India Filter: Wedding Guest 11th Hour Freak-Out Edition
November 24, 2014 12:02 PM   Subscribe

I'm attending a wedding in Mumbai this upcoming weekend and am having a crisis of apparel.

My husband and I were invited to a wedding in Mumbai; we leave in 2 days and I'm second-guessing all of my clothing options. The groom is a college friend of my husband. To my knowledge, we will be the only "western" guests in attendance (there will be several other alums from our university but they're also Indian).

There are 3 days of "semi-formal" events: Mata Ki Chowki, Mehendi, Pithi Pawna, etc.
There are 2 evenings of "formal" events: Sangeet, Baraat, Wedding, Reception, etc.

All events will be at the 5-star hotel where we will also be staying. Groom told husband to wear shirt and trousers to semi formal events and full suit to formal events (did not/cannot provide help for female attire). However, he also said there are no set rules and we can wear whatever we're comfortable in (but is this genuine?? agh!).


-I know red is the color the bride wears, but is red off-limits for the events other than the wedding? An Indian friend said that I would be fine wearing red b/c it would be nothing like the wedding saree, but now I'm reading conflicting things online and second-guessing my choices. I have a tea-length red dress I was going to wear to one of the semi-formal events and a floor-length maroon dress I was going to wear to the sangeet. Both are solid colors w/ no embellishments, I'd be wearing with a shawl in a different non-red/non-gold color, and they tick all of the "conservative" clothing boxes. Can I do this or is this the worst idea ever?

-What's the general consensus on wearing local attire? I'm not going to attempt a saree (I do not have the grace required to pull that off and do not expect to have assistance with draping). But would consider a lehenga or anarkali for the formal events or a churidar kameez for the semi formal events. Yay or nay?

-I am 5'11" (180cm), and have been told not to expect any ready-to-wear items to be even close to being long enough (I'll be wearing flats to all events). If it's ok to wear local attire, is there a place in Mumbai to have it made-to-measure with a quick (i.e., 1 day) turnaround? If so, how much should I expect this to cost?

-Are there any other things I should be aware of apparel/beauty-wise?

I would like to avoid offending/upsetting anyone; your assistance is greatly appreciated!
posted by melissasaurus to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: For ready to wear clothing you should be fine if you focus on long skirted outfits instead of pants. Those come pretty long (to wear with tall heels) so would work for you since you can wear it lower around your hips instead of at the waist, or with flats.
posted by cacao at 12:17 PM on November 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Re the wear whatever is comfortable/but are they for real question, I'm going to say yes. For one thing, you'll be among friends and Indians are not overly uptight about this sort of thing. Also, Westerners tend to stick out regardless so no matter what you wear, you will get the same level of general staring and comments and interest in whatever is going on with you. There is no perfect thing you can wear that will cause you to seamlessly blend in with the crowd. In addition to all that, the fact that this wedding is in Mumbai implies that most likely the guests will lean relatively cosmopolitan. Some attendees will probably also be in Western-style clothes, and certainly it won't seem odd to see a man in a suit or a woman in a nice dress. There will probably be lots of guests who've traveled or lived abroad and are aware of all Western clothing conventions.

In general though, for you as a woman, I would definitely err on the side of something conservative and not over sexy.

I wouldn't wear traditional Indian clothes unless you have an impeccable sense of what reads as formal vs. semi-formal, what's age appropriate, etc.
posted by Sara C. at 12:28 PM on November 24, 2014 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I wonder if browsing through Wed Me Good or similar blogs would show you enough crowd/gues photos to get an idea of what might be appropriate. You can sort by location!
posted by DarlingBri at 12:47 PM on November 24, 2014

Best answer: Both are solid colors w/ no embellishments, I'd be wearing with a shawl in a different non-red/non-gold color, and they tick all of the "conservative" clothing boxes. Can I do this or is this the worst idea ever?

I would not hesitate to wear these colours (red and maroon) to an Indian wedding. I'm south Asian, but not Indian; I have been to countless Muslim weddings, and a few Hindu weddings. The bride's wedding outfit will be very ornate, much more so than your dresses sound. I think you will be fine.

