Muslim wedding chic?
April 29, 2009 9:42 AM   Subscribe

What is the most appropriate outfit to wear to two weddings, one Muslim, one Catholic?

Next week my boyfriend and I will be winging our way to beautiful Rochester, NY, to attend the wedding of his (Muslim) cousin to a (Roman Catholic) woman. Hoorah! Weddings! Yay!

Friday night will be the Muslim wedding ceremony and dinner, followed by a more-Christian based "inter-faith" ceremony and reception on Saturday night. His family is from Pakistan, if that makes a difference, and when his generation was born in the States, the older aunts, uncles, parents were all born overseas.

I am a fairly stylish lady (if I do say so myself ....), but I've found conflicting guidelines for what to wear to a Muslim wedding.

More particularly, how modest should I aim for? Are there any specific colors I should shy away from?

I was originally thinking of looking for a vintage 50s style dress - full skirt down to my knees, covering my chest (I have large tattoos) and cleavage. My shoulders and arms can be covered by a cardigan or shawl. I also have large tattoos on both ankles that I will have to cover up, probably with opaque tights, as I prefer to wear skirts or dress. However, the Internet suggests that I should be wearing complete head-to-toe coverage.

My boyfriend is mostly unhelpful, as he is a pretty outspoken atheist and grew up more culturally Muslim than religiously Muslim. I am also not close enough to any women on that side of his family that I could contact them about dress codes.

His immediate family is already aware that we are both living-in-sin heathens, but this is my first time meeting most of the extended family so I want to make a good impression!
posted by chickadee to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

You don't have to wear head-to-toe coverage if you are not Muslim yourself (though if the ceremony is in a mosque, it would be perceived as very rude if you did not cover your head when actually inside the mosque).

A knee-length skirt isn't really appropriate for a Muslim ceremony, in my experience--the opaque tights are neither here nor there, as the issue is not exposing the shape of your legs. A long (like between mid-calf and ankle length) skirt (with boots if it's not ankle-length), long sleeves, and a high neckline (up to the collarbone) would be more appropriate. Trousers are another way to go here, as long as they're not very tight--although that might feel unfestive and informal to those of us from other traditions, many Muslim women wear beautiful trouser suits for the most formal occasions.

Now, for the Catholic ceremony, a knee-length dress would be perfectly fine. Basically, anything you would wear to a work party (i.e., not the most daringly sexy with cleavage, hemline, etc.) is perfectly appropriate for a Catholic church. You also don't have to cover your head in Catholic churches in the English-speaking world anymore, so not to worry about that.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:54 AM on April 29, 2009

Sidhedevil: I think she might be looking for one outfit that she can wear to both ceremonies...
posted by Grither at 9:58 AM on April 29, 2009

A fancy shalwar-kameez would make you fit in perfectly in the Pakistani ceremony, and would be kosher but distinctive at the interfaith gig.
posted by Meatbomb at 10:02 AM on April 29, 2009

Sidhedevil: I think she might be looking for one outfit that she can wear to both ceremonies...

Yes. But it also sounded like she was excited about the 1950s dress, and might be less excited about the modest outfit, so I was encouraging two different outfits. Obviously the long skirt and long-sleeved blouse, or long-sleeved trouser suit, would be acceptable for the Catholic wedding as well.

I would strongly suggest not wearing shalwar kameez to a wedding where many of the guests are folks for whom shalwar kameez is a traditional dress if it is not a traditional dress for your culture. I know South Asian women living in both the US and Canada who react very negatively when they meet someone of another cultural background wearing shalwar kameez, because they perceive it as "dressing up" and perhaps even "cultural appropriation." There have been some minor kerfuffles about this in the UK as well.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:11 AM on April 29, 2009 [2 favorites]

You're not Muslim, so you are not expected to dress exactly according to custom. Also, there are a lot of variations across Muslim cultures on what is considered "modest." Generally speaking, Pakistani and South Asian regulations for what body parts can show are more "liberal" than a lot of Arab Muslim cultures, particularly Gulf countries.

From my half-Pakistani, formerly religious Muslim perspective, your vintage dress sounds fine. Nothing above the knee, cap-sleeve or longer is fine, a shawl might be good, and no white (people often wear white to funerals)!
posted by raztaj at 10:25 AM on April 29, 2009

You could check out images of Jemima Khan when she was married to Imran Khan for examples of conservative attire.

who react very negatively when they meet someone of another cultural background... they perceive it as "dressing up" and perhaps even "cultural appropriation."

My experiences --admittedly with a different culture-- have been the exact opposite but you might as well err on the side of caution.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 10:29 AM on April 29, 2009

Response by poster: thanks for your advice sidhedevil! you're right, i am not uber pumped about modest-clothing, to my vintage/thrift store loving eyes, it's difficult to pull off and look stylish (i am also 5'2", so long skirts aren't not awesome for the body type). the pant suit idea is an awesome one, i will look into a classy wide-legged linen trouser! i'll probably wind up with two outfits, which is totally fine and gives me some excuse to shop.

i was gifted with a shalwar kameez from one of his aunts, but am not ballsy enough to wear it to a ceremony where i don't know the nuances of that particular clothing style.

my family is catholic, so i am well-versed in that dress code.

thank you all - i am very interested in these answers, keep them coming!
posted by chickadee at 10:33 AM on April 29, 2009

Shukr Online is an online store that sells slightly more "fashion forward" clothing for observant Muslim women, and browsing their website might give you some ideas of what "Muslim Wedding Chic" might consist of.

