Wedding fashions for different cultures*
Once the excitement of receiving a wedding invitation has worn off, it’s time to start planning your outfit. Choosing a guest outfit for a wedding in the UK is quite hard (will I clash with the bridesmaids?! Can I wear black?! White?!), but what about if you’ve been invited to a wedding of a different culture? Together with Charles Tyrwhitt, retailers of timeless menswear, I’m exploring the wedding traditions of other countries.
What will the bride be wearing?
Brides in the UK usually go for traditional white, ivory or cream dress, sometimes accompanied by a long train and veil. But what do people wear to weddings in India, Japan and China?
In India, the bride’s dress may depend on the region of India that they’re from. In some regions, the bride wears a saree which is a garment that looks like a long drape, in others she wears a lehenga which is a long skirt. Often the bride is dressed in red or another vibrant colour, her garments will be carefully embroidered with an impressive design.
The bride and her bridal party often have henna on their palms, hands, forearms and legs. I love this look – it’s so detailed and elegant.
Japanese weddings are very elaborate and it is acceptable for families to spend close to £75,000 on a wedding day (OMG!). It is often the parents of the couple who organise the wedding, and they are willing to spend excessive amounts to impress the guests. Because of the large scale of the weddings, the bride can have as many as five costume changes! Think how hard it is to pick just one wedding dress!
At a traditional (Shinto) wedding, the bride wears a white kimono, but more recently Japanese brides have started to wear a dress that has a traditional print.
In China, it is likely that the bride will be dressed 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 outfit.
A bridal crown is part of the wedding costume for some brides too – it is worn for photography or for show at a grand occasion. For footwear, a special pair of shoes are often worn that are embroidered with a symbol — for example, a turtle or a deer which symbolises happiness and longevity.
What will the groom be wearing?
Men also often have traditional dress codes that they are expected to follow – however, many men do still opt for a smart tailored suit similar to what men would usually choose in the UK.
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 which is a rectangular cloth ties 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 also have henna on their bodies but it is less elaborate 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 husband-to-be traditionally wears a black silk coat over an embroidered robe. Nowadays, more men are choosing to go without the overcoat.
The groom has to wear certain headwear too – this is usually a black hat with a red tassel. Some younger generations are not following the traditional dress code and simply wear a tuxedo or a Western-style business suit.
What should the guests wear?
Before you choose an outfit for a wedding, you’ll want to read up on the culture or country where the wedding is taking place so that you can respect and fit in with the family and the other guests.
At an Indian wedding, the bolder your outfit is the better. Wearing vibrant colours is a must. Guests should avoid white or black as these are colours worn for funerals and mourning in India. It is also advised that red is not worn either as the bride will probably be dressed in this colour and no one wants to upstage the bride!
Female guests should not bare their shoulders, wear low cut tops or short skirts as this can be seen as disrespectful — a jewel-tone dress with a shawl would be ideal. The Indian female guests will most likely be dressed in colourful sarees or anarkali suits. Jewellery is important for 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) can be added over the kurta. For their feet, sandals, jootis or chappals are often worn as these are comfortable and cool, in case it’s a warm day.
If the wedding is held in a temple, you may also need to cover your head. 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.
An Indian wedding is often a long event (it could be three days long!) so make sure you are wearing something loose and comfortable.
At a traditional Japanese wedding, men were expected to be dressed very formally with a black suit and white tie. Now however, the dress code is more flexible and it is accepted for men to come dressed in suits 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 a coloured kimono for a more traditional look. It is best to avoid showing any shoulder as this can be deemed a disrespectful.
When dressing for a Chinese wedding, avoid wearing red as this can be seen as trying to steal the limelight from the bride. Pink, peach or purple as are all symbols of new life and happiness so these are perfect colours to go for. A formal dress is suitable for a Chinese wedding.
Avoid wearing black and white, as these colours symbolise mourning and black in particular is considered to be bad luck.