When the Bride Doesn’t Wear White — And Neither Does Anyone Else

Women wearing colorful saris at an India wedding in the San Francisco Bay Area. Photos by BF Newhall

A June wedding in the San Francisco Bay Area. Photos by BF Newhall

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

The bride wore red. And violet. And cerise. And gold.

It was an Indian wedding with all the trimmings — drums, gongs, garlands, priestly Orange silk sari with bright green border at an Indian wedding. Photo by BF Newhallblessings, a turban for the groom and, for the bride, an actual palanquin with four bearers to transport her to her wedding.

Add to the ritual, flocks of female guests in their newest, most resplendent, most drop-dead beautiful saris. There was silk everywhere at this wedding. Chiffon. Embroidered hems. Sashes threaded with silver. Gold hanging from ears, necks, wrists and fingers. Smooth-fitting cholis baring sumptuous arms, midriffs and backs.  And down those backs, black braids longer than my arms and nearly as thick.

To my mind, there’s nothing quite like an Indian wedding to remind the Western woman — with her slick leather jackets, ripped and bleached jeans, and oh-so-understated little black cocktail dresses — that she has forgotten how to be gorgeous.

For my son’s groom’s dinner in May, for example, I needed to wear something festive. I picked out a dress that for me was on the flashy side. It had a whiff of color — dark blue instead An ivory silk sari bordered with red and blue images with a blue dotted sari at an Indian wedding. Photo by BF Newhallof black. And it had beads. Shiny ones. And ruffles, for heaven’s sake.

But then, a few weeks later, I found myself faced with an even more daunting sartorial challenge — what to wear to a no-holds-barred South Indian wedding where I’d be up against women in their very best, most outrageously gorgeous saris?

I dug through my closet and came across the kimono that my mother-in-law brought me from Japan twenty-some years ago.  It was brocade and screechingly red with a humongous tie in the front. I’ve owned it for decades, but never worn it, because where do you wear a fire engine red kimono?

To an Indian wedding reception, of course.

My in-your-face kimono notwithstanding I found I couldn’t begin to compete with the saris at that wedding; I was still the dun-feathered wren in a flock of flamingos.

All evening I kept asking myself, why be Fuchsia sari at an Indian wedding in the San Francisco Bay Area. Photo by BF Newhallbeautiful? Why bother? Why go crazy with color and beading and embroidery and six-yard swaths of  fabric?

For the heck of it, of course. For the pure fun of being knock-out, over-the-top gorgeous once in a while.

For a story about what to wear to your son’s wedding, check out “Is That Me in the Mirror — Or Somebody’s Grandmother?

To read more about Peter’s groom’s dinner — and the restaurants of Minneapolis — go to “A Groom’s Dinner at a Place Called The Bachelor Farmer.” 

You can learn a little more about my mother-in-law at “Peter’s Fast-Track Grandmother.” 



Mean wearing dark suits at a traditional India wedding in San Francisco Bay Area. Photo by BF Newhall

The men at the wedding stuck to dark suits.  Photos by BF Newhall

Boldly printed saris at a India wedding in San Francisco Bay Area. Photos by BF Newhall

But the women went for no-holds-barred color and pattern.

The bride wore a purple and cerise sari embroidered intricately with silver. Photo by BF Newhall

The bride wore a red sari for her morning wedding, violet and cerise for the reception.

Green sari decorated with gold embroidery at India wedding in San Francisco Bay Area. Photo by BF Newhall

Some fair-skinned women opted for . . .

A soft pink gauzy sari at a India wedding in the San Francisco Bay Area. Photo by BF Newhall

. . . muted green and dainty pink.

Jon and Barbara Newhall at Indian wedding in San Francisco Bay Area. BF Newhall photo

Jon and I in our wedding finery, I in a kimono from Japan, Jon in his best navy suit. BF Newhall photo

A woman of European ancestry wearing a bulky red brocade kimono. BF Newhall photo

A reader asked to see the full kimono. Any suggestions as to how I can make it look less bulky? Fit better? More flattering? BF Newhall photo



  1. Barbara Falconer Newhall says:

    Those saris are not so easy to clean. Here’s a NY Times article describing the challenge.

  2. Diane Erwin says:

    Wow, Barb. That was so creative wearing the kimono. I would be definitely out of luck in the festive-clothing department. Good job.

    • Barbara Falconer Newhall says:

      I almost forgot I had that kimono. I need to figure out how to make it fit better so it’s a little sexier.

  3. Thanks for returning to fun subjects, Barbara. Your wedding and fashion blogs are my favorites. BTW You and Jon look terrific! Cheers!

    • Barbara Falconer Newhall says:

      Thanks for the input. I never expected to be a fashion writer. I’m way too serious . . . But I’m having fun.


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