Also, here is the "formal wear" page from Artizara, a similar business. I offer these as a sort of guidepost to what you might see the Muslim women wearing.

If it were me, I'd probably try to model my outfit on the Sarah Gown and Jacket -- floor length skirt with a nice jacket and making sure the chest/neck area is covered with a scarf or some such.
posted by anastasiav at 10:37 AM on April 29, 2009

How conservative are the families? I know plenty of Catholics that are way more conservative than most muslims I know. Regardless, they are essentially an all-American couple, wear what you would tastefully wear to any ceremony.
posted by Pollomacho at 10:41 AM on April 29, 2009

IMO, don't go the Kameez route. If it was a more casual event a kameez top with jeans might be okay.

If you're looking for one outfit for two nights, how about a longer dress with a jacket or bolero (is the right word for it?) over it for the Friday night Muslim ceremony. (Be prepared to cover your head and remove your shoes if it's in a Mosque...)

Then perhaps lose the jacket/bolero on Saturday and add a pretty shawl and some cute shoes to mix it up?

Or go with two outfits as you won't need to be as conservative at the Inter Faith ceremony.

Honestly, I'd wear what you are comfortable in and as long as you're not exposing a ton of skin, don't worry about it. Just be polite and go with the flow when it comes to covering your head/removing shoes.

(I'm American married to a Pakistani, and I usually just keep my outfits conservative when when I have to deal with attending a religious gathering. I've even worn knee length dresses/skirts (with tights) before.)
posted by pghjezebel at 10:45 AM on April 29, 2009

Just to add, I would strongly caution against any of this head-to-toe business. To reiterate, there is vast difference of opinion of modesty across the (very very broad!) Muslim world. The stuff on Shukr and Artizara are for the very conservative types. I'm guessing if the Muslim man is marrying a Catholic women, he (and his family) are a bit more open to the idea of fusion and compromise - in spousal choice, and in clothing (what I didn't mention above, is that my dad is the Pakistani one - my mom was Catholic - woohoo for interfaith marriages!!).

This couple sounds like a lot of people I grew up around - they grew up practicing Muslims, but aren't fundies; respectfulness is wonderful, super modest is old school - these kids are a bit more progressive. Vintage dress, shawl, tights sounds perfectly and totally acceptable, in my mind of the many Muslim and/or Pakistani weddings I've been part of (no white, but people will probably be fine because they'll generally understand that not everyone is a cultural insider). Have fun!!!
posted by raztaj at 10:50 AM on April 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

zizzle's link means to go here.
posted by Houstonian at 11:13 AM on April 29, 2009

What raztaj said. You really can't generalize something like this; it all depends on your boyfriend's family. And from what you've told us, they sound very progressive.

There are some Muslims who feel the need to impose their beliefs on others, but most don't. You're not a Muslim so dress as you like, but with a little added modesty out of respect for your hosts. I think a knee-length dress with cap sleeves is fine. Also, don't wear black, which is reserved for funerals and sad occasions.

If the ceremony is held in a mosque, remember you'll be removing your shoes. Also, the head-covering is only necessary in the presence of men, and within the mosque the men will be separated from the women. So do keep something to cover your head as you enter the mosque, but feel free to remove it once you're in the ladies' section. Most mosques have separate entrances anyway.

I do have to disagree with sidhevil's comment about not wearing the shalwar kameez. My experience as an Indian muslim growing up in Canada has been the exact opposite. Generally, people of my parents' generation (first generation immigrants) get a big kick out of seeing non-Indians wear Indian clothing. I've NEVER heard of someone being offended by it (how utterly snobby?). In fact, you wearing an outfit that was gifted to you by his family would be considered a sign of respect. However, the outfit may not be fancy enough to wear to the wedding and you'd have no way to judge that without experience. You'd be better off wearing a dressier western outfit than a more plain shalwar kameez.

Enjoy the wedding!
posted by yawper at 11:38 AM on April 29, 2009

I would ask the aunt who gave you the kameez what she recommends, since she is sharing an interest in clothes with you and will know what to expect for this specific wedding.
posted by Houstonian at 11:43 AM on April 29, 2009 [2 favorites]

Ooh! a vintage 40's wide leg trouser suit in a lightweight spring fabric would be so much fun! (and it would give you the excuse to go out and get one)
posted by Vaike at 2:40 PM on April 29, 2009

I agree with raztaj--there is no one way to dress. I'm Afghan, but grew up going to an Albanian mosque and all the women wore dresses on holidays. Since this is a interfaith wedding, wear something that is more modest--not short, not sleeveless, no cleavage. I've seen these at a lot of weddings in the last decade, although at Islamic weddings they usually are not so belly bearing.
posted by nikitabot at 3:04 PM on April 29, 2009

I don't get why your BF isn't answering your question for you. His atheism is irrelevant to this matter and he should regardless be able to answer the Muslim side of the question for you (which is the only question since the Catholic side is a complete no-brainer).

Ask him again.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 3:24 PM on April 29, 2009

Response by poster: thanks all! very helpful and informative - love the shopping links, those clothes are beautiful!

so, i'll be looking for a knee-length or longer dress that's not too fitted and completely covers my chest to be worn with a cardigan, or a set of really neat trousers + blouse.

and, while in all other ways being a lovely and attentive partner, my boyfriend is, sadly, not the most attentive to the nuances of female clothing . . .
posted by chickadee at 3:49 PM on April 29, 2009

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