Chinese Wedding Attire Basics

Reader Question: My brother is getting married this fall, and I’m having a hard time trying to figure out what the heck to wear. My sis-in-law to be did not invite me to be a bridesmaid because I’m a size 12 (too big), and her family is Chinese… since our family is not religious, they are having a traditional church wedding, and a traditional chinese tea ceremony and banquet.

Since I’m not in the wedding party, I don’t want to look like the bridesmaids and cause confusion or embarassment… but I also don’t want to offend her family by not wearing the correct colors for their tradtion. My brother is clueless about this, and she is to busy nesting to help… aside from the fact that she makes me feel like I’m too big to be her in law. Any advice?

Donna, Wedding Queen: I don’t have experience with Chinese weddings so I’ll bow to the other experts advice on this one. However, I couldn’t hardly contain myself when i read your comment about your clothes size. Did your brother’s fiance actual SAY that you were too big to be in the wedding? Firstly, size 12 is hardly huge and is the average clothing size for American women. However, size should never be a deciding factor when selecting a bridesmaid. If she did say this to you maybe it’s time to have a chat with your brother. This is not a nice way to begin a new family relationship. Let him know that your feelings are hurt.

Reader Response: Well she did try to put it politely… she said that with her cousins being a size 0 and 2, that she didn’t feel I could lose enough weight to feel like I belonged in the wedding party. Of course she never asked if I was planning to “lose enough weight” either, I think she just assumed. So ya, I have discussed this with my brother a little, but he’s just playing peacemaker I think and marking it up to ‘bridezilla’ syndrome. Oh yes, and the wedding is in NYC if that makes any difference for the type of attire… fall, afternoon-evening-ish.

Donna, Wedding Queen: Sigh – women come in all shapes and sizes but we are all people. Bridesmaids should be selected based on their relationship with the bridal couple. Besides, at 5′ 9 you’re probably closer to a healthier weight than her cousins. I’d consider myself lucky not to be included in this self-centered group! HER LOSS! I did a little research and from what I read about Chinese weddings the only taboo color for guests to wear is white because they say it symbolizes death. But, it seems white is fine for the bride.

Nancy Tucker: I do know that the color red plays a big part in the Chinese wedding traditons but not sure for the guests. I’d stay with the traditional “little black dress” to be on the safe side.

Rebecca Black, Etiquette By Rebecca: I agree with all of this. You definitely are not too big. So silly. Conservative dress is key here. And, I’m not sure if you will have to sit on the floor or short seats during the tea ceremony. So, it may be best to find out. This fact may contribute to your clothing decision.

Dawna Smith, Custom Photo Book & DVD Services: There are numerous sites regarding chinese wedding etiquette, attire, gift giving, etc. You can do a search using the words Chinese Wedding Dress Etiquette and choose from the many sites that will appear. If black is one of the colors, knock ’em dead by wearing a beautiful “clingy” black dress that shows off your statuesque SIZE 12 figure and luxurious bosom (assuming your have one).

Gifts for a Chinese Wedding

Make a favorable impression by purchasing a traditional chinese wedding gift, which will help express your desire to bridge the gap between the cultures. A few things to keep in mind when purchasing a traditional chinese wedding gift……

  • if you purchase something, be sure that the gift items in the package come in even numbers, meaning “good things double”.
  • or go with a standard Li Shi gift of money, usually wrapped in a red envelope decorated with lucky symbols. The Li Shi money usually comes in $99 or $999, as the pronunciation of Nine is the same as “long and forever.”
  • or a chinese tea set

Can I Wear Red to a Chinese Wedding?

Question: What color should I wear to a Chinese wedding? Some people say not to wear red? Is that true?

We spoke to a reader who came from a very traditional chinese family. From what she told us black isn’t the best color to wear to a Chinese wedding. Gold is also another popular color in Chinese culture. You could wear a Chinese inspired, mandrian collar top or Qi-pao top with A-line skirt under it.