What's the general consensus on wearing local attire? I'm not going to attempt a saree (I do not have the grace required to pull that off and do not expect to have assistance with draping). But would consider a lehenga or anarkali for the formal events or a churidar kameez for the semi formal events. Yay or nay?

Have seen this happen many times, including with close family friends. All the wedding party were delighted to see their foreign guests wearing local attire - I don't see how you could offend anybody going this route.
posted by Ziggy500 at 3:42 PM on November 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Previously.

or a churidar kameez for the semi formal events. Yay or nay?

Nay. Data point: when my friend (US citizen, blonde and blue-eyed, 5'6") attended a wedding in Mumbai, she reported afterwards that her wardrobe was considered somewhat inadequate, or cheating, in that she only wore two different outfits, and of these, only one was a sari -- the other was shalwar kameez. I didn't get the sense that the same objection would apply to a formal or semiformal dress, of whatever cultural style.

-Are there any other things I should be aware of apparel/beauty-wise?

Bring lots of outfits, if you can. (Data point: see above.) Five would be a good number.

My friend's lapses were considered forgivable, perhaps partly because the hosts were aware of her financial constraints (graduate student), and certainly because the hosts reckoned that American guests automatically lent the ceremony a certain cachet. The two couples were social acquaintances through my friend's husband's fieldwork.
posted by feral_goldfish at 5:05 PM on November 24, 2014

Best answer: Wear lots of bangle bracelets, if you have some. Like, all of them. That's the advice I got for going to a friend's Indian wedding, and it did make me fit in a bit better. The other was to not wear black, even in small amounts.
posted by Margalo Epps at 5:18 PM on November 24, 2014

Best answer: A friend recently bought a saree in Agra for 1000RSD in an afternoon (She had to get the top made, it took a few hours and they delivered it to her at our hotel). She was told that she could ask the hotel to send a women up to help her get dressed, though we never did this. (I realise that you don't want a saree, but thought the info could be handy). If you want to go this route, I would contact the hotel now and see if they have any suggestions.

Err on the side of colour, wear gold jewellery and a shawl.
posted by kjs4 at 8:22 PM on November 24, 2014

Best answer: 2nding Ziggy500's advice. My brother (south asian) and his (western) wife went to a wedding in Hyderabad a few years ago. They also brought along her sister and friend. The western women all wore Indian clothing to all events and Indian people enjoy this and may see it as a kind gesture. It was welcomed and the Indian women helped in picking out the right outfits. women talk a lot abt what to wear to each event so if there is anyone you have access to, you could ask what they're wearing. They will know you may need guidance and probably be happy to offer help. You can wear any color, style and even embellishments. The easiest might be a shalvar could go with heavy work for the formal event and lighter for the semi formal. good'll be a great experience!
posted by PeaPod at 11:59 AM on November 25, 2014

Best answer: Um. So I'm Indian, and I've been to more of these kinds of events than I can count.

So what you wear kind of depends on what sort of wedding you're going to. It's a 5-day (or maybe 3-day?) Hindu wedding at a 5-star hotel in Mumbai? People will likely be wearing everything under the sun: saris, anarkalis, lehngas, kurtas, awkward too-short cocktail dresses...

You can wear red whenever you want. You can wear gold whenever you want. The bride will be dressed in a sari or lehnga that is like 15x more ornate, expensive, and heavy (literally, they weigh a ton) than anything you would ever buy. She may also change at some point during the ceremony, and she will have a dozen different outfits for the whole shebang.

You can also wear black whenever you want. My favorite wedding sari is mostly black with some green, and gold spangles. I strongly recommend against wearing anything that is mostly white, though, as pulling that off takes more cultural fluency than I suspect you're comfortable with.

My recommendation is basically: if you'll be more comfortable in dresses, wear those. But if you want to wear Indian clothes, people will love it and want to help you. You should pick a price point for each outfit and get whatever you like within that budget. The secret to things in India is that you can pretty much get anything done if you pay for it. Need a custom-made outfit in a day? Pay a little extra. Need a woman from a nearby salon to come to the hotel and help drape you? Pay for it. You'll need draping if you wear a sari (for obvious reasons), but you might also want to consider it if you wear a lehnga (because the way the dupatta is styled is always changing). This whole process will all be made much easier if you have someone local (preferably a woman) accompany you, because people will try to fleece you if you don't know what you're doing, and also because finding a good tailor is a highly-regarded skill. You can also go to a store that has off-the-rack and get it altered to fit. Some stores even have an in-between option, with clothes that are sort of half-made (often sari blouses), and they'll finish the garments to your measurements.

