Can we stop with the super specific dress codes, please?
My bank account can’t handle this
The family chat went wild when my parents got a wedding invite for a marathon 5-day celebration. The reception was the talk of their friend’s circle, with ‘Met Gala’ as the dress code. Dad, trying to crack the code, turns to my sister and me: “What is Met Gala?” We were all scratching our heads, settling on ‘flashy’ and ‘over-the-top’ as our best interpretations of this dress code, based on an event that has a different dress code and theme every year. Mom rushed to throw an outfit together while Dad played it cool with a trusty kurta.
Fast forward to the big night, and it’s a wild mix of styles at the venue. Kaftans, shararas, sherwanis, cocktail dresses and co-ord sets. Everyone was just as lost as they were decoding the dress code.
In the not-so-distant past, following dress codes was as simple as a recipe – a pinch of formality for the corporate soufflé and a dash of flair for the wedding quiche. Nowadays, it feels like you can’t escape an omnipresent dress code, which has infiltrated every facet of our lives like a directionally-challenged chipkali determined to give you palpitations even though you’ve fully opened the nearest window. Wedding ceremonies, birthday parties, baby showers, work events; nowhere is safe from the now uber-specific and incredibly creative dress codes.
Instead of climbing the ladder, we’re navigating a sartorial labyrinth, where deciphering outfit themes is akin to decoding hieroglyphics in King Tut’s tomb.
The pressure is on. And not just at the office, where the expectation of ‘professional attire’ is still understood. It’s everywhere. You’re one wrong choice away from being ceremoniously booted out of the girl gang because you defied the ‘Bahama Mama’ dress code for the bachelorette party.
It’s like playing a perpetual game of fashion musical chairs, only you’re always the one left standing, wondering, “What does ‘Princess Garden Party’ even mean?”
Don’t get me started on the weddings. There was a time when the understanding was that certain colours would be avoided so you don’t clash with the bride, and some colours are ideal for certain ceremonies — like yellow, green, and pink for a mehendi. But then social media came into play. Now, it’s all about image. Not just the public image, but quite literally the images the couple puts out after the wedding is over. It used to be that you’d get a wedding invite along with some mithai and good wishes. Today, don’t be surprised if you receive a full-fledged ‘outfit planner’, complete with lookbooks, colour swatches, and a schedule of what you should be wearing.
Bound by stylistic rules that started with names like ‘cocktail party’, ‘Indian traditional’ and ‘black tie’, we’ve entered an alternate world of ‘Pastels and Pink Champagne’, ‘Sunset Safari’, ‘Santorini Soiree’. Are you excited about the ‘Marrakesh Market’ mehendi next weekend? Bridesmaids, don’t be surprised if the the theme gets very, very specific: “On the second day of welcoming the guests, wear a pastel floral sundress with a hint of periwinkle. Loose waves in your hair, and don’t forget the lavender accessories!”
From practical guidelines, dress codes have evolved into brain-rattling puzzles. The pressure to comply is enough to send anyone into a fashion-induced panic. And let’s not even start on the financial toll it takes. Whatever happened to re-wearing mom’s wedding gharara to your best friend’s wedding reception?
The days of picking a classic black dress for a cocktail party seem like a distant memory. Now, you find yourself deciphering guidelines that sound more like magical spells than attire instructions.
No, we are coerced to turn our closets into mini fashion boutiques with every colour in the rainbow to match these very specific guidelines. In a Forbes article, Praveen Chander Kumar of IHGL, estimated the worth of the Indian wedding industry at ₹3.78 lakh crores (with an expected growth of 20% to 25% annually). More than a celebration of love and union, it’s like stepping onto Project Runway with the soon-to-be-married couple having a very particular idea in their head of how they want the wedding photos to look on social media. And to achieve these aesthetiqué wedding photos, the rest of the wedding party feels obligated to conform. It is their wedding, after all. They want everything and everyone to look perfect, and you can’t entirely blame them either.
As we find ourselves knee-deep in the festive and wedding season, having burnt through our bank account on ghagra cholis for garbas and dressy kurta sets for Diwali parties, I implore you to consider the toll these strict dress codes take on our collective well-being. The past few years have been challenging for everyone, with the pandemic, job losses, and inflation looming over us. Perhaps, in the spirit of empathy and solidarity, we can ease up on the expectation for meticulously curated outfits for every event.
Imagine a world where we gather to celebrate life’s joyous moments, not to showcase our fashion mastery (or the lack thereof). Instead of emptying our pockets on outfits that fit the ‘Royal Garden Gala’ dress code, why not embrace the beauty of diversity in our existing wardrobes?
I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade, so let’s make a deal. Dress codes can be a fun break for people to experiment, breaking away from mundane daily routines, and if a couple wants everyone to wear matching outfits on their big day, who am I to say otherwise?
My request is to relax the rules a little bit. Let’s broaden the scope of these themes to allow individuals to showcase their uniqueness while sticking to broad guidelines. The essence of the event will be the focal point rather than conforming to an elaborate dress code that feels more like a burden than a celebration.
Let’s have dress codes that are inclusive and open to interpretation, encouraging creativity rather than imposing strict rules. Instead of specifying ‘wear only green and brown’ because you are running a nature-themed event, why not make it a larger palette of earthy colours which people are more likely to already have in their closet? This way, attendees can feel comfortable and confident in their outfit choices, whether it’s something they already own or a new piece that fits their personal style, and it will give your event the desired uniqueness.
I think we’ll all be just fine without another Met Gala-themed sangeet.