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I am a Canadian woman and I will be attending a wedding in India in January. There will be Indian and Canadian people in attendance. I was wondering if it is rude (or expected) to wear a sari to the wedding.

The two disrespectful situations I am looking to avoid are:

  1. Wearing western clothes and giving off the impression I am "too good" for a sari or,

  2. Wearing a sari and giving off the impression I am just playing dress-up with another country's culture and traditions.

I was invited through my sister-in-law (friend of the bride) so I do not have the ability to contact the bride directly, and whenever I ask my family, I get a shrug or noncommittal answer in return. Any help would be appreciated!

UPDATE: I did choose to wear a sari for a portion of the wedding (actually, all of the Canadians did) and it was very well received. Thanks to everyone for your help!

10 Answers 10

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I was wondering if it is rude (or expected) to wear a sari to the wedding.

Being from India, I'd say there is no such thing that only Indian women must wear a sari. You can always wear it if you feel comfortable. Also, it is not compulsory for every girl to wear a sari. I attended a wedding once where two or three foreign girls were wearing sari (I guess they were friends) and it was all fine.

And in my opinion, it mostly depends on the people who'll be attending the wedding. You might get attention of like everyone if you're the only one wearing it or you might not. If you want to avoid unusual attention, you might wanna skip it. If there are a couple more Canadian people wearing the sari, you can try.

I'd suggest to avoid it and wear the dress you like and deem fit the best according to the occasion (just keep it modest).

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    Thanks! I was hoping to hear the opinion of someone from India as I know it could be different from the types of weddings we have in Canada. – kem Nov 27 '17 at 8:42
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    @KeltieMurdoch I'm an Indian too. This is a good answer. – NVZ Nov 27 '17 at 9:31
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    @KeltieMurdoch (I'm also an Indian): a (lone) foreigner wearing a sari would probably be the most, uh, interesting sight at the wedding (mostly because saris are difficult enough to handle that most Indian ladies I know only wear them when the occasion is formal enough). If you wanted to go for an Indian look, I'd suggest a "salwar kameez", which is reasonably acceptable at weddings all over India across religions and regions. – muru Nov 27 '17 at 10:01
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    I have seen two weddings (with multiple westerner guests), and both were totally different. In the one, everyone was wearing traditional clothing, in the other all westerners were asked to dress as they would do for a wedding at home. In both cases it was the preference of the bridal couple (or maybe their family). So the best is to talk with them about it. – PlasmaHH Nov 27 '17 at 10:23
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    I am half-Indian, with my mother's side inviting those from my fathers side (generally European descent) to come to their weddings. In both cases, we had almost the entire family on my father's side in Indian garb, and one of them even took a trip to India just to visit because she loved the fashion. – Anoplexian - Reinstate Monica Nov 27 '17 at 16:18
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Let me tell you a story that happened at my friend's wedding (say John) a few months ago.

John's an Indian who works in Sweden. The wedding was in India and John had invited a few of his Swedish friends to his wedding. Indian weddings typically last from a day to about a week. John's wedding spanned 5 days. There are various functions/ceremonies like Mehendi,Sangeet etc. All these functions are normally adorned by people wearing traditional Indian attire. Note that it is not compuslory.

However, John's Swedish friends had asked him what attire they would need to wear. John bought all his friends sarees, lehengas and sherwanis. They wore it to the ceremonies and looked absolutely beautiful. The people here generally embrace people who embrace our traditions.

Coming to your question :

Wearing western clothes and giving off the impression I am "too good" for a sari

NO! People will understand that you are from a different culture and that you might not be wearing traditional clothing as you would feel uncomfortable! There were Indians wearing western attire at John's wedding!!

Wearing a sari and giving off the impression I am just playing dress-up with another country's culture and traditions.

People would embrace you for embracing our culture!

If there's anyone who thinks it's rude, then they're the one who needs to change, not you.

I would say, definitely wear a sari! You might never get the chance to try one on in future!

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    I hope you understand why my edits are the way they are. Also, please do not promote any random product or website. We may have to mark this answer as spam in that case. – NVZ Nov 27 '17 at 21:10
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    "If there's anyone who thinks it's rude, then they're the one who needs to change, not you." can quickly turn into an extremely slippery slope. Claiming authority on who needs to change can be one of the rudest things ever :) – rackandboneman Nov 28 '17 at 15:37
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While the other advice given here on the Indian culture and how to respect it are wonderful, I am going to try a different approach that involves people.

In my mind this part of your question is the most relevant here:

I was invited through my sister-in-law (friend of the bride) so I do not have the ability to contact the bride directly, and whenever I ask my family, I get a shrug or noncommittal answer in return. Any help would be appreciated!

While you mention that you have asked family members what you should wear and they are not giving you direct answers, ask them what they are wearing. In particular ask your sister-in-law as you have confirmed that she is the one who invited you (I assume this means she is going and was directly invited by the bride or groom). If she is Canadian, you should wear the same type of outfit; this would show good solidarity among family. If she is Indian, ask her what you should wear; she will know the traditions better than you, and if not, she can ask the bride for you.

This would work in theory for any wedding. It is always best to ask someone who is close (or at least closer than you) to the wedding what should be avoided or embraced.

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I am South Indian. There are many good answers to this question that may unfortunately be generalizations to the whole sub-continent.

Saris themselves vary across regions in terms of motifs, borders, style of wearing, etc. Wearing a North Indian style Saree to a South Indian wedding will be appreciated, albeit awkwardly. And vice versa.

If you are interested in wearing the Indian outfits, please do your research on the target culture and the customs, as well as the ease of procuring a saree or indian outfit that achieves a balance between a generalization and a specification of the target culture. Unfortunately, this is a very hard task because India is a wonderfully diverse country.

