Fashion / arpita mehta / kunal rawal / arpita mehta wedding / ivory lehenga / red lehenga / alia bhatt / weddings / bridal / 2022

Code red: The ivory lehenga is out to dismantle the dominance of red

. 5 min read . Written by Vanshika Goenka
Code red: The ivory lehenga is out to dismantle the dominance of red

If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve seen the pictures from Arpita Mehta and Kunal Rawal’s wedding. It’s also likely that you’re lowkey obsessed with them. And I don’t blame you. The ivory and gold colour palette, the bride’s playful entrance, the mile-long train, the peaches-and-cream makeup, everybody in dress code (likely in Arpita Mehta creations itself), Arpita nestled comfortably on Kunal’s lap - what’s not to love? After all, we too want grooms who don’t complain when we plonk ourselves on them, weight of veil, lehenga, heirloom jewels and a zillion yards of dupatta included. And of friends who happily agree to dress in the colour prescribed by us. (And don’t hoist a silent rebellion by way of a blaring colour choice.)

The pictures are also strangely reminiscent of Alia Bhatt’s wedding earlier this year possibly due to the task being delegated to the same wedding photographers (House On The Clouds), and not least because of the identical visual aesthetic - virginal veil, barely-there makeup, flowing loose hair and eye-crinkling smiles. Nothing secret about this Pinterest board.

More recently, Condé Nast Traveller India launched its destination wedding edit with Charithra Chandran (Sidebar: Don’t know her? Watch Bridgerton. She’s the diamond in Season 2) also clad in an ivory lehenga with a white veil. A cover that’s possibly received more love than any of CNT’s actual covers, lest you forget this was merely a supplement.

But, what really is the allure of this aesthetic? And how has it captured the imagination of everybody from to-be brides to serious journalists who’ve dedicated prime real estate in their magazines to it?

I may be no sociologist or psychologist but I daresay it has something to do with years of overexposure to the traditional red lehenga bride, covered from head to toe in bright, eye-burning vermillion, decorated with jewels, with barely 3.5 inches of free space on her face, that too caked with 15 layers of foundation. And having to say “Wow, she looks beautiful” to this apparition year after year at weddings. Even brides who chose blush pink at their weddings likely made up for the loss of drama by layering on enough maatha pattis, nathinis, false lashes and necklaces to cover up any inch of humanity (forgive my harshness).

Add to this, years of conditioning from watching Hollywood rom-coms where the idea of the white dress is glorified. Where little girls are seen dreaming about their big day. Where the bride-to-be enters a fancy store and tries dress after dress for an audience that oohs and ahs at layers of lace. Plus the iconic scene from Friends where Rachel, Monica and Phoebe sit in front of the TV, beers in hand, wrapped in white tulle, generating yearning amongst many Indian brides for their very own “white dress” moment. And we needn’t elaborate upon the cultural impact of the aforementioned show on many millennial teenagers.

So, when Alia Bhatt wore a pristine white Sabyasachi sari and went sans heavy bridal makeup and large nathinis, actually being "bold" enough to show her entire face (the horror!) - people were captivated. Here’s a celebrity bride who’s also India’s favourite actor going fresh faced on her big day? Heavens must surely be falling! Even superstitious mothers previously tsk-tsking their daughters for choosing blacks, whites and blues for auspicious occasions were now opening up their minds to the idea of white. If Alia can do it, surely it can’t be that bad?

Perhaps an even greater draw is the sheer audaciousness of wearing the colour of mourning to a celebration. In many parts of India, white is worn to funerals and by widows. It’s no surprise, then, that mothers and grandmothers caution brides against this colour, and why brides who defy them are perceived as rebels and icons, because everybody knows how Indian mothers can be terrors when it comes to their daughter’s wedding.

Speaking of mourning, the colour black was never worn outside of funerals in western society until Chanel, enabled by Vogue, popularised the LBD in the 20s. And black became cool, propelled by the boldness of taking it out of mourning and into high fashion. Today, no red carpet appearance goes by without at least one celebrity wearing a black gown.

Which brings me to an interesting if dangerous hypothesis: colour of mourning → colour of celebration. Love, death, marriage are all events that alter us emotionally for better or worse. And be it white or black, the lack of colour or the amalgamation of it, serve as interesting markers for momentous occasions. The sheer simplicity of these hues forms the ideal canvas for the wearer’s features to shine through while serving up a sombre mood for heartfelt happenings.

Moreover, when ivory is worn in the Indian way, with midriff, it somehow becomes sexier and more appealing than even the white bridal gown of western societies. Same with black when worn as a saree with a bralette-blouse - infinitely sexier than an LBD. That’s where the amalgamation of western and Indian elements finds its sweet-spot - when flattering colours meet the ab (or flab) baring silhouette. Forgive me if it sounds like I am making "sexy" as the qualifier here. Instead, I am simply hellbent on showcasing the allure of ivory in an Indian bridal setting. Interestingly, Arpita Mehta also chose black for one of her wedding parties which once again proves that colourless ensembles when undiluted by contrasting shades is a win. Choosing these two hues for bridal occasions is a surefire way to be silently applauded for one’s rebellion against superstition and cultural connotation.

As women, we’re always silently cheering for other women who blaze through cultural codes, clearing the way for us. Every time we bookmark or save a wedding inspo outfit, we’re lauding our fellow sisters for nailing their look. Recently, I read a piece that spoke of how brides wanting supersonic control of their sartorial sensibilities is a feminist act. For generations, women haven’t been allowed to speak up or take charge in society, and all that pent up energy finds its release in the microscopic details of a bridal avatar - the one area we're almost always allowed to have a say. One can argue and say this is problematic and I won’t refute you. At the same time, I will say, though, that there is something beautiful to be found in a bride who knows what she wants and fights for it. Be it in refusing archaic rituals or in choosing ivory when the code is red.

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