Indian weddings, just like other elements of Indian culture, have transformed fascinatingly over the decades. What has affected weddings, even more, is the rich history of India. In fact, the various wedding traditions, a wide range of styles in wedding outfits, as well as the excellent needlework known worldwide are the result of the influence that the different empires had over the subcontinent.
Previously, we wrote an article about clothing colors: Indian Wedding Colors: Why Indian Brides Wear Red and Other Beautiful Colors You Can Try. and another piece about the trendiest modern designers: Today’s Hottest Indian Bridal Designers and Their Signature Styles. Today, we look back at Indian wedding dress history, and what prompted it into the global mainstream. If you are shopping for a bridal lehenga for your own Indian wedding or for a saree for a friend’s wedding, here is all the information you need to start looking for your outfit for your Indian wedding or the next time you are invited to one. Let’s dive in!
The nine-yard wonder we now are so familiar with was originally worn as loincloths during the Indus Valley Civilization, and it was from there that the sari began its voyage. India's epics, which were written later than the Indus Valley period, also depict similar outfits. The literature of the time showed gorgeous women in silks studded with gold and diamonds.
Figure 1. Ancient Saree
The modern saree, a six to nine-yard material draped around the waist, over the torso, and over the shoulder and paired with a blouse and petticoat, took a complete form only after the Mughal era. During the Mughal era, there was a clear contrast between Hindu and Muslim women in terms of how they adorned themselves. Muslim women wore loose pants with long tops (known now as Salwaar Kurta), and a shorter, thinner scarf-like fabric covering the head called the Dupatta, a depiction of the Persian heritage of the Mughals. On the other hand, Hindu ladies preferred pleated sarees.
Figure 2. Saree during the Mughal Era
The Mughals' arrival established the saree as a standard Indian women's garment. India's talented saree weavers, inspired by the richness of Mughal fabrics, chose to blend classic Mughal aesthetics with the typical saree drape to create some absolutely remarkable variants and adopted many traditional embroidery methods, embellishments, and designs.
The saree is one of the world’s oldest and maybe the only unstitched garments still in use today. It has evolved into not only a sensual, elegant all-time-wear for women, but also a ‘canvas' for weavers and printers to create artistic weaves, designs, and jeweled or gold-silver decorations over the millennia!
The traditional saree has a major symbolic value. The motifs and patterns on the sarees represent individuals from various parts of India's beliefs, norms, and customs. Motifs such as paisley and fish which are the symbols of fertility, wealth of food, and offspring were typically imprinted on sarees worn by individuals who lived along the coast. Elephant designs were used to represent water, fertility, riches, and good fortune. They also represent Lord Ganesha, who is believed to remove hurdles. The peacock on the fabric symbolized a person's physical and emotional strength.
Figure 3. Paisley Motifs
At significant events like weddings, parties, and other memorable moments, we often see red-colored sarees. Historically, red symbolizes power and passion. In modern times, we’ve seen women diversify from just red to other colors, like blue, green, black, and more colors! Historically, each of these colors has its own symbolic meaning. Blue sarees represented peace, calm, and tranquility, while orange sarees represented freshness and brightness. Green sarees stood for prosperity, while yellow sarees stood for optimism, brightness, and love. Finally, the colors black and pink were connected with elegance and femininity, respectively, while white was associated with calm, purity, tranquility, and spirituality.
The saree is a representation of India's customs and traditions. It has been carved into the country’s history since time immemorial. A saree's elegance is unrivaled, which is why it is a popular choice among Indian brides. Let's look at the different sarees that will have you style-packed ready as you display your new understanding of ethnic apparel.
From the holy city of Varanasi, comes the exquisite and royal Banarasi Silk Saree. Originally reserved for royalty, women wear this saree to make a fashion statement and it is a common bridal option in North India. On the borders of the saree, there is gold or silver brocade work, and the designs are gold or silver zari. Flowers, leaves, stems, and bel are common Mughal motifs on these sarees. Pair your Banarasi Saree with traditional gold jewelry for your modern desi wedding!