My personal recommendation is to wear Western formal.

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India is not like Persia or similar places where clothing is closely linked to religious or cultural beliefs.

There are modern styles of traditional clothing in India which might be found to be more "acceptable" to all while still showing an appreciate and respect of the local culture.

They key is to choose a style that will be recognized as appropriate to the occasion (western styles are common in India, and some of the local guests will probably be wearing them), which you feel comfortable wearing, and MOST IMPORTANTLY DOES NOT SHOW UP THE BRIDE! (or the mothers of the bride/groom!)

I think the poster might be thinking of something like Lederhosen in Germany. This is definitely a "costume" in modern Germany, and would not be appropriate at any event except for a show or festival. In India, traditional Indian styles are worn every day - they are not "costumes" and therefore are appropriate for any event.

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    I am an Indian woman and would second this. Handling a sari needs some finesse and practice. Do it if you feel like trying it. There are various Indian style dresses in addition to the sari : chudidar, lehenga, gaghra-choli, etc. They can be quite ornate and completely appropriate. – user61034 Nov 27 '17 at 19:08
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Indian here. It all depends on you! You can wear absolutely anything you want. If you want to wear a sari, please go ahead. People will understand and don't worry. However, as someone suggested, refrain from black or white sarees. Normally for a wedding, Silk sarees (Kanchivaram, Mysore silk saris, Paithan, etc) are worn but these are expensive (can cost as high as $10K). These sarees should never be washed, so be careful not to get it dirty.

So, if you only want to wear it once, go for some cheaper versions (tonnes available). If you are feeling uncomfortable (most certainly) wearing a sari, don't bother and wear a western dress; it's totally okay and many Indians wear a western dress in weddings. Good Luck!

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    "These sarees should never be washed" - well of course they can be washed. There's just a technique to it. Good answer otherwise. Besides, the OP could choose a Lehenga instead of a sari. – Nav Nov 28 '17 at 13:58
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Most Indians, when they see westerners, especially blond caucasians, wearing Indian clothes, are gratified due to that patriotic spirit which they are indoctrinated in from a young age.

However, there are some people who would see you wearing a sari as a disrespect to Indian culture. These women are generally the old evil mother-in-laws of the typical Indian soap opera.

Wearing a sari and giving off the impression I am just playing dress-up with another country's culture and traditions.

The only person who would have this opinion is that little model of bad-Indian in your mind.

Wearing western clothes and giving off the impression I am "too good" for a sari.

Over half of India wears western clothes, so yeah.

If you aren't very closely related to the bride or broom, then I don't think you'll be expected to wear a sari, or any other traditional clothing.

If you do, then the first kind of Indian will be extremely shy but also especially enthusiastic to talk to you, given that "she's wearing indian clothes, awesome!".

If there is anyone of the second kind in attendance (enquire from your mutual friend), then you should try to not be in their general area. Do not actively avoid them, per se, but don't just go to them for a cup of tea or something.

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I will be attending a wedding in India in January.

Take note of the climate of the place. If it is North India, it would be chilling cold to wear a saree. If it is South India, the weather would be pleasant and just fine for saree. Also, get in touch with others who are attending because you might want to avoid wearing if no one else is wearing.


I was invited through my sister-in-law.

Ask her directly, she may give a good advice. A great idea would be to have a saree theme, say all of the friends of bride wear sarees of similar colour/design.


I was wondering if it is rude (or expected) to wear a sari to the wedding.

We, Indians love people who respect our traditions. We are a country of diverse cultural and socio-economic background. As the saying in Sanskrit goes, अतिथिदेवो भव: the guest is equivalent to God. You need not worry about disrespect, we are innately good people.

Hope you have a good visit to India.

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    Observe that OP is from Canada. I believe that all of India would seem hot to her. – MalayTheDynamo Nov 28 '17 at 18:12
  • Yes, I did note that. – ABcDexter Nov 28 '17 at 18:13
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    @MalayTheDynamo: As a Canadian, let me assure you that most of us don't wear shorts and short sleeves (or summer dresses) unless it's actually hot outside, like 25 Celsius or so, unless physical activity (e.g. playing sports or jogging) will keep us warm in cooler temperatures. However, there are some people that seem to be immune to cold, and will wear short sleeves (but still long pants) while curling (air temperature around 5 to 10C, in an ice rink). Typically that's larger guys who are naturally better insulated :P – Peter Cordes Dec 1 '17 at 2:07
  • @PeterCordes Average temperature of India is 25C. Even more in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. – MalayTheDynamo Dec 1 '17 at 8:49
  • @PeterCordes See this table. – MalayTheDynamo Dec 1 '17 at 8:50
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Being an Indian, I feel we always appreciate any foreigner wearing Indian dresses perhaps like everyone else. But we wish people to enjoy the time and not tensed by wearing something they are not comfortable. So just be comfortable and relax. Indians are one of most tolerant people in all respect.

  • Thanks! I would love to wear one – I always have wanted to – but I have never wanted to wear one while simultaneously being disrespectful. – kem Nov 28 '17 at 3:41
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In most of the weddings, each event (Mehendi, sangeet, etc) - has a theme. Most people decide what to wear for that.

If you don't know what others are wearing - then do wear the saree. Everyone would love it - as most women do wear lovely sarees during the weddings. Now-a-days, that's the only occasion they get to wear this if they are a working woman. :)

So yes, go ahead and wear one. You'll get a lot of attention, but it will be good attention.

Enjoy the wedding.

(Indian living in Bangalore)

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