follow, many are now choosing to wear a formal suit similar to how a Western groom may dress.
Similar to the women, it depends on what region of India the groom is from as to what they wear. Some husbands-to-be wear traditional dress, such as a dhoti – a rectangular cloth tied around the waist. In other regions, they wear a sherwani (a long coat), a kurta (loose falling shirt that hangs below the knee), or a Western suit.
The men may also have henna on their bodies, but it will be less detailed and often hidden.
Traditionally, a Japanese groom wears a wedding kimono for the ceremony and then changes into a tuxedo. The formal kimono that he wears is called a montsuki, and often displays the family crest.
More recently, younger grooms start the ceremony in a tuxedo too.
In China, the groom traditionally wears a black silk coat over an embroidered robe, although nowadays, the overcoat isn’t always worn.
He has to wear certain head wear too, which usually takes the form of a black hat with a red tassel. Some younger generations don’t follow the traditional dress code, and simply wear a tuxedo or a Western-style business suit instead.
What should the guests wear?
It can be difficult to choose what to wear for a wedding in a different culture, as there are many traditions and symbols that you may be unaware of, and you don’t want to offend anyone.
At an Indian wedding, the bolder your outfit, the better. Wearing vibrant colours will mean you fit in with the Indian guests, although at the wedding I went to, all of the guests wore a form of Indian dress. Furthermore, it is said that guests should avoid white or black as these colours are usually worn for funerals and mourning in India.
However, I went against both of these rules when I went to my friend’s wedding in India last year. I wore quite an elaborate black Indian dress to my friend’s wedding, which her friend actually helped me to pick out from a local mall, and it was absolutely fine.
Female guests are often advised to avoid baring their shoulders, and wearing low-cut tops or short skirts, as this can be seen as disrespectful. If you want to wear an Indian outfit, you could opt for a colourful saree or anarkali suit. Jewellery is important for Indian women too; choose a statement piece for around your neck ,with matching earrings and bangles.
Men often wear a tailored kurta with a pyjama and a dupatta (shawl) which can be added over the kurta. For the feet, sandals, jootis or chappals are popular because they are comfortable and prevent overheating.
When choosing what to wear for a wedding in a different culture, bear in mind that guests might be expected to cover their heads if the wedding is held in a temple. For this, women can wear a long scarf or pashmina over their heads, and men are usually provided with a head cover such as a large handkerchief.
At a traditional Japanese wedding, men dressed very formally with a black suit and white tie. Now however, the dress code is more flexible and men can dressed in suits of colours other than black, with various coloured ties. However, it is advised to avoid white clothes with black ties.
Women often wear knee-length dresses or coloured kimonos to achieve a traditional look. It is best to avoid showing any shoulder, as this can be deemed as disrespectful.
The colour of your outfit is an important consideration when deciding what to wear for a wedding in a different culture. When dressing for a Chinese wedding, the last thing you want to do is wear red, as this can be seen as trying to steal the limelight from the bride. It’s best to wear a feminine colour like pink, peach or purple as these are all symbols of new life and happiness. A formal dress is suitable for a Chinese wedding.
You should refrain from wearing black or white, as these symbolise mourning and black is also considered to be
the colour of bad luck.