Another thing: the trend in hip circles these days is towards all synthetic materials: crepe, georgette, chiffon, rayon. I personally LOVE silk clothes and silk saris in particular, but wearing them marks you as a certain kind of old fashioned (and possibly dowdy) woman. I'm okay with those cultural connotations, but you might want to take them into account when making choices. This'll be slightly ameliorated by the fact that it's a winter wedding, and so heavier silks are more appropriate -- but the hot young women will all be wearing synthetic saris or lehngas with tiny little backless blouses. Either way, you would definitely never wear anything cotton to the formal events at this kind of wedding, no matter where you buy it or how pretty it is. Cotton is probably fine for the semi-formal events. In fact, jeans are probably fine for those events.

You might be tempted to buy off-the-rack at Fabindia, because everything is so pretty and well-organized. Do that if you must (although I actually don't know if their clothes will fit your height), but see above re: my note on old-fashioned/dowdy women. (Not a slight! I fucking love Fabindia.)
posted by Ragini at 1:43 PM on November 25, 2014 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Oh yeah, and wear all the awesome costume jewelry you can find. Buy it off the street. Don't pay a lot for it. But do match it to your clothes.
posted by Ragini at 1:45 PM on November 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Also (yikes, sorry), feel free to MeMail me about specific questions/concerns, or if you want even MORE detailed advice. Happy to chat.
posted by Ragini at 1:51 PM on November 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks so much everyone! I'm all packed and at the airport waiting to board. I feel so much better about the whole thing and am very much looking forward to the experience! I have many outfits packed that should work but will also try to buy some clothes while there. Special shout out to the American mefite in Mumbai who sent me a mefi mail and graciously answered my seven million follow-up questions. I'll post an update from the other side, in case anyone searches this question in the future.
posted by melissasaurus at 6:40 AM on November 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I'm back from Mumbai - what an experience! Tl;dr my dresses were fine. We were the only non-Indian guests and the only guests in non-Indian attire, but it was totally fine. I matched the colors worn by others for each of the events, which helped me feel more comfortable. I would have been awkward and stiff in Indian outfits that I wasn't familiar with wearing.

Two semi formal events (one daytime; one nighttime): women wore lightweight fabric sarees, churidar sets, etc; bright colors. I wore a red midi cap sleeve fit-and-flare dress with purple flats and a purple/red wrap to the nighttime event and a royal blue knee-length sleeveless a-line dress with blue flats and a purple/red wrap to the other event. Big jewelry.

Sangeet: women wore fancier sarees etc. in bright colors. Bride wore a baby blue saree. I wore a bright blue and green chiffon gown - it was a halter top but I put a 3/4 sleeve navy lace crop top over it - with navy flats, big jewelry.

Wedding/reception: women wore heavyweight fabric sarees in rich jewel tones. Lots of people wore shades of red. The bride actually wore pink (but it was so encrusted in jewels that it was basically just a shimmery sparkly colorless amazing garment). I wore a maroon chiffon gown - cap sleeve, v neck, buttons down the front, crochet cutouts along the waistline (this dress, if the link works) - with nude flats, a light pink silk wrap with red flowers on it, and big jewelry (including a necklace that covered the exposed neckline area of the dress).

I'm glad I wore western attire to this wedding, but now that I've seen the style, fabric, etc options that people wear to each type of event, I'll likely venture to Queens to buy a few Indian outfits if invited to another Indian wedding in the future.

Note for other Indian wedding noobs: everything starts at least an hour after the time specified on the invitation; everyone knows this apparently but no one will tell you, even when explicitly asked.
posted by melissasaurus at 10:02 AM on December 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

That is a fantastic dress you wore to the wedding! Glad you had a good time.
posted by Ziggy500 at 8:35 AM on December 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

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