I was invited to an Indian wedding earlier this year, thanks to my coworker and friend Akanksha. North Indian wedding, to be specific. She and her husband is from Rajasthan, a state in India located in the Northern part of the country.
What to wear to an Indian Wedding (for Women)
In this age of increasing awareness of cultural appropriation, I feel like Indians are the exact opposites of this – they love when a foreigner embraces their culture, either by wear traditional clothes and/or eating Indian food. When attending an Indian wedding, you are very much encouraged to wear traditional Indian clothes. You could show up in a normal dress but you’ll stick out like a sore thumb. For me personally, I’ve always wanted to wear a saree. They just look so elegant and beautiful!
Finding the appropriate clothing to wear was the first task we needed to tackle, and it was the most confusing and time-consuming one since there were so many options. And the colors, oh god the colors!
So in terms of what to wear, here are your most common options for women:
- Lehenga – a 3 piece set consisting of a scarf, a crop top, and a long, A-line skirt (Lehenga). This is a popular option since it’s much easier to wear than a saree. It also suits most body types.
- Saree – a 2 piece set consisting of a crop top, and a piece of long fabric to be folded into the bottoms and draped over shoulders and arms. I’d say saree is the safest choice for a wedding guest.
- Salwar Kameez – a 2 piece set consisting of a long top (Kurti) and a loose pair of pants. This is a more casual piece, which you can wear for the side events.
If you aren’t sure which one to pick, you can’t go wrong wearing a Saree. This is the option that I went with as my traditional wear.
Getting your traditional Indian clothes tailor-made
I ended up getting my Saree tailor-made at Little India. If you live in Singapore, my tailor is Tekka Trends and it cost me S$220 (+$30 for express tailoring since I procrastinated too long…). I know it was pricey, but it’s the option that made the most sense to me since I planned to get a few uses out of this saree, and also I’ll be sharing it with my sister.
First, you need to decide on the colors you want to wear. As a guest to an Indian wedding, you are encouraged to wear bright and colorful clothes. Vibrant blue, mint green, orange, and bright pink are good choices of colors. The only color you should avoid is red, since the bride would be wearing red in one of the main events. My tailor had a series of designer sarees to choose from, so I just picked one from his selection. I chose an orange, gold, and black saree for mine.
Next, you can customize how the blouse (top) will look like. You can customize the length of the sleeves, how low/high the neck and the back cutting will be and how long you want the blouse to be. Normally, you want the blouse to be about a crop top length since you’re supposed to show a little bit of skin on your midriff. Don’t worry though, it will still look tasteful since you’ll also be covered by the saree draping.
Whatever color and blouse you end up picking, make sure you also get your saree pre-stitched into a skirt. This will save you so much time since saree folding is pretty difficult and involves many safety pins. Getting it pre-stitched means you can just wear it like a skirt!
If you don’t want to buy a saree, another option you can look at is renting. For those in Singapore, I sent some of my friends to Glamourdoll for saree rental. I saw good reviews online and it seems that they were true – my friends were happy with the result. You can get a saree set + jewelry + purse for S$80-100, but you need to put down S$100 deposit which you’ll get back when you return the saree.
As told by friends and my tailor (who coincidentally was from Rajashtan as well), the more bling you have, the better. At the very least, wear large earrings and a set of bangles on both hands. Don’t worry about looking too much – you probably would fit right in. I wore a pair of orange Jhumka chandelier earrings, a very classic earrings style in India and to this date is the biggest pair of earrings I owned, and I fit in just fine!
Clothes to pack for a North Indian Wedding
Since there are a lot of events and it spans multiple days, you’ll likely need four sets of clothes – two for each day. You can’t go wrong wearing traditional Indian clothes to all of these events, but I’ve included alternatives to what you can wear if you only have one traditional clothes (like me). I recommend packing the following:
- Two smart casual pieces for Mehendi and Haldi. This could be a cocktail dress, a casual suit, etc.
- One evening gown/dress for Sagai and Sangeet. Something fancy you’d wear to any other wedding.
- One traditional piece for Jaimala and Saptapadi. This is your saree/lehenga or whatever traditional Indian clothes you decided to get.
What to Expect at Indian Wedding
You might have heard an Indian wedding is a multi-day event. This is true! Not only was it very festive, it was also a great insight into the rich culture of Indian weddings. The wedding I attended spanned over 2 days, with the following events:
NOTE: Before reading this guide, make sure the wedding you are attending is a North Indian wedding. Even though India is one country, it is very diverse – there are 22 major languages spoken, and there are many wedding customs in India. They could be very different from the one I’m describing in this post.
1. Mehendi (Ancient Body Art)
Mehendi is an ancient body art ceremony, where the bride will be getting her hands and feet intricately tattoo-ed using temporary natural ingredients called henna. The design is so intricate it will take hours and two artists working simultaneously. While the bride is doing this, guests usually lounge around, sipping on chai or busting moves at the dance floor. You can also get your hands henna-ed, but your design will be nowhere as intricate as the bride’s, of course.
