he wedding outfit is one of the most important ensembles a woman will ever wear in her life. It should represent who she is and stand the test of time,” declares Kamiar Rokni, half of the design team behind Pakistan’s popular Karma label. And while Rokni couldn’t be more right—after all, those pictures are going to be around for a long time—that’s a lot of pressure on just one (but sometimes two or three) ensemble.
Because you don’t need any more stress as you plan your wedding, Nirali sought the advice of those who know what it takes to put together a beautiful bridal trousseau—some of the best designers from India and Pakistan. Here are their 10 tips for achieving the perfect wedding look.
1. Start with your fantasy.
When meeting with designers or visiting bridal boutiques, don’t be afraid to describe how you always imagined yourself as a bride. That vision is often the basis for the finished product.
“Chances are, her wedding is something a bride has been dreaming of for years,” says Maria Bilal, the fashion mastermind behind Pakistan’s Maria.B label, which has expanded to the UK, United Arab Emirates, India and North America. So she urges brides to begin with the vision they’ve always had of themselves as a bride. “Then I try to show her a dress closest to that vision, after which the designing part comes in. I design something totally new, keeping those requirements in mind.”
2. Strike a balance between being trendy and classic.
South Asian bridal wear is not exempt from trends, but that doesn’t mean you have to follow them. “To a great extent, bridal fashion is beyond trends,” says Rokni. “Try some, but don’t be super trendy—your photos will look dated in five years.” In fact, famed Indian designer JJ Valaya feels strongly about not being blinded by what’s all the rage: “Following trends in a regimental way is what actually spoils good fashion, as it tends to draw psychological boundaries around a creator. If everybody follows the same trend, then what becomes of individuality?”
Secrets from Real Brides
It’s a shame you only get married (hopefully) once—after you go through the experience, you know what to do next time. But two recent brides share their ideas for making sure your outfit comes together.
1. Get a petticoat. If your lengha doesn’t come with a built-in petticoat, use the white one that traditional American brides use to help it “fall nicely and make it fuller and more flattering,” says Nadia Samadani. It’s especially useful if you plan on walking around a lot in your bridal outfit—“It’s really nice to have that graceful, elegant fall.”
2. Keep your dupatta in place. “We stitched tiny loops into my dupatta on the top and sides, and then the hairdresser secured it to my hair by sliding bobby pins through the loops. It secures the duppata—it didn’t move, and the bobby pins were completely hidden,” says Samadani.
3. Get a lighter dupatta or chunni for dancing. “Even when we asked the lengha store for a lighter chunni,” says Sabeena Rajpal, “it was still so heavy. But then my mom also bought me a light scarf and I changed into that later in the night to dance.”
Still, some of the new innovations and ideas in bridal wear simply offer new twists on classic design. If you have your heart set on being a cutting edge bride, consider incorporating some of these styles into your outfit:
Skimpy cholis. Indian designer Payal Singhal, who opened a boutique in New York in 2006, says that if you feel like sporting a sexy look, sleeveless and skimpy blouses are all the rage. Adds Shelley Chhabra, who founded her own Indian bridal line and boutiques in the US, “Sexier blouses with intricate trimmings, but not fully embellished, are popular.”
Swarovski crystals. “Very glittery and shimmery, crystal brides are quite the thing,” says Bilal. “Most of my line is that way. But the traditional colors and kaam with a little modernization is something I always keep.”
Styles beyond lenghas. Don’t feel limited to the lengha. Ghararas, which are loose trousers pleated below the knee for a skirt-like effect, are gaining popularity again. (See the pink Karma gharara featured in the main photo above.) Bilal adds that “peshwaz cuts and chust pajamas are also in vogue.”
Simplicity. “The minimal look is in,” says Indian designer Ritu Beri. “The outfits are not completely covered with embroidery, and there’s a lot of placement-oriented embroidery and combinations of different fabrics.”
