Wedding Dress Codes Can Be Very Specific

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When Lauren and Jackson England tied the knot with a safari wedding in Ranthambore, India, in January, they wanted the dress code to reflect the surroundings. The mood they communicated to their guests was “classic heritage Ralph Lauren.”

“I am an aesthetic person, and we had a clear vision for the hero image we wanted to create on the safari Jeep,” Mr. England, 37, said, referring to their primary wedding portrait. (He and Ms. England are founders of a content and production company in Sydney, Australia.) “It was important to me that guests followed our color palette.”

In the end, “our creative friends had fun with it, but our mothers were a bit overwhelmed.”

Ms. England, 40, said that they didn’t want anyone to feel pressure, so they “informed everyone three months in advance, and had discussions with them on what could work,” adding that they also chose the dress code of “colors of India” for a pre-wedding event in Jaipur that doubled as her 40th birthday party. They used campaign imagery from the designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee to illustrate this theme.

The Englands aren’t the only ones directing the aesthetic of their wedding. Earlier this year, nine pages of wardrobe guidance were given to guests for a multiday pre-wedding celebration in Jamnagar, India, for Radhika Merchant and Anant Ambani, the youngest son of one of the world’s richest men. “Jungle fever,” “dazzling Desi romance” and “heritage Indian” were among the themes, and the document, which included runway photos and designer campaign images for inspiration, listed the expected weather conditions for the event.

Dress codes for their more recent pre-wedding celebration, a multiday cruise in Europe from May 29 to June 1, included “classic cruise,” “tourist chic” and “Italian summer.”

“Weddings today are designed within an inch of their life,” said Sarah Haywood, a wedding planner in London. “These mood boards help communicate the destination, venue and event design so that guests can be dressed appropriately.”

Anny Choi, a stylist in New York, has seen a rise in requests to create mood boards for wedding guests. While the couples “want guests to wear what they are comfortable in, they also want everyone to look cohesive,” she said.

Some weddings are drawing inspiration from highly glamorous and sometimes themed events like red carpets, fashion shows and the Met Gala, which has become known for its own unconventional dress codes like “Camp: Notes on Fashion” and this year’s “The Garden of Time.”

“Wedding events have become more extreme. It’s not just a welcome party but an all-white party. It’s not just a poolside brunch but a ‘tropical extravaganza’ or a ‘Slim Aarons-themed’ party,” Ms. Choi said. “If your vision is so specific, the more information and guidelines you can give your guests, the better.”

Swathi Narra, an entrepreneur and real estate developer from New Orleans, has been a guest at multiple weddings with dress codes, ranging in theme from “denim and diamonds” and “vintage Bollywood” to “Texas hoedown.” Ms. Narra, 43, said she finds dress codes to be one way to get excited about the wedding, but cautioned against couples making it obligatory or overly prescriptive. “I wouldn’t want them to dictate a very specific silhouette to wear,” she said.

Ayushi Dalmia, an art director in Toronto, decided to do away with any dress codes for her two-day wedding in Lonavala, India, in February 2023, which surprised her friends. Ms. Dalmia, 35, said she received many calls asking for a wardrobe planning document, because “it has become par for the course.”

Ms. Haywood, the wedding planner, added that the popularity of these mood boards varies in different parts of the world. “It’s more prevalent in Asia and South Asia in my experience, but we are starting to see more of it in the West.”

The guidance can be helpful when guests are unfamiliar with cultural elements, too. “Guests will need cues and recommendations when customs and clothing of a different community are involved,” Ms. Choi said. She pointed to a “surf shack sangeet” welcome party in the Maldives for clients of hers in Singapore with Indian-Australian-Chinese roots. The couple gave guests a mood board that declared the theme “Jaipur meets Maldives,” and said men should wear kurtas, which they would provide, while women should come in “Indian-inspired looks” or “chic caftans.” The couple added that they would provide accessories.

But problems arise when the couple is purely driven by online optics and visibility, Ms. Choi said. “For some brides and grooms, this has a lot to do with Instagram,” she added. “In such cases, everyone is simply trying to outdo each other.”

Ms. Narra agreed. “Couples shouldn’t treat guests as props for their big days or mere spectators as they put on a show,” she said. “These things aren’t supposed to be that serious, right?”


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