Help me not offend my pal's family.
September 19, 2008 6:39 PM   Subscribe

Dress me and Mr. F for a Hindu wedding in November in NorCal. Difficulty factor: we are slightly large white folks who never wear anything except cargo pants and T-shirts, and my native guide doesn't know what non-Indians wear to such things.

So my pals are getting married and I have no idea what Mr. F and I should wear to the wedding. Bullet points:
  • The groom's family are conservative Gujarati Brahmins, and devoutly religious. (The bride's family, not so much.)
  • The ceremony is not being held in a temple, but is being held at a nice historic-house sort of wedding site in Northern CA.
  • My pal has no idea what non-Indians wear to Indian weddings, which leaves me with no idea of what to wear that won't accidentally give offense to his family. I have been told not to be skeezy or too casual, though.
I'm a 5'8" redhead with the typical Northern European Farm Maiden Build-- broad shoulders, big hips, butt designed for sitting on the ox cart and driving the herd before me. Mr. F is a 5'10" brown-haired Typical Saxon Invader.

My idea of formal clothing is a kilt and a Batgirl T-shirt, and he's not much better at it. Help, hive mind. Should I look to avoid too much leg, what's the general Gujarati-American verdict on sleeveless dresses, shawls, what can Mr. F wear that won't have him trying to claw out of it by midday, etc.
posted by fairytale of los angeles to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (16 answers total)
honestly, this is a question to ask the happy couple more than us. are people going to be going in western dress, or indian? if the latter, they'll probably appreciate it if you make an effort and wear a sari—they look lovely on women of all shapes and sizes, and people will be pleased to see you in one if it's respectful. mr f can match you by wearing a kurta over nice pants, or just go with dress shirt + tie + nice pair of pants.
posted by lia at 6:53 PM on September 19, 2008

The last time I went to a Hindu wedding I borrowed a kurta from a friend. I may have been the only non-Indian wearing one, but I was far more comfortable than the guys wearing suits in that heat.
posted by sanko at 7:11 PM on September 19, 2008

Anything formal will be do. You could wear a formal-attire dress as you would to a christian wedding, Mr F could wear a suit or formal trousers, shirt and jacket. If you want to go traditional, you could get a sari and he could get a dhoti or kurta.
posted by gadha at 7:11 PM on September 19, 2008 [2 favorites]

Ask the bride and groom directly. As long as the groom's family won't be freaked out, they will probably be flattered that you're taking enough of an interest to even entertain the thought of wearing anything other than your basic knee-length dress (and suit for your DH). I'm not Indian, but when 6m pregnant with twins in the middle of July, I wore a sari to an outdoor wedding (I wasn't going to find much else to fit me) and loved it. I'm a 5'2" redhead and normally, uh, let's just say no competition for Kate Moss.

I got a straight jersey ankle-length skirt from Old Navy to wear under the sari and a somewhat tight capped-sleeve scooped neck t-shirt in coordinating colours to go with the actual silk sari (which was purchased in an Indian neighbourhood). Incidently, they're really quite fun to pick out. I think I dropped less than $100 on the sari, itself, but I figured I could use it elsewhere in the house since I really loved the design on it. The ladies in the sari store will teach you how to put it on and fold it properly. It's not hard, once you practice a few times (you can also Google to find a few different folding methods). I wore flat beaded sandals and braided my hair. Really, it was one of my favourite wedding outfits, ever.

Good luck and have fun!
posted by dancinglamb at 7:13 PM on September 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Well as an Indian, I can tell you that it would be pretty hard to give offence by what you wear to an Indian wedding, as long as you avoid mini-skirts and short-shorts. You basically have two routes both of which should work fine:
Don't dress Indian-style: You can wear a fairly formal dress and your husband can wear a shirt + tie + formal pants. If it's too hot he could even dispense with the tie.
Dress Indian-style -- A kurta for him which you can probably find in the Indian stores in your nearest city, a salwar kameez or sari for you. A sari would be the most formal option but can be a little difficult to manage at first (hell, I'm Indian and I still invariably trip on my sari and make it come undone). A salwar kameez can be casual or formal depending on the material and work (think silk + embroidery for more formal). If you do decide to go the sari route, remember safety pins are your friends. Also try to get a stretchy-type blouse rather than a stitched one as the stitched ones can take a little getting used to. Your husband can go in shirt + pants even if you decide to go the Indian route -- plenty of Indian men wear Western wear to formal occasions, at least in the part of India I come from (South India, so things may be different in Gujarat).
Finally, please rest assured that no one is going to be offended if you do decide to dress up in Indian clothes -- all the Indians I know love dressing up their American friends in saris and salwar-kameezes.
posted by peacheater at 7:37 PM on September 19, 2008 [2 favorites]

I think peacheater has it. If you do decide to dress Indian-style, I have a good friend who is a tall awesome redheaded goddess who is Hindu and is married to an Indian man - she has a whole whack of saris and salwar-kameezes - MeMail (or email is in profile) me if you'd like some resources!
posted by mewithoutyou at 8:30 PM on September 19, 2008

I attended a hindu wedding and wore my regular western wedding wear, a nice skirt and top. No-one thought it was rude, and I have to say it was the least formal, most fun and beautiful wedding I've ever attended, and easily the best mass-catered food I have eaten to boot! I don't think you need to sweat it too much. It might be fun to mix and match western and Indian wear, say use the kameez (top part of the salwar kameez) with your own pants, because it has to be said, tapered pants aren't terribly flattering on the Farm Maiden build (I am that shape too). You could get some lovely flowy straight-leg pants to wear, in a light summery material.

