It’s usually only a matter of minutes after opening a wedding invitation that the all-important question dawns on the recipient… What to wear? Choosing a guest outfit for a wedding in the UK is hard enough, but what about if you’ve been invited to a wedding of a different culture? Together with Charles Tyrwhitt, retailers of timeless menswear, we look at how the dress code of a wedding changes depending on the background of the newlyweds.
What will the bride be wearing?
British brides are typically adorned in a white dress on their big day, with a veil and sometimes a simple tiara. But how do our own bridal traditions compare to India, Japan and China?
In India, the region that the bride hails from will decide what she wears on her big day. 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 are often decorated in intricate henna ink patterns on their hands, palms and legs.
Japanese families are known to spend close to £75,000 on a wedding day, and the ceremonies are often extremely elaborate. It is often the parents of the couple who organise the wedding, and they are willing to spend excessive amounts to save face. Because of the large scale of the weddings, the bride can have as many as 5 costume changes!
At traditional Japanese ‘Shinto’ weddings the bride wears a white kimono, but a recent modern twist has promoted Japanese brides wear a dress that has a traditional print.
Brides in China wear red on their wedding day, a symbol of prosperity and a way of warning 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 choose to wear a bridal crown for the photographs of their ceremony. 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?
Traditional dress codes are often in place for men to follow, however, many opt for a sharp suit, like that of a UK groom.
At Indian weddings the groom is also expected to dress in accordance with the region that he is from, and for men casual shirts aren’t enough. 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.
Men may also have henna decorations, but they are usually far less elaborate and often hidden.
Men in Japan usually wear a kimono for the ceremony, then change into a tuxedo afterwards. 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.
Traditional Chinese grooms will wear a black silk coat over an embroidered robe. Often in the modern day the overcoat is not worn.
A black hat with a red tassel is often worn by Chinese men as they marry. 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?
Dressing mindfully is important at cultural weddings, as there are many traditions and symbols that you may be unaware of.
Pull out all of the stops with your outfit at an Indian wedding. Wearing vibrant colours will mean you fit in with the Indian guests. 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.
Women aren’t permitted to bare their shoulders, wear low cut tops or short skirts as this isn’t viewed as respectful attire in Indian culture – a jewel-tone dress with a shawl is one appropriate outfit. 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.
For men, tailored kurta with a pyjama and a dupatta (shawl) can be worn over the kurta. For their feet, sandals, jootis or chappals are often worn as these are comfortable and prevent overheating.
If the wedding is held in a temple, guests might be required to cover their heads. 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.
Indian weddings can go on for as long as three days (carrying on the celebration for as long as possible!) so choose something loose and comfortable.
In the past, men attending Japanese weddings 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.
Knee length dresses are a popular choice for female guests, but some will opt for a coloured kimono to convey a traditional look. It is best to avoid showing any shoulder as this can be deemed a disrespectful.
Guests at a Chinese wedding shouldn’t wear red as it can be interpreted as removing from the shine of the new bride. It’s best to wear pink, peach or purple as these are all symbols of new life and happiness. A formal dress is suitable for a Chinese wedding.
In China, black and white symbolise mourning and black is also considered to be the colour of bad luck, so choose a bright outfit which lacks either of these shades.