"Grecian”, “Studio 54”, “Bridgerton”—these are just some of the dress code requests I have received on invites in the past three-four months. No, these must-follow dressing rules were not for Halloween or costume parties, but for wedding functions.
Today, many wedding invites, whether in India or abroad, include a “wardrobe planner”, a guide that tells you, the invitee, what to wear—from colours to silhouettes. They will tell you whether your black embellished sari needs a feather hat to achieve that British royal twist, or your tuxedo should be sky blue, instead of the usual boring black, to make it look formal, yet beach-y. Some brides and grooms can be very exacting as to what they expect their guests to wear. It almost seems as though the couple no longer trusts their own friend’s sense of style and fear they might kill the vibe of their Instagram-worthy wedding look.
The reason for these strict dress codes is simple: social media.
“A mandated dress code means there will be homogeneity in the visuals,” says Divyak D’Souza, fashion stylist and host of Say Yes To The Dress India, an eight-episode reality series that follows the lives of 16 to-be brides who are trying to be in control of things that are mostly out of their control.
“Today it is all about those pictures, which means everything needs to be controlled and choreographed and that includes what the guests are wearing,” explains D’Souza.
The Big Fat Indian Wedding has always been an occasion to show-off—and what better way to tell the world how wonderful your event was than through beautiful pictures that can be shared on various social media platforms.
It’s common to see almost every wedding ceremony celebrating itself with its own hashtag and Instagram account, and so you need dazzling digital content.
From “Get Ready With Me” Reels and editorial quality images, to planning how the Instagram grid will look is now part of wedding preparations. When it comes to weddings, it’s not official unless it’s on Instagram.
There is no question that after the lifting of covid restrictions, we all want to celebrate and, of course, dress up. Everyone is looking at ways to make their celebration seem a little extra, and adding a theme does inject a sense of occasion. It can also be a way to add a personal touch, which is always welcome at weddings, as the chosen theme can also speak of the couple’s own love story.
While it can be fun to play dress-up, the Indian wedding seems to have taken dress codes to a whole new level, with some couples deciding to attach a theme to every function. And attending a costume ball night after night is not only exhausting, but also takes away the actual significance of the wedding festivities.
“When it comes to dressing, some direction is often required, especially with destination weddings. You do not want guests arriving in Manolo Blahniks when the occasion is being held on a beach or in a garden. Or perhaps a shawl will be required in the evenings,” says Punit Jasuja, a Delhi- and New York-based event designer and wedding planner. He, however, believes that asking guests to come dressed matching a theme is putting too much pressure on them. “Your guests are giving up three days of their lives to be a part of your celebrations, and now you need a whole new wardrobe too.” He offers a suggestion: if the couple does want to host a themed wedding function, let there be props at the event, and let it be a surprise to the guests. It will be a wedding that reflects a couple’s personality and will always be remembered, for good or bad. D’Souza adds that then guests think creatively and use accessories and styling tricks to be on theme, and not to buy new outfits.
With conscious consumption being the need of the day, encouraging guests to buy new outfits just to match a theme does seem wasteful. While weddings are looking at how to be more mindful in their invites (many are now opting for e-vites), and are looking at reusable wedding décor—we often forget that fashion is, in fact, one of the most polluting industries. It accounts for close to 10% of global cardon dioxide emissions, more than aviating and shipping combined, according to the United Nations Environment Programme.
With the clothes that you wear to weddings often being the most expensive garments you own, you do want these pieces to have as many wears as possible. Many recent brides wait for a close friend’s wedding as an opportunity to upcycle their own wedding outfits, and it’s also a great time to raid your mother’s wardrobe and pull out one of her beautiful saris. It’s hard to do all this when there is a dress code staring at you. Weddings that are in a different city or in an exotic location like a palace or a museum will already lend themselves to a certain style of dressing, so adding a themed dress code, can actually take away focus from the beauty of the location.
While we all understand that beautiful pictures last a lifetime, surely you can trust your wedding guests to know what to wear?
Dress Sense is a monthly fashion column that takes a look at the clothes that we wear every day and what it means to us.
Sujata Assomull is a journalist, author and mindful fashion advocate.