Also, browse around the various online Indian clothing retailers for ideas. There are some pretty tunics available that look a lot like ones I am seeing in regular clothing stores these days.
posted by Joh at 8:43 PM on September 19, 2008

Fairytale, since you're in Los Angeles, you could make a run down to Artesia to find authentic Indian garb. You want Pioneer Blvd, between Artesia and South St.
posted by jvilter at 9:17 PM on September 19, 2008

peacheater +1
posted by cyanide at 10:15 PM on September 19, 2008

peacheater is correct. I've been to many Indian weddings and that's how it's basically done.

I'd probably add that for a man, a suit and tie would be the most conservative choice and you would never go wrong with this route. Many Indians wear suits to weddings. You wouldn't stand out. In hot climates, you can forgo the jacket and tie. It might not be comfortable but it would show you treat it as a serious occasion.

For women, avoid low plunging necklines, short skirts (no shorter than knee length) and open back dresses. Of course, if you're wearing a sari, you end up revealing more but I never understood why it's not as offensive. I think women are safer dressing up in Indian garb. As long as you're not wearing what is considered "night wear" or "house wear" (cotton kurtas) you should be fine.

In my experience the non-Indians wearing Indian garb got the clothes from the bride or groom or were assisted in making the selection - suggesting that they were close friends. If coworkers were invited and not especially close, they just wore "Western" clothing.
posted by abdulf at 11:57 PM on September 19, 2008

These opportunities don't come around every day, so if you have a chance to go native, do it!

I once opted not to wear a kilt to a Scottish wedding and have regretted it ever since.
posted by softsantear at 7:44 AM on September 20, 2008

The last Hindu wedding I attended had a fairly high number of white folks. The guys wore suits and the women were split about fifty-fifty between those wearing smart western clothes and those who'd seized the opportunity to dress Indian style.

I couldn't afford to buy something new for the wedding and most of my existing outfits were either too casual or slutty, so I ended up combining a very short purple dress with smart black work trousers and getting complimented on my shalwar kameez. ;-)

In some traditions it's a breach of ettiquette for female guests to wear red. (It'd be like showing up to a traditional wedding in a white dress, you're impinging on the bride's special colour.) But since you're a redhead you probably wouldn't wear red anyway.

Amongst the Hindus I know it's considered normal to give money rather than presents at a wedding and considered lucky for the amount of money given to be an odd number. This may apply to your friends.

And finally, enjoy yourself! Indian weddings are great. The hosts make such a big deal about being generous, so the wedding lasts all day and the amount of food and drink laid on is incredible. I think I'd rather go to an Indian wedding than any other kind.
posted by the latin mouse at 8:15 AM on September 20, 2008

I'm a tall white redhead too and I own a sari. I love it! It is so beautiful. I have worn it to an Indian culture engagement party (I think they were Jain, but I'm not sure) and during my honeymoon for the formal night on a cruise. It is not hard to tie. I highly suggest it if you are OK with being stared at, since it's rather unusual to see a white person in a sari. On the cruise, there were a lot of staffers from India (mostly men) and they were surprised and pleased to see my dress choice. Ditto for the engagement party. I got a lot of compliments on my sari, especially from the women. Don't forget all of the bangle bracelets and the jeweled stickers for your forehead (I don't know the proper word for those).

If you go to a sari store, the ladies will be more than willing to show you everything. You will need the sari, which is the very long piece of fabric, and a blouse. Most places will make you a blouse based on your measurements. Don't be worried about showing your midriff; the sari will actually cover most of it.

Saris can get quite fancy (and expensive). If you choose one in a solid color with a pretty trim, you will be fine. They come in silk and polyester. You might want to stay away from cream and red as those are important wedding colors for Hindu weddings. Mine is green and yellow and goes quite well with my hair color and skin tone. But, as any wedding garb goes, don't try and show up the bride!

I have attended a Jain wedding and it was incredibly beautiful, fun and meaningful, even if I couldn't understand the language. You can tell the sentiment and the importance of family to the tradition. And it's all about the celebration, too! It is a fun party! Enjoy it!
posted by FergieBelle at 8:55 AM on September 20, 2008

My second cousin married in a joint Christian-Hindu ceremony about 20 years ago. All the men (who were largely successful businessmen here in the US) wore expensive, almost flashy suits. The older women wore saris. The younger women dressed Western and looked like any bridesmaid or wedding guest.

If you go with something subtle such as a colorful flower in your hair you could sort of "cross over" without the awkwardness of seeming to attend a costume party.
posted by dhartung at 2:46 PM on September 20, 2008

My pal popped back up-- he reads MeFi-- and volunteered a bit more information, as well as asserting that it would be completely clever and awesome if we scored Indian clothing to wear to his wedding. (I'm pretty close to the groom, since I've been talking him off the ceiling for a while now over the cross-cultural complexities.) He also pointed out that Artesia has one of the largest Gujarati communities in the States, so if I were to go there, I would get pretty good guidance about how to dress nicely without showing up the bride (not that I could-- she's a 6'2" central-casting Nordic Ice Goddess).

Mr. F is tentatively down with the kurta plan. We'll have to see what we turn up. Thanks, guys!
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 4:10 PM on September 20, 2008

Sounds like you're set, but just to add on: when my cousin married her French husband (they're both based in the UK), her mum dressed the Brit/French contingent (and myself, since I apparently count as "foreign") in similar fatwa tops (the top half of a salwhar khameez) and scarves, and many wore smart pants - this was for an outdoor part of the ceremony. For the more formal reception they all dressed in traditional wear, partly because her husband wanted a very traditional Bengali wedding but also because the family thought it would be funny.
posted by divabat at 2:31 AM on September 21, 2008

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