Figure 4. Malaika Arora Khan in Grey Banarasi Saree - A Raw Mango creation
Raw Mango, launched by Sanjay Garg, is among the top brands for buying the best Banarasi sarees and lehengas woven by artisans from Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, and Varanasi that are perfect for nuptials and festivities. Here, Malaika Arora Khan is wearing a grey Banarasi silk saree from the brand, paired with an Afroz silver tissue blouse.
Kanjeevaram sarees, traditional bridal sarees from Tamil Nadu, are known for fine mulberry silk fabric and exude intrinsic elegance and grace. To complete the aesthetic, the sarees have a characteristic gold tinge and are a top choice to wear at Indian weddings. Kanjeevaram sarees have religious motifs based on legendary tales and temples and the pallu is usually a contrast hue, adding extra flavor to the drape's texture.
Figure 5. Deepika Padukone in Kanjeevaram Saree by The House of Angadi
Deepika Padukone's wedding sari was designed by The House of Angadi and was a part of their Advaya Collection. Based in Bengaluru, The House of Angadi is the perfect outlet where you can enjoy a mind-blowing customer experience and get designer Kanjeevaram silk sarees for your wedding that are of the highest quality.
These beautiful sarees are some of the most elegant sarees ever, hailing from Lucknow, reminiscent of Persian handicraft infused with Chikankari art. Because the work on these sarees is so exquisite and generally done by hand, exact duplicates are impossible to find. These sarees, with rich embroidery in soothing colors, such as peach, lavender, lemon yellow, and mint green, are perfect for any day, time, or occasion. Priyanka Chopra Jonas wore a Tarun Tahiliani creation at an event, looking like a million bucks! The mint-green chikankari saree had glints of sequin work over it and was worn with a thin jeweled strap blouse.
Figure 6. Priyanka Chopra Jonas in Chikankari Saree by Tarun Tahiliani
The Nauvari is a traditional Indian saree that originated on the west coast. The name of this saree comes from the length of the saree, which is nine yards. The "kashta" style, in which the saree's border is tucked in at the back, is a highly unique way of wearing Nauvari. A sign of bravery, the draping style of this Saree was inspired by Maratha women warriors who wore it in a dhoti style to allow them to ride horses and battle with ease. Nauvari sarees are designed for special occasions.
Figure 7. Deepika Padukone and Priyanka Chopra in Nauvari Saree (Bajirao Mastani)
The iconic tie-and-dye Bandhani patterned saree comes from Gujarat and exists in a variety of hues and patterns. They all have the same age-old belief: these sarees offer good luck and a bright future to the Indian bride. Bandhani Saree is often dyed by hand. They are made from delicate textiles that must be stored with great care and preserved over time.
Figure 8. Alia Bhatt in Bandhani Saree, a Tarun Tahiliani creation
Alia Bhatt donned a custom-made Tarun Tahiliani sari in red, mint green, and gold shades, during the promotion of her movie Kalank. Tarun Tahiliani has shown how to mix and match the Bandhani, nine yards for a bridal trousseau!
The pure sheen of this Madhya Pradesh saree is stunning. The silk and zari are woven with cotton to create a light-as-air fabric and the saree's opulent texture makes it ideal for a daytime Haldi or casual mehndi. This handloom weave has a delectable texture, and this drape will steal the show at any wedding reception. Chanderi temples, peacocks, coins, geometric designs, and leaves are among the motifs on these silk and cotton drapes. On her wedding day, Rhea Kapoor was a vision in a beautiful, white Chanderi Saree with gold work and a matching blouse in cape sleeves. The saree was designed by Anamika Khanna, and Rhea paired it with a unique, pearl veil.
Figure 9. Rhea Kapoor in Chanderi Saree
The Kasavu is an exquisite Indian traditional saree that hails from God’s own country, Kerala. The white saree with golden borders, which are occasionally threaded with genuine gold, is breathtaking. The saree's basic pattern gives it a highly modern appeal, and it's widely worn during Kerala's Onam festival. It is typically a white or cream saree with a gold border. Today, you’ll also find modern, colored patterns.
