What to Wear to an Indian Wedding as a Guest

What to Wear to an Indian Wedding

PHOTO BY ANDREW BAYDA AND MISHA MOON

Everything you have heard about an Indian wedding—events spanning multiple days, exotic destinations, sizeable guest lists, and the burst of colors—is true. The celebrations are larger than life, whether the venue is the bride’s backyard or a private island.

That said, an LBD isn't going to cut it here, leading to the big question: what should you wear? We turned to Indian designers Manish Malhotra and Arpita Mehta for the answer.

Meet the Expert

  • Manish Malhotra is a leading Indian couturier, costume stylist, and revivalist.  
  • Arpita Mehta is a bridal, fusion, and Indian pret wear designer.

How to Decide What to Wear 

An expansive wardrobe is in order as the main wedding ceremony is preceded by several pre-wedding functions, each with its own signature vibe and dress code. This will determine your choice of outfits, and looks can be further narrowed down by the theme and season.

Malhotra recommends sparkle and glamour in modern sorbet colors. Gone are the days when you had to stick to strictly traditional Indian looks for every event. “Don’t hide your individuality,” he explains. “In fact, wear your personality, play with silhouettes, and style pieces together interestingly. The current mood in Indian wear is to recycle existing things from your closet and mix it with something new.”

You can easily wear a brocade skirt with an interesting top or an embroidered jacket with slim pants. However, Malhotra does recommend a traditional Indian weave or silk outfit for the main wedding day as a nod to the culture.

Mehta advises multi-functional and comfortable clothing as there is ample dancing and drinking involved. Moreover, the parties can last for several hours: “You are never overdressed at an Indian wedding, so don’t be afraid to go all out with your ensembles, jewelry, and makeup! Most guests show up in colorful outfits, but that said, choose a palette that resonates with you.”

Indian Wedding Attire Etiquette 

It’s acceptable to wear a formal gown for the engagement party, cocktail night, or reception but stick to traditional or fusion Indian looks for the other events. The Mehendi (henna party) can be more playful and colorful while the sangeet (a dance-centric event) calls for formal Indian occasion wear (jewel tones and metallics are never amiss). Indian brides tend to wear red or pink for the main wedding ceremony so steer clear of those hues so as to not upstage the bride.

Malhotra adds that there are no rules; the bottom line is to have fun with fashion. Yes, you can let your lace bustier work double duty as a sari blouse. Own a taffeta maxi skirt? Pair this with a white shirt and uncut diamond jewelry for a modern Indian look. Just be inventive.

Indian Wedding Outfits for Men and Women

For the Mehendi, opt for a billowing printed cape with tulip pants, flared palazzos, or a draped skirt. Just be careful to not get henna stains on your outfit. Turn to a lehenga (voluminous floor-skimming skirt) worn with an embellished top for the sangeet—this can be sequined or embroidered, off-shoulder or ruffled, cropped or peplum.

A classic Indian sari with ruffled detailing will also do the trick. Buy a pre-stitched one so you aren’t hunting for pleating tutorials on the day of the event! Since the sangeet is all about dancing, make sure your outfit is easy to move around in. Give into a traditional Indian look for the main wedding ceremony. A lehenga or sari in an Indian handloom will work like a charm. Stick to dusty pastels for day weddings and deeper tones for the evening. Black and white are best avoided on this day. Pack a few kaftans and kurtis that you can wear for the after-parties, high teas, or in between events.

The Mehendi is your chance to have fun with prints and colors—you will find a host of options depending on how safe or adventurous you want to be. The preferred attire for this event is typically a kurta and slim pants (known as churidars). The sangeet calls for a black or navy bandhgala jacket with formal trousers (or breeches if you are feeling more experimental) with your pocket square adding a pop of color. A smart dinner jacket or three-piece suit is another option, though we recommend the former. Choose a pastel kurta for the wedding day and add a waistcoat to dress it up even further.

Related Stories