What To Wear To A Hindu Wedding
TRADITIONAL INDIAN DRESS
Most westerners, especially white westerners, are reluctant to wear ethnic clothes from a culture other than their own because they are afraid of being accused of cultural appropriation. This is especially true in America. This is due to a history of white comics dressing up in ethnic dress to make fun of other cultures. After the civil rights movement of the 1960s, it became very politically incorrect to borrow from other cultures clothing. It's surprised me how many emigrants from India are completely unaware of this, even after being in the country for years. Most Indian emigrants to America I've talked to are not offended by non Indians wearing Indian dress. They might think it will look odd, but that's about it. The funny thing is many Americans seem to think a wedding is an acceptable loophole for wearing ethnic dress. This is probably because of the American tradition of the bride telling her bride's maids what to wear. There are not bride's maids in a Hindu wedding, but it's not uncommon for guest to go full traditional.
The advantage to going traditional is you don't have to worry about modesty, and while you'll stand out on the street, you'll blend in at the function. If the wedding is in India, absolutely go traditional. Don't even try to go western unless specifically told to.
The disadvantage is it's really tricky to get it right. Every part of India has it's own fashion and traditions. The fashions change just like everywhere else, so wearing something from last year will be noticed. There are also age limits on some outfits like the half sari or the lenga choli, which can vary by community. Sari's require custom stitched blouses to fit correctly. Salwar Kameez are easier to buy online or off the rack, but what looks formal to you may actually be the sort of outfit you do house work in. A traditional dress also requires lots of gold jewelry to look formal, and chances are yours isn't good enough.
If you want to go the western dress route, be sure to check out the modesty dress code section below. It can be pretty difficult to find anything that works. If shopping online for a long western style dress use the words, "modest", "mother of the bride", "LDS", "Mormon". Don't forget you can put leggings under a knee length dress, although that will likely look too casual. Don't count out pants outfits, especially flowing brightly colored ones. Keep in mind you may need to sit on the floor. Another route you could take is to find an Indian party wear website and look for gowns with a more western vibe.
Non Indian Ethnic Dress
I saw pictures of a party where half the guests showed up in Indian dress and the other half showed up in traditional Scandinavian costumes. If you happen to have a nice traditional costume from your own culture, that fits dress code, think about it. It could get awkward if you are the only one doing it, and it's a really eye catching outfit, but in some situations it could be just the right thing.
Be prepared to take them off and leave them at the door. Heels are not required in most circles. Some traditional outfits have matching shoes. Avoid Indian looking shoes purchased in non-Indian stores. They are usually old stock that didn't sell, or went out of fashion in India.
Indian clothes may be eye catching, but what everyone is really looking at is the gold. The impressiveness of your jewelry is approximately equivalent to the impressiveness of the car your could buy with it. If you don't happen to have that kind of bling on hand, go with high quality fakes. Cubic Zirconia studs that might be real diamonds are a good bet. You probably won't fool anyone, but at least you tried. Bangles are required, especially if you are married. Married women also always wear a necklace. Ear rings are less symbolic, but it's rare to see a woman without them.
Modesty Dress Code For Adult Women
Advice for those who don't want to inadvertently look like a hootchie mama. No Queen Elizabeth's knee length skirt is not modest.
- Neck line - Crew neck. If it's too low for a man to wear to an office, it's too low. Absolutely no cleavage.
- Sleeves Length - Length of sleeve is like length of skirt in the west. Too long is dowdy, too short is casual at best, and slutty at worst. This varies by community and over time, so ask if you can. If unsure, go with at least cap sleeves.
- Ankles - Ankles are still sexy in India. In some less formal contexts they are starting to be shown, but if you are unsure, cover your legs, either with a long skirt, or pants or leggings.
- Backs - Exposed backs are fine as long as the bra strap is not visible.
- Midriff - If in traditional Indian dress, totally respectable from bra strap to below navel. Just be aware some places you have to drape something in front of the navel.
- Dupatta - The big scarf that comes with a woman's suit is used to cover the head in some communities, and to cover the chest in others. Modern city women are starting to go without for everyday wear, but if you want to make the grandparents comfortable, it's still recommended.
The good news is men have it relatively easy compared to the women.
Ask first. It's common for only the groom to wear a traditional outfit. There are also distinct regional and cultural variations. Make sure you have a trustworthy adviser before going this route.
This is probably your best bet no matter where the wedding is. What's tricky is how casual you go. Especially in South India where the weather gets very warm, how the men dress at fancy parties can look extremely casual by American standards. Think software office casual Friday. Office pants and a light colored button up shirt is a fairly safe choice no matter where you are.
Be prepared to take them off and leave them at the door.
Young girls don't generally wear saris. If you want to go this route, find a website that sells salwar kameez or saris, and look in the kids section.
Teenage girls may want to go for a half sari in South India.
Up to about age 10 girls don't have to worry so much about modesty. Western knee length dresses and dresses, and dresses without sleeves are fine. You may want to go way more over the top than you would for a western wedding though. Think of the flashiest flower girl dress, or princess dress up dress you've ever seen.
There are lots of fancy boys sherwani and kurta party outfits available if your boy is game to look fabulous. Keep in mind that art silk means polyester, and the sparkly clothes tend to be itchy. Depending on the wedding, a comfy plain cotton Kurta Pyjama set may be appropriate.
What your boy would wear to a western wedding is probably fine. In India, boys often wear western style clothing to parties. Dress pants and a light colored button up shirt are a safe choice.