Figure 10. Jacqueline Fernandes
Phulkari is a type of Punjabi traditional needlework with florals, patterns, and even geometrical designs. Yarn stitches are used to create the intricate embroidery on the Phulkari saree. Check out Sonam Kapoor’s custom-made phulkari saree in Khadi material by the designer duo Abu Jani-Sandeep Khosla, looking radiant as ever!
Figure 11. Sonam Kapoor in Phulkari Saree
For decades, lehengas have made any woman feel like she's in a fairy-tale. Also known as ghagra choli, the lehenga choli has its roots in a three-piece outfit worn by ladies in ancient times, similar to sarees. The modern lehenga was born as a result of greater integration with the local Indian population.
Figure 14. Lehenga during the Mughal Period
The saree became mainstream during the Independence movement and lehengas lost their appeal. Lehengas made a comeback in the 1990s when Indian fashion designers began to redesign the garment for Bollywood and filmmaking. The sight of beautiful movie stars beaming as brides in their bridal lehengas inspired Indian women all over the world to abandon the saree for the much easier-to-wear lehenga choli.
Figure 15. Lehenga Choli from the 90s.
Now that you know where the lehenga choli came from, update yourself with the modern, trendy styles that we see today. Choose the right lehenga for your desi wedding/ family function and become the talk of the town!
Also known as pavadai, or half saree, Shararas are reminiscent of the Mughal Empire, particularly Lucknow, and became popular in Bollywood films during the 1960s, worn by Meena Kumari, and Leena Chandavarkar. They found popularity once more after Kareena Kapoor wore a Sharara in Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, designed by none other than Manish Malhotra. They typically flare out into a large ghera at the bottom, lending a royal old-world charm and adding a high dose of contemporary style to the Indian bridal look.
Banarasi is an age-old blooming weave that has become a must-have in every bride's closet over the years. It appears ageless, opulent, and oh-so-regal when the rich silk Banarasi brocade fabric is combined with the right jewelry. They have a pleated appearance, but the fabric with a broad gold lower border steals the show. The look, reimagined by the acclaimed designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee, has been brought back with a breath of fresh air and is a hit with the masses.
The beautiful bridal lehenga twirls, the fitting grace, and the regal appeal of traditional silhouettes are all expressed through Kalidar lehengas. These are vertically paneled, narrow near the waist and widen toward the hem, resulting in a broader flair. The number of panels is determined by the skirt's design and fabric, with the most frequent number being 24 panels and contemporary lehengas having up to 64 Kalis.
The A-line pattern has made a comeback recently and is considered in fashion now for Indian weddings as much as it was in the 1980s. The hemline of this lehenga adds to its glamour and creates a wonderful appearance. As the name suggests, the hem of this lehenga is the traditional A-line, fitted through the waist and widening out towards the bottom.
The bottom of this lehenga is long and straight, without any flair. The skirt has a straight shape that falls down the contours and looks good on almost everyone. This lehenga is ideal for brides who dislike fluff, ghera, or skirt pleats.
Figure 20. Sushmita Sen in a straight cut lehenga
This semi-saree and semi-lehenga trend has been hot at recent fashion shows. While it looks like the silhouette of a saree, it is actually a lehenga without the hassle of draping the saree.
Figure 21. Madhuri Dixit in a Tarun Tahiliani Lehenga
In the world of Indian weddings, this style is very new and trending. With a long jacket covered in zardozi embroidery or delicate weaving on velvet, the lehengas are often light and airy. Because just the hem of the lehenga is visible through the jacket, you’ll notice large laces or heavy work. Depending on the type of jacket you choose, you can achieve everything from a sexy glam look to a rich and sophisticated look.
Figure 22. Sara Ali Khan in a red jacket Lehenga
Mermaid or fishtail type lehengas give traditional lehengas a contemporary look and feel. Flaring below the knees and hugging the waist closely, it’s a fun piece for a friend’s Desi wedding. These are some of the most intricate lehenga styles and paired with a perfect clutch, classy accessory and, trendy footwear will do wonders for your bridal look.
