The sartorial etiquette and know-how for an Hindu Indian fete
While you may not be Indian yourself nor familiar with Indian culture, it’s likely that at least once in your lifetime, especially given how many Indian families there are in Hong Kong, you’ll be invited to an Indian wedding. Indian nuptials are legendary as unlike most Hong Kong weddings, they span at least three days, if not more. It’s true that Indian weddings are the most fun weddings and a spectacle, especially to the foreign eye. Truth be told, they are always nothing less than an extravagant, no-expense spared, all-out affair, bursting of colour and energised by the combination of music and dance.
That said, like a typical Hong Kong wedding, if you haven’t attended a handful, it’s hard to get a grip of what’s expected of you as a non-Indian guest, take for example you wouldn’t know that typically the time stated on the invitation isn’t the actual starting time of the event. As an Indian friend once told me, at an Indian wedding (or any other Indian event), add one and half hours to two hours to the indicated time and only then will you be on time – a rule that certainly doesn’t apply to Hong Kong weddings. To guide you through, we approach this celebratory etiquette, step-by-step, beginning with what to wear, or if it’s a destination wedding, what to pack. Below, we give you the sartorial guide to an Indian wedding, especially if there isn’t an indicated dress code, or, gasp, a theme on the invite.
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Celebrations are likely to take place with the family days before the actual wedding celebration, but the big event usually kicks off with a cocktail and dinner welcoming the guests. Here it would be most appropriate to dress in cocktail wear, both applicable for men and women.
A lot of the time, day two kicks off with an afternoon party, this is probably the most casual event yet. But being a wedding, casual isn’t all that casual, we would suggest looking at where the event takes place. If it’s in a event room or a ballroom, we would suggest abiding to a dress code considered cocktail. Should the venue be by the pool or on lawn, it’s best to steer away from heels.
Also, Indian culture is generally quite conservative, so even if your friend may be quite liberal or more liberal than one would expect, remember that the couple’s elderly relatives will be there. It is best to dress more conservatively, meaning don’t show too much chest or leg, and if you must, choose one or the other.
Generally, you’ll find most people will dress in all shades of the rainbow, it’s best to steer away from black and this is the time to flaunt your loudest jewellery and better yet, wear some costume jewellery.
Day Two: Mehndi
The mehndi is sometimes done at the sangeet, however it is not and you’re invited to it, it’s best to go casual day clothing if you are non-Indian, you’ll find the bride and her relatives will attend in traditional attire. This is usually quite a casual process, where a henna artist will draw on the bride’s hands and feet. We would advise women to wear a shirt with a loose sleeve or no sleeve at all to avoid staining your clothes.
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Day Two: Sangeet
This event deserves a section of its own as often this is the most confusing and complicated event to dress for. The sangeet is where the bangrha comes out in its full effect, essentially, it’s an evening of using the art of dance to express your love for the couple accompanied by a lavish feast and steeped in custom and tradition.
For women, if you’re keen on wearing a sari, this is the time to do so, just make sure you’ve booked an appointment with a lady to help you wrap your sari, as it’s no easy task for a beginner. Alternatively, you can opt for a lehenga, often a two-piece, which is a lot easier to wear and walk in. Like an evening dress, there are a plethora of offerings but generally you’ll find the more detailed the embroidery and intricate the beading, (especially if the material and design is custom made for you) the more extortionate the prices.
For jewellery, you’ll find that like an evening black-tie, the women will all be showcasing their finest, and in true Indian tradition, you’ll note that the jewellery worn are large and colourful, putting a simple diamond choker to shame. Again, if you’re not the proud owner of sparklers the size of a ping pong ball, a great alternative is to wear costume jewellery.
Wearing Indian traditional clothes isn’t a must, but it’s a nice gesture. If you don’t have anything, a dress you would wear to a black-tie formal would suffice or a dress with some sort of Indian-influence craftwork also works.
Day Three: Baraat
This is the journey which the groom and his friends and relatives known as the baraati (married women were previously not allowed to this event), walk, or in reality, dance their way to the wedding ceremony. The dress code is strictly smart casual, but it is advised to wear something quite light and airy as you’ll be dancing, walking and moving about. The dress code is much more solemn compared to the sangeet, but remember you are attending the ceremony directly after, so for women we would suggest a day dress and a silk scarf to match.