Nachiket Barve’s 14-point rulebook for designing your own wedding lehenga
The Bridezilla Bible
The most exciting thing about weddings today is how young people take charge of the wedding preparations. They are truly involved in the decision-making, from the invites and décor to the menu and even the clothes. A generation or two ago, the senior generals of the wedding army, oops … family a.k.a Mommy, Mami and MIL [mother-in-law, for those who came in late], were the ones who decided what was appropriately heavy [translation: literally weighing half a tonne or upwards], which designers to shop from and exactly how the blouse should be cut [“Beta, no backless-vackless, no waist-showing cholis… Off-shoulder? Wear after shaadi, beta…].
Today, every bride-to-be who comes to me craves a sense of individuality. She wants to add meaning and uniqueness to her wedding. One of the central elements of the theatre of getting married is the bridal lehenga. It has become the showstopper of the wedding; brides know exactly how they want to twirl in ‘slo-mo’ or shimmy for Boomerang videos on Instagram.
For brides who want to take matters, especially sartorial, into their own hands and have a DIY lehenga, whether crafted from artisanal fabrics themselves, or made in sync with a designer — something I quite enjoy doing as it lets me create something that’s tailor-made for a bride — here are a few commandments to keep in mind.
Take with a pinch of salt [and add chaat masala]
- Know who you are: Apologies to begin on a sombre existential note. Weddings usually happen once for most people, and it is really important to start planning your outfit keeping in mind your aesthetic, personality and the overall tone of your wedding. ‘Style chameleon’ is best saved for some other day.
- Be realistic about body type: Sure, Deepika, Sonam, Katrina looked amazing in whatever stuff you saw them in, but be open to tweaking it to suit you. You are the star of your wedding. While it is good to seek inspiration from celebrities, be open to modifying the design entirely to suit your body.
- Reveal v/s conceal: Simple enough, let the design reveal your best features — shoulders, waist, neck or whatever they are — and let it conceal your lumps and bumps.
- Colour coding: I always recommend that brides go a bit classic for the wedding day. Choose colours that make your skin glow like the ‘pearl-diamond-gold powder-infused skin care ads’. If you are dusky, choose deep saturated colours rather than very light pastels. Honestly, colours like lilac suit exactly 73 girls on the sub continent, so stick to a wonderful palette that you feel great in.
- Be a classic, not a fad: These photos will make for memories forever so don’t use this occasion to try and be the Lady Gaga of Weddings. Try the trends you want to for some other pre-wedding function but leave the fishtail, mermaid, octopus silhouettes out of your wedding lehenga.
- It’s NOT an investment: Unlike what the world would like you to believe, a wedding lehenga is not an investment. Gold? Yes. Diamonds, perhaps. Fixed deposits, definitely! The lehenga is something that adds tremendous value to your big day but it cannot upstage the wedding. Be realistic about how much you want to spend on it.
- SHOCKER! It is not a museum piece either: As much as you like the idea of storing it away for generations, realistically, very few women do that. The best way to look at your wedding lehenga is to repurpose it and get most use out of it. Pair the skirt with a white silk shirt for an engagement later. Team the dupatta with a solid colour-blocked kurta for a sangeet and wear the blouse with an ombre sari for a cocktail evening. But, don’t buy something that languishes in storage for the rest of its life, occupying precious wardrobe space.
- Don’t get drafted into the Lehenga Olympics: Unfortunately or rather fortunately, there is no medal for the bride who lifts the heaviest lehenga. There are only angry welts on the waist and a tired and irritated face as trophies. So do yourself a favour and wear something that is appropriately ornate, but doesn’t make you feel like goods-laden mule. There are embroideries aplenty that are graceful and decorative but super lightweight.
- Consider something borrowed: There is a story and a deep emotional attachment to the outfit you get married in [well, for most brides anyway] It’s a great idea to incorporate an element that is passed down from generations into this special outfit. It could be a dupatta, an old sari border or even a piece of jewellery that becomes a tassel.
- T-o-i-l-e: The French invented the fancy sounding “Twall”. It is a dummy of the actual garment made in muslin or a plain fabric, before the actual garment is made. If you are designing the lehenga yourself with the help of a tailor, or even a designer, do yourself a favour and get a toile made. It may cost a little extra, but it is the most accurate way to understand how a silhouette, fit and shape will work on you, without having to do open heart surgery on your actual lehenga later, and dealing with the stress and cost that comes with that. In fact, if you are trying out a tailor recommended by someone, please get an inexpensive garment [perhaps a kurta] made in a material similar to your wedding fabric. You will get a sense of fit, cut, finish and only then proceed to entrust your wedding lehenga to the person.
- Yo Yo No: Every designer’s worst nightmare is a bride who comes for measurements and then lands up three months later, looking like another person entirely, having drastically lost weight. Another scare is a bride who insists that she will positively lose 15 kilos and instructs you to “Make everything tight please… Babe, I’m on this cray diet plan” and looks exactly the same at her fitting as the day you met her first. Get fitter surely, but then take your measurements close to date. And a happy bride is the most beautiful bride… so don’t beat yourself up because you are not skinny enough.
- Lessons on lingerie: PLEEEEAASSEEE wear the bra that you will wear for the wedding when you get measured and then fitted for a blouse. You remember how Eurasia and Gondwanaland shifted eons ago? The same thing happens, and your blouse will not fit right.
- KISS: Keep it Simple Silly… I’m not saying that just because I’m a designer myself, but, you know, they teach us a bunch of stuff in four years of design school and numerous internships later. If you can pull it off alone, that’s commendable, but simplify the design if you are planning to execute the lehenga yourself. A simple and elegant outfit is a gazillion times better than a sculpture-gone-wrong-mess when you try to put a thousand different Pinterest and Instagram screenshots together in a lehenga that is not backed up with technical know-how and an assured hand.
- Don’t be a copycat: Plagiarism is like identity theft for designers who put their heart and soul into their creations. Please don’t encourage the copycat industry by buying DIY copies “inspired” by designers’ collections. There are a million ways to create and put together something unique rather than wear a pirated copy of a designer’s work.
Lastly, but most importantly, here is my unsolicited advice: The wedding is only the first day of your marriage, so keep the perspective going. We are in a country where the paths of tradition and modernity criss-cross continuously! There is no point pissing off absolutely everybody in your Wedding Army, especially the Generals by ending up at loggerheads over the choice of the lehenga. A healthy dose of tact gets you things that ‘Bridezilladom’ will never get you.