Embroidery is the art of weaving patterns, motifs, embellishments, and abstract designs onto fabric. A cursory look at the history of needlework reveals that it is a very old art form. Embroidery reached incredible heights during Emperor Akbar's reign in the 16th century, thanks to his intense interest in textile aesthetics.
Whether it's the powerful craftsmanship of Gujarat or the subtle and exquisite weaving of Chikankari in Uttar Pradesh, each embroidery is distinguished by its own style of threads, fabric, and palette combinations. Indian embroideries have the world drooling over them now and we bring you a few that have fascinated generations of designers around the world.
Chikankari, hailing from Lucknow, blossomed under the influence of the Mughals. It began as a style of white-on-white embroidery, but it now incorporates a wide range of textiles and colors. Chikankari has evolved into art for individuals with a taste for the finest things, from white thread embroidered on relaxing pastels to multicolored silk threads.
Figure 24. Chikankari
Punjab's Phulkari is probably the most famous thing that springs to mind when you think of this state, if not as renowned as Sarson da saag and Makki di roti. Phulkari is the embroidery of floral motifs on cloth. To let the design take shape in the front, the stitches are embroidered on the back of the material. You can incorporate the pop of vivid, vibrant colors of the embroidery by pairing a Phulkari dupatta or blouse with a subtle-colored lehenga and stand out in the crowd!
Figure 25. Phulkari
Zardozi is an ancient craft of sewing gold and silver threads on a fabric that originated in Persia. Originally employed to adorn royal clothing, Zardozi work formerly used gold and silver threads, as well as pearls and valuable stones. As a result, soft velvets and rich silks were used to compliment the beautiful stitching. Today, Zardozi lehengas and sarees are a must-have for any Indian bride!
Figure 26. Zari
Gota refers to pieces of gold and silver strands that are used to form appliqué patterns on cloth. Influenced by local flora, wildlife, and community life in Rajasthan, the craft may be seen on lehengas and odhnis as well as turbans. Traditionally fashioned of precious metals, today's designs are usually constructed with copper-coated silver or "plastic gota," a polyester film.
Figure 27. Gota
The rustic appeal of Rajasthani patchwork never fails to impress, considering the state's reputation for refined arts and crafts. It's a simple art in which small pieces of cloth are stitched together in a decorative shape to make the topmost layer of the piece, creating a masterpiece!
Figure 28. Rajasthani Patchwork
Aari is one of the most well-known kinds of Kashmiri embroidery. Kashmiri artists are famed for their aari embroidery, also known as crewelwork. It is a type of very delicate embroidery that contains ornate and detailed floral designs and is treasured by the royals. It is created through stitching concentric rings of chain with a long hooked needle known as crewel.
Figure 29. Aari
Established under the influence of Persian and Mughal monarchs, Kashidakari, also known as Kashmiri embroidery is greatly influenced by Kashmir's flora and is inspired by the state's picturesque surroundings. This stitching, which is mainly done on silk and wool and is known for its simple chain stitches, has become a global rage.
Figure 30. Kashidakari
Mirror work, commonly known as shisha, originates from Gujarat and Rajasthan and stands out because of its use of mirrors combined with colorful threads. It comes in three forms: hand-blown shisha, machine-cut shisha, and shisha embroidery. Small pieces of mirrors of various shapes and sizes are stitched in between colorful weaving to make this embroidery. Mirrorwork on apparel is a must-have for Navratri celebrations and often wedding garbas.
Figure 31. Mirrorwork
With glorious charm and astonishing designs, Indian bridal fashion continues to shine across the world. The incredible country is a mosaic of cultures as seen in the sarees, lehengas, and embroidery designs and continues to attract brides fond of the luxurious, symbolic outfits. Planning your wedding soon? Take a look at the latest articles on The Desi Bride for more ideas on Indian bridal fashion and the top vendors for your Desi wedding.
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