Get set for a larger-than-life celebration if you’ve been invited to an Indian wedding. There will be a myriad of colors, a sizable guest list, and events spanning multiple days. You will get to be a part of many exciting ceremonies and festivities.
That said, you might be staring at your invitation and wondering, ‘what should I wear?’
Keep reading because you’ve come to the right place for answers. Our insightful style guide will explain the different kinds of traditional Indian attire for both men and women and put forth various options to help you select your ethnic ensembles.
Prepare for multiple events
An average Indian wedding is spread over three days, with many celebrations preceding the wedding ceremony. Each event will have its signature vibe and dress code. Understanding the events will help you in selecting your outfits.
The pre-wedding events typically include a Haldi ceremony, a casual daytime gathering for close family and friends. The next day features the Mehendi ceremony, where the bride has intricate henna designs applied on her hands and feet. The Sangeet takes place the same evening, and all the guests gather for an evening of dining and dancing. The wedding ceremony always happens on the third day, followed by the reception.
How to figure out what to wear
Attending an Indian wedding is an opportunity to experience a different culture. One of the best ways to immerse yourself in the celebrations is by wearing Indian attire. For women, this includes the following:
- A saree, which is an elaborately tied drape of flowy fabric. It is wrapped around the waist, with one end draped over the shoulder, partly baring the midriff. Extra fabric is usually left to fall freely over one side. A traditional saree can be challenging to tie without experience, so we suggest opting for the widely available pre-stitched saree instead.
- A lehenga is also a popular option. This is typically a three-piece ensemble consisting of a crop top, a voluminous, floor-length skirt, and a flowy piece of fabric (called a dupatta) to cover the midriff.
- A sharara, which is a type of three-piece suit consisting of flared palazzo pants and a matching fancy tunic top with a dupatta.
Men can don either a long-sleeved tunic (kurta) or a regular long-sleeved shirt layered with a sleeveless jacket featuring a mandarin color (known as a Nehru jacket). Men can also wear a knee-length jacket (a sherwani) with matching pants for the more formal evening celebrations.
Indian attire etiquette
While you are encouraged to experiment with your Indian ensembles, it is important to be mindful of the following traditions and religious practices when picking your outfit.
Bursts of color
Vibrant colors are always in style for an Indian wedding, no matter the venue or season. You can explore wearing sorbet shades for the daytime festivities and richer jewel tones for the evening affairs.
Indian brides tend to wear red for the wedding ceremony, so be mindful of upstaging the bride and avoid wearing the same color. Also, steer clear of black and white as these are considered unlucky colors for the nuptials.
It’s perfectly acceptable to wear a darker shade for an evening celebration such as the Sangeet or reception, but be sure to add some pizazz with embellished accessories, a metallic clutch bag, or sparkly heels.
Be mindful of religious traditions
Depending on the religious traditions of the wedding ceremony you are attending, the dress code can differ.
Some wedding ceremonies will require covered shoulders, and others will not. Typically, if the nuptials venue is a mosque or a temple, opt for a modest outfit that covers your shoulders and is at least ankle length. If the couple is having a Sikh wedding ceremony, men and women are encouraged to cover their heads with a dupatta, scarf or handkerchief.
This only applies to the wedding ceremony, which is often religious. The other events and celebrations have more flexible dress codes.
Wear what resonates with you
Traditional attire is not compulsory. While guests should check for specific dress code requirements on the couple’s invite, non-Indian clothing is also acceptable. If it is more comfortable, you can wear long flowy dresses, formal gowns, or a three-piece suit.
That said, attending an Indian wedding is a unique opportunity to embrace a different culture and honor tradition, so your hosts might appreciate it if you go the extra mile and wear Indian attire for at least one event.
What to Wear
The Mehendi is your chance to be playful with prints and color. For women, you can explore flared palazzos with a crop top or a tunic (a sharara). For the Sangeet, you can opt for a lengha (a floor-length) skirt with a statement crop top. Try to choose something with some sequins, embroidery, or brocade. But be sure to choose comfortable clothing and footwear because there is likely to be a lot of drinking and dancing.
A lengha or saree works well for the wedding ceremony. Again, if you are thinking of wearing a saree, make sure it’s a pre-stitched one, so you don’t need to struggle to tie it. The dress code for the reception is typically more oriented toward non-Indian wear with gowns and flowing dresses, but some still might opt to wear a formal saree.
Whatever you wear, don’t forget to accessorize with ornate earrings, statement necklaces and stacked bracelets.
For men, the ideal attire is a kurta (a long-sleeved tunic) and slim pants (called churidars) for the Mehendi ceremony.
The Sangeet in the evening calls for a dark-shaded Nehru jacket with formal trousers and a pocket square or a broach to add a pop of color. A bandhgala (a kind of three-piece suit) or a sherwani (knee-length jacket) are more traditional options. For the wedding ceremony, you can opt for a pastel kurta with slim pants or a dapper three-piece suit.
Where to Shop
The many events of an Indian wedding call for an expansive wardrobe, so it’s best to prepare ahead of time. Several websites offer a variety of Indian attire for purchase or rent. Going through the sites will also give you a good idea of the aesthetics and price ranges.
You can also get in touch with a South Asian friend who might be able to guide you with where you can find Indian wear boutiques in your area.