So, you've received an invitation to a friend or relative's Indian wedding ceremony. Let us go ahead and answer your first question: What to wear to an Indian wedding as a guest? While there will probably be some dress code cues on the invitation, you should have a general idea of traditions and customs when it comes to guest attire at Indian weddings.
Make sure you know what to wear to an Indian wedding as a guest!
Prepare for multiple ceremonies and events.
Indian weddings generally are comprised of many events that take place over the course of two or three days — and the wedding ceremony (or ceremonies) is only one component. At a minimum, your Indian-American friends or relatives will probably have a traditional Indian ceremony that represents the faith of their family back home, likely Sikh, Hindu or Muslim. In addition, lots of couples who grew up in the States will want to also have an Americanized ceremony that will look and feel pretty familiar. Be sure to have attire for at least these two ceremonies.
Consider classic Indian garb.
For the traditional ceremony, one option for what to wear to an Indian wedding as a guest is traditional Indian clothes. For women, that’s usually a colorful saree, which is an elaborately tied drape of fabric that normally covers from the shoulders to the ankles. Extra fabric is normally left free and can be used to cover your head during the religious ceremony. Men’s wedding attire is normally a long-sleeved tunic and pants. Both men and women’s clothes come in dazzling, highly saturated colors with lots of patterns and prints. If you live in an area with a large Indian-American population, try a local Indian (or Pakistani or Nepalese) bazaar or market, which will likely also sell clothing. Whatever you do, don’t nag the bride or the groom about attire! Trust us, they’re swamped with other questions, so try to navigate this part on your own.
Photo: Morgan Lindsay Photography
Be respectful by wearing color and covering your head.
While Western society regards the color white as a symbol of purity, it’s actually associated with funerals in South Asia, so it won’t do to show up in this shade. Not to mention wearing white at a wedding is never a good idea! Black is also viewed as inauspicious for Hindu ceremonies, so this color should also be avoided. Just about every other color of the rainbow is fully acceptable for guests, however.
Both men and women will also want to be sure to bring something to cover their heads during the ceremony, especially if the wedding will be Sikh or Hindu. Women wearing a saree can use their drape fabric or bring a scarf. Men can bring a handkerchief to cover their heads for the ceremony. If the ceremony takes place in a house of worship, you may also have to take off your shoes before entering, so be prepared for this possibility as well.
Ladies and gentlemen should cover up.
Traditional Indian wedding wear covers the shoulders, legs and sometimes all of the arms as well, so if you’re not going for Indian clothes, be sure your Western clothes cover about the same surface area. Cleavage, dresses that don’t cover the knee or clothing that clings to your body is not acceptable for what to wear to an Indian wedding as a guest. For guys, long shirts and long pants are the most appropriate.
If you’re with the groom, this is especially important. During the Baraat, the groom’s friends and family perform a processional dance to meet the bride’s side, so you’ll be on your feet. For Sikh weddings, guests sit on the floor, so you’ll want to be sure that your attire isn’t too binding or too short to allow you to sit cross-legged for an extended period of time.
Beyond having to walk or sit, if this is your first Indian wedding, you may be surprised at the length of the actual ceremony, which is about two to three hours, so wear something you won’t be aching to get out of. You can also consider wearing something simpler for the ceremony and jazzing it up for the reception, as it’s common for guests at Indian weddings to do an outfit change.
Don't be afraid to accessorize.
Even if you don’t choose Indian clothes, bring out your best jewelry and body adornments for an Indian wedding. For women, this could include a bindi, an ornate sticker on your forehead. “I think there is a myth that if you wear a bindi that other Indian people will be offended,” said Tejel Patel of Ambiance by Tejel in Santa Clara, California. “We love to see other cultures taking ours on.”
Beyond that, get colorful and metallic with gold bangles, head pieces, bright purses and dazzling jewelry.