Wearing a red dress is a definite no-no… the bride can wear red. Wearing a red dress is drawing attention to yourself, and everyone will criticise you silently for “trying ” to steal the brides day. The mothers of both parties can wear red…but guest is a no no.

Tips For Attending a Chinese & American Wedding

If you get invited to a Chinese-American wedding, you should know a few things. Firstly, don’t be surpsied if you get an invitation with no bridal registry mentioned. The registry is really an American thing and some more traditional Chinese would rather not do it, because it’s too embarrassing to ask people for gifts in Chinese culture.

What should you bring to the wedding, then? That’s easy—just cash, a check or a gift card that you know the couple can definitely use. The monetary amount is up to you, but preferably close to what a meal at the reception site would cost you (including your date or spouse). The Chinese custom of money giving is meant to help the couple pay for the wedding. If you agree with the concept and want to be totally culturally appropriate, put the money or gift card in a red envelope.

White bridal gowns are very popular in Chinese wedding, but don’t forget that red is a more traditional color for the bride to wear. Most brides who want to have a Chinese wedding will wear two dresses, having a red Mandarin dress for the reception, covering the tables with red cloth and decorating the wall behind the head table with a huge Chinese character that means “double joy” in red. A good piece advice for a guest is to avoid wearing a red dress.

Do’s and Don’t’s When Attending a Chinese Wedding

First of all it is important to remember that the below advice mostly works. But not all Chinese families practice traditional wedding customs and it is always best to ask rather than assume or guess only to end up offending the bride or groom’s family.

Traditionally, the bride usually wears red as the color symbolises joy and prosperity. Wearing red clothing while attending a traditional wedding is considerea no would be accused for trying to steal the spotlight of the bride. It is better to wear clothing in pink, peach or purple as these symbolise new life and happiness. Clothing in orange and yellow are also acceptable. Black and white clothes should be avoided as both colours represent mourning and death. To wear black to a Chinese wedding is also considered bringing bad luck to the newlyweds.

It is also important to note Chinese wedding tradition dictates that pregnant women or someone who recently lost a family member to a Chinese wedding should not attend the wedding in order to minimise bad luck that might strike the new couple. Another reason why pregnant women are not allowed to attend the wedding is because it is believed the bride and groom have strong ‘Qi’ (气 or Chinese term for lifeforce) which could harm the unborn baby. Again, not all Chinese weddings practice this custom especially among the younger generation.

Before giving gifts to the bride and groom, it always important to ask whether they accept presents and gift certificates. It is also important to note some items are not suitable as wedding gifts and would represent bad luck. For example, when giving a present, never give the newlyweds a fan as a gift because the pronunciation of fan sounds the same with word ‘disperse’ in Mandarin and Chinese dialects. Do not give chysanthemums or daisies to the newlyweds as these flowers are associated with funerals. If you choose to give the wedding couple a set of dinnerware, make sure that it must bought in sets of three, five or eight. Giving anything in sets of four is considered bad luck as the number ‘four’ is a homonym with death in Chinese (四 – sì – four / 死 – sǐ – death). The most appropriate gift to the new couple is cash or cheque in a red envelope (hong bao). The amount of monetary gift is entirely up to the giver but at the same time one must never give it in any amount associating with number four. Using white wrapping paper or envelope is unacceptable as the colour white associates with death and mourning. It is best to give the new couple gifts in boxes, wrapping papers and envelopes in red and gold.

When attending a Chinese wedding reception, it is best not to show displeasure or publicly announce one’s dislike towards a Chinese dish as it is considered offensive to do that in front of both bride and groom. It is also considered rude to leave a wedding reception before the final dish is served. Wedding guests are allowed to bring some of the dishes home as leftover food as a sign of appreciation towards the new couple. Lastly, it is important to thank the bride and groom for sharing their joyous moments with us and other guests.