So you’re attending a South Asian wedding, but have no idea what the big day will involve or what you should wear? Read on to learn what you need to know before celebrating the future Mr. and Mrs.
Following various traditions, South Asian weddings tend to involve several events. For female guests of the bride and groom, this means several outfits. But when it comes to these weddings, blanket statements about the outfits can’t be made because of the immense variety that exists among these ceremonies. With more than 30 distinct cultures within India alone, no wedding will ever be similar to the next one as customs, practices and observances vary across South Asians broadly.
For most weddings, though, the logistics of the ceremony range in timing (based on whether it takes place during the morning or mid-afternoon), location (whether it is held outdoors or in a religious place like a temple) and length (ranging from at least an hour and a half to two hours).
Here some common features characteristic of South Asian weddings that you might encounter.
First, the Sangeet/Mehendi.
This tends to be the first formal event of the weddings, although, once again, there are always exceptions. This pre-wedding party is one during which the wedding parties come together to sing, dance and celebrate the upcoming union. Although there are usually performances at other events as well, this is usually the biggest night of performances. You may see the bride or groom's family members and friends singing, dancing and performing skits.
People tend to wear brighter colors to sangeets. You will see a wide array of occasion wear, from sarees to lenghas to anarkalis and more.
Then the wedding ceremony.
Expect celebrating the bride and groom with a ton of people for a couple of days. Guests lists in South Asian weddings tend to include hundreds of people who attend the wedding that easily goes on for about three days.
Before the traditional wedding ceremony, you might also be involved in various rituals — including a cleansing haldi ceremony, a henna mehndi session and a sangeet mini-reception.
If you're on the groom's side, you may also participate in a baraat before the ceremony. The baraat is a tradition in which the groom is led to the marriage venue in a dancing procession of family, friends and other members of his side. Keep the baraat in mind as you plan your outfit, if you’ll be a part of it.
At the wedding ceremony, you might notice a Hindu priest, known as a pandit, presiding over the couple. If the ceremony occurs in a temple or other religious place, you’ll be expected to remove your shoes, sit on the floor and cover your head with a dupatta, or scarf.
The main ceremony usually lasts about an hour and a half to two hours.
To get a sense of what type of outfit would be most appropriate, you should ask a member of the wedding party where the ceremony will be taking place. Though the ceremony has become more flexible than it used to be — especially with brides opting for outfits in a variety of colors — it’s always safer to stay avoid wearing blacks, whites and reds. Definitely plan on getting dressed up, but don’t plan on going too blingy.
Next, the reception.
Though the actual reception will probably start around 7 p.m., nuptials will probably end around midnight. Expect lots of food, lots of dancing and lots of speeches.
Since there is usually a sizable enough gap between the ceremony and reception, many people tend to go change into another set of clothes.
Many people dress up the most for the reception. Sometimes they dress up even more for the sangeet, but it all depends. Expect some people wearing deeper tones and darker colors. Once again, you will see people in a wide array of outfits, but our customers tend to choose lenghas most often for the receptions they attend.
A word on attire:
Most brides and bridesmaids will wear saris, while the groom and groomsmen will wear a sherwani, a long top and pants.
Members of the wedding party tend to do many outfit changes for each event.
But if you’re not in the wedding party, your best bet will probably be to rent South Asian attire that you may not wear again. Check out our collection on Rent the Runway for colorful garments that will surely make you feel ready to celebrate the newly minted bride and groom.