Traditional embellishments. “At Karma this year we are returning to classic embellishments using aari, zardozi, sequins and dabka as opposed to beads and crystals,” says Rokni. “The embellishment is traditional, while the cut and fabric is modern.” Singhal adds that brocades and antique embroidery are popular. Deepika Gehani, an upcoming Indian designer, says that “sequins, zardozi, gota work and kundan” alongside “antique brocades” are also popular.
Just remember that no trend is worth compromising what looks good on you: “One should not follow bridal trends blindly but should have them customized according to a bride’s physical attributes,” says Beri.
3. If you can, opt for two styles.
Most South Asian brides have at least two events to dress for, whether it’s a sangeet and wedding or a ceremony and walima, so mix it up. “Always try to do two looks for the different functions—choose different colors, makeup, and styles so you have variety,” suggests Bilal. And that means you can dress like a classic Mughal princess one day and a modern bride the next.
4. Stick with what you know.
If you’ve always wondered whether fuchsia suits you, now is not the time to try it. “Taking risks is great, but not on your wedding,” says Rokni. “Your wedding day is not the day to try looks and colors that you regularly don’t wear.”
5. But don’t be afraid to choose a “non-traditional” color.
So many brides feel compelled to stick with the reds and golds of yesteryear. And if that’s what you like, then don’t stray from tradition. But if you know that you look stunning in pale pink, buck the tradition and go for it. Many brides are even choosing cream or champagne colored lenghas. “There is a unique play of colors that has moved from the usual orange and reds,” says Beri.
6. Manage your budget.
When looking at bridal outfits, know that you can control how much you spend by altering the amount of embellishment and kaam that goes into the ensemble. Singhal says that any of her designs can be altered to suit a bride’s budget, and most designers agree. If you like a particular style, don’t be afraid to ask the designer how you can get that design in your own price range.
7. Make sure you are comfortable.
South Asian wedding ensembles weren’t necessarily designed for comfort, but things are changing. “Make sure that your outfit is physically comfortable,” advises Rokni. “If you are uncomfortable, it will show in your body language and face.” Beri agrees: “You don’t want to look uncomfortable in your wedding pictures. I suggest a bride to spend some time wearing her bridal outfit before the wedding to feel relaxed in it.” And if you’re comfortable, you’ll be free to focus on having a good time, says famed sari designer Satya Paul. “It will help you relax and enjoy the party.”
8. Focus on the total package.
“Be very careful about striking the right balance between clothes, accessories, jewelry and makeup in order to be truly elegant and awe-inspiring,” says Valaya. Pay attention to how everything will come together before the wedding, instead of focusing on all the elements as disparate parts. Rokni says that advice applies to your entire trousseau. “It’s a great opportunity to shop till you drop, but make sure it’s not random shopping. Coordinate outfits with jewels and accessories, and also make sure that you have a variation of ensembles to wear at different occasions after your wedding.”
9. Trust the designer—but expect attention.
You probably won’t ever spend as much money on clothes as you do for your wedding, so you have a right to be pampered and listened to. But Bilal adds that it’s important to keep an open mind: “Trust the designer to know what will look good. Experience has taught us a lot, and we can tell immediately what will work. When some people insist on doing something that the designer doesn’t agree to, the end result is never perfect.” Beri strives to provide a good balance between attention and suggestion: “The wedding is something which every girl looks forward to—it is the most important day of her life. So I feel it’s very important to understand the bride’s choice, her taste and her physicality. I don’t like to force something on a bride, but I like to create something unique for her.”
Paul agrees. “We don’t believe in cramping a bride’s decision because we believe that anyone who does eventually make that purchase has to be totally convinced of that decision.” Don’t expect anything less from your designer—and if you’re being bullied, feel free to move on.
10. Enjoy your moment of unadulterated glamour.
Paul’s final advice? “Have fun and enjoy it!” And savor every moment by being yourself, just with a glamorous touch: “Being subtly sensual and at the same time making a strong individual statement is the order of the day,” says Valaya. “I think today weddings are much more than a ceremony, they are a celebration. And why not? We all have one life and these are moments that are never repeated.”
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