It’s an indisputable fact that the long white dress has come to dominate the world of wedding fashion. Indeed, there are few motifs more ingrained in our collective consciousness when it comes to connubial bliss than a bride clad in a gorgeous all-white creation strolling down the aisle. Interestingly, it is to Britain’s Queen Victoria we have to look as the prime instigator of this particular trend, with the royal in question having opted for a snowy gown for her 1840 wedding to her beloved Prince Albert. This sufficed to inspire many subsequent generations to follow in her footsteps, kicking off a truly global sartorial trend.
Today, the majority of women in the West still choose to get married wearing white wedding dresses, at least if they opt for the full church experience. Their counterparts in the East, however, have a dazzling array of traditional Asian wedding dresses to choose from – be it the multicoloured lehenga of India, the gold-and-red Chinese qipao or the figure-hugging beauty of Thailand’s lush silk chut Thai phra ratcha niyom (often shortened simply to ‘chut Thai’). In fact, for the blushing bride-to-be, the world really can be her wardrobe…
Given the sheer scale of India’s culture, geography and history, it’s no surprise that it’s home to a truly fabulous array of garments, textiles, fabrics and colour choices. It’s small wonder, then, that when an Indian woman gets married, she is most likely stunningly swathed in a legendary lehenga, a truly gorgeous local style of gown.
First introduced to the subcontinent by the Mughals – a tribe of Muslim Central Asians who conquered the region during the 16th century – the lehenga quickly became popular among nobility of the day, while remaining the wedding gown of choice among the country’s most stylish contemporary women. Consisting of a long skirt (with or without pleats) that is fixed at the waist with drawstrings, a fitted, midriff-baring blouse (called a choli), and a flowing dupatta (scarf), elegantly draped around the shoulders, its elegance is truly undeniable.
Red remains the favourite shade for lehenga-loving brides-to-be, no doubt because, in the Hindu tradition, the sacred colour symbolises love, strength, passion, fertility and prosperity. All three components of the costume are also typically embroidered with real gold threads, with the amount of gold used denoting the bride’s wealth and status.
Another nation to adopt a scarlet hue in a bid to ensure prosperity and good fortune is China, with this colour often used to mark celebratory occasions, such as the new year, sundry festivals and, of course, weddings. In the case of the latter, it is not uncommon for brides to wear several gowns over the course of the festivities, including a white dress to walk down the aisle.
A veritable must for many Chinese wives-to-be, of course, is the traditional qipao (also known as cheongsam in Cantonese-speaking regions) – a one- or two-piece figure-hugging garment made from fine silk, which boasts a mandarin collar with pankou knots (also known as Chinese knots or frog clasps) and comes intricately embroidered with such mythical motifs as phoenixes and dragons. Again, the amount of gold thread utilised in the design showcases the wealth of the bride’s family, with the most opulent gowns often weighing several kilos.
The traditional qipao is a form-fitting affair typically fashioned in an all-but-obligatory scarlet, usually furnished with short sleeves and a mid-thigh slit on the side. Times more contemporary, however, have unleashed a slew of updated interpretations, including sleeveless avatars, multicoloured interpretations and even mermaid silhouettes.
Prior to the ’60s, the Land of Smiles didn’t actually have a unified national dress. It wasn’t until Queen Sirikit – who in her time was lauded as an international fashion icon, as well as being credited with reviving the popularity of Thai silks – designed the chut Thai in 1964 that her compatriots found they had, at last, been bequeathed a truly unified national costume.
Today, ‘chut Thai’ is an umbrella term encompassing both formal menswear and womenswear, with each region of the country boasting its own unique styling. Bridal chut Thai, in particular, are usually two-piece outfits, extending to a top and a patterned skirt or a pleated sarong. The most traditional offering usually comes in a wrap-around design, featuring a one-shoulder cut burnished with a sabia (scarf). Sumptuous Thai silk is used from head to toe, with pastels, silvers and golds the main colours of choice. These then tend to be paired with an array of gold jewellery for that added luxurious touch.
Most people with even a passing awareness of Japan’s unique fashion sensibility will know that the kimono is the country’s national outfit. What most may not be aware of, though, is the distinction between the different types of kimono, when they are worn and by whom. In fact, there are specific designs that are worn solely by brides on their big day. The most popular of these is undoubtedly the shiromuku kimono, an all-white garment that was originally worn at the weddings of noble samurai families.
With this shade said to represent the purity of the sun’s rays, every part of the shiromuku – from the over- and under-robes to the obi sash – are all burnished in a pristine white as a symbol of cleanliness, innocence and virginity. Such items are typically worn during the traditional Japanese Shinto wedding ceremony and can be accessorised with kanzashi, beautifully intricate hair pins and sensu printed fans tucked into the obi belt.
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