2. Sagai (Engagement Ceremony)
Sagai is the ring exchange ceremony, which usually takes part at night and followed by dinner. This ceremony marks the official ‘asking’ of the bride’s hand by the groom’s family. Along with the ring, gifts and jewelries are also exchanged.
3. Sangeet (Dance Party)
Sangeet is the fun part of the ceremony. In an Indian wedding ceremony, guests are expected to perform a short dance routine, and this is the night where everybody gets a chance to go on stage. If you are attending, you better have something prepared! Some people would go together in a big group, some might be confident enough to dance by themselves. Then at the end of the night, everybody goes on the stage for a big dance party!
4. Haldi (Turmeric Paste Ceremony)
Haldi means “turmeric”. During the Haldi ceremony, guests line up and apply yellow turmeric paste to the bride’s body. Turmeric has many health benefits for skin, so the paste will help her skin glow for the big day later. It’s also believed turmeric has the holy properties that will ward off evil and sickness. Aside from that, turmeric’s yellow color is also believed to be a very auspicious color in Indian culture.
I heard it can get quite aggressive and the turmeric might get applied everywhere to the bride’s body, including their face, neck, and hair. Be careful not to get any paste on your clothes since turmeric stain is almost impossible to get off.
5. Jaimala (Wedding Garland Exchange Ritual)
Finally, after 3 days, we’ve come to the actual wedding ritual. I thought all the events leading up to this was already festive, but Jaimala by far trumped them all. First, the groom will arrive at the wedding site on a white horse, welcomed by a loud and festive dance party at the entrance of the venue.
The groom then enters the venue with his entourage, followed by the bride with her entourage, wearing her most intricate clothing thus far – usually a red lehenga. The atmosphere of the event is definitely different than the previous nights, with fireworks going off every few minutes, food and live drummers to spice up the party.
The wedding ceremony is marked by an exchange of an ornate fresh flower garland by the bride and groom, and another exchange of gifts (lots of gifts are being exchanged in an Indian wedding!)
6. Saptapadi (Seven vows wedding ritual)
Saptapadi is the seven vows of Hindu wedding to symbolize Nourishment, Strength, Prosperity, Knowledge, Progeny, Longevity and Togetherness. The ceremony starts at midnight and continues well into the night, often ending as late as 4-5am. I’m ashamed to say I didn’t last that long and went to bed shortly after it started (So sorry Akanksha!)
Some food and drinks I loved from India
1. Chai in a clay cup
Chai is a spiced tea beverage originated from India. During the wedding, you’ll often find guest sipping on a cup of Chai. The base is usually a strong black tea mixed with various Indian spices – usually cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and black peppercorn.
Despite the Indian origin, the name Chai likely originated from Mandarin word for tea, which is “cha”. Chai is often served in a “cutting” portion (half a cup) and in most part of North India, it’s usually served in an unglazed clay cup called Kulhad (or Bhar in Kolkata). These clay cups are only to be used once – I was quite surprised when I saw people throwing away their clay cups into the bin, but these cups are actually environmentally friendly. The clay would return back into the soil once disposed of, unlike plastic cups. Clay also has tons of health benefits compared to using plastic cups.
2. Paneer, fresh Cheese from India
My friends are gonna roll their eyes at me for this – but YES I LOVE PANEER! I love Paneer in all forms – in a curry, in a sweet-sour sauce or grilled on a skewer… it’s just so good!
Paneer is a semi-firm cheese that will not melt in cooking temperature, so it is often used in savory vegetarian dishes. The closest other types of cheese I’ve tasted that is similar to Paneer is probably Haloumi, although Paneer tasted fresher and less salty than Haloumi in my opinion.
Panipuri is a common Indian street snack, consist of bite-sized, hollow crispy fried dough (called “puri”) containing chickpeas, potatoes, and onion. The puri is then dipped in a jar of cold water, so that it is totally filled with the water inside. This is where the “pani” part of the name comes from – it just means water. There are typically two types of flavor of the pani – sweet or spicy – and I personally loved the spicy version! The pani is typically served cold and flavored with all kinds of herbs and spices.
Panipuri is usually served from a stall, where you can just stand there with a bowl in your hand, point at the panipuri flavor you want and the stall owner will hand you the tiny puri straight into your bowl which you then proceed to eat in one gulp. I had 5-6 of these in one go. No shame. They are so easy to eat and very delicious.
Okay, that’s my experience from attending an Indian wedding! It was such a fun weekend full of cultural learning and festivities. Special thanks to Varsha and Shefali for the bits of cultural education during the entire wedding. It was indeed information overload, and I wouldn’t have been so lost it wasn’t for you guys!