When you think of a “traditional bride” what is it you picture? Frothy white gown, a blusher veil, a very round and very perfect bouquet of white roses? A church with a long center aisle dusted with petals? Wagner’s “Bridal Chorus”?
Well, that’s what we think of in the Western world. But brides who want to hold to tradition aren’t just holding to American or European traditions — Indian, Egyptian and Vietnamese brides have plenty of traditions, too. So do Chinese, Bolivian, Korean, and Kenyan brides. Their traditions just aren’t usually quite as vanilla as ours.
Like in America, in India, a bride’s wedding day is her chance to go crazy with all-out glamor. Brightly patterned fabrics for the sari and scarf — usually red — and intricate gold jewelry, not to mention the complicated henna patterns painted on the bride’s hands and feet, come together to complete India’s traditional bridal look.
In Korea, tradition doesn’t just dictate a bride’s outfit; it specifies her make-up as well. The red dots painted on her cheeks originated centuries ago as a deterrent to evil spirits. Along with an elaborate headdress, a traditional Korean bride wears an embroidered silk robe, either red or green. These days, many Koreans are married in Western church ceremonies with Western attire, but afterward, many also conduct a traditional Korean Pyebaek, the ceremony in which the groom’s family formally welcomes the new bride.
Turkey’s bridal traditions varied from village to village and city to city. Until the mid nineteenth century, many Turkish brides wore a shalvar, a costume of loose pants that were fitted just below the knee. As Turkey came under the influence of Europe, the shalvar fell out of fashion, and brides began wearing ornamented dresses.
In China, a traditional bride wears a gown that is flaming red, the color of happiness and good fortune, and elaborately embroidered with gold. (Although many Chinese brides choose to wear white these days, white isn’t traditionally associated with weddings or innocence in China — it is considered the color of death.) At a traditional wedding tea ceremony, the groom’s family showers the bride with jewelry, which becomes a part of her wedding outfit.
Like brides all over the world, brides throughout Africa adorn themselves with rich jewelry. Afar brides in Djibouti wear intricate gold facial jewelry, while Zulus bride bedeck themselves with colorful beads. Brides in some parts of Africa wear dresses made entirely of beads, while others wear tricky fabric headdresses, such as the gele, which is worn in Nigeria.
The all-white tradition we’re so familiar with in the West isn’t even a very old tradition — only since the nineteenth century have white bridal gowns become popular.
Before that, with clothing so costly and time consuming, one-time use gowns weren’t practical. And white fabric wasn’t practical for everyday wear. But rich fabrics gave way to pastels, which lightened until white became the wedding day standard throughout Europe and America.
But if you’re longing for a bright wedding and want to be a traditional bride at the same time, keep this in mind: far more brides around the world have begun their marriages in colorful gowns than in plain white.
And a couple hundred years ago, the all-white bride was the one breaking with tradition!