Ask the Yangxifu: What To Wear To Chinese Weddings in China

Jen asks:

I’m going to attend a Chinese wedding in Shanghai soon and I have NO idea what to wear! Could you please help with some suggestions???

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When it comes to attending weddings in China, think casual.

I’ve seen people wear nice jeans or skirts, T-shirts, sweaters and even sneakers to weddings — yes, sneakers! In China, whatever people wear in public or to the office is pretty much the same thing they’ll wear to a wedding. Which means if you choose to go a little more formal — a nice suit, a lovely dress — you might actually stick out even more than you usually do as a foreigner in China. Dress up at own your risk.

Of course, remember that one universal rule still stands — never upstage the bride. In China, brides often wear several gowns — one white Western-style gown, one red (often a qipao, but not always), and one or more evening gowns in other colors. So don’t dress like you’re about to attend prom and don’t even think about wearing a qipao. You might even reconsider that cocktail dress if it seems too fancy or falls below the knees.

What about colors? White still remains the mourning color in China, yet the fact that Chinese brides always wear at least one white wedding gown means it’s no longer taboo. Neither is black, which I saw on many guests at my own wedding. But what about red, the ultimate symbolic color for weddings in China? While I wouldn’t wear red, if it’s just a T-shirt or a casual skirt you’re probably OK.

Still, you’re better off just keeping it simple with the attire. If it’s good enough for the office or to do a little shopping out with friends, then chances are it’s good enough for a Chinese wedding.

So get out there, celebrate and don’t forget that red envelope!

What do you think? What advice do you have for Jen?

Do you have a question about life, dating, marriage and family in China/Chinese culture or Western culture? Send me yours today.

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11 thoughts on “Ask the Yangxifu: What To Wear To Chinese Weddings in China

  • April 19, 2013 at 7:41 am
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    Great advice! I once attended a 3-day long wedding and at first I didn’t even realise it was some kind of wedding lunch (my friends just took me somewhere to eat and didn’t tell me it was part of a wedding). Well, it was lunch before the day of the “real” wedding ceremony, so maybe that one doesn’t really count, but people dressed so casual that I really didn’t figure it was a wedding until the day after where we attended the second wedding lunch and people handed over red envelopes (and one of my friends told me that we were going to a wedding beforehand). While some of the guys would wear a suit, most of them wore very casual clothes such as a T-shirt and jeans, just as you said.

    Does the casual-clothes thing also count for the bride’s parents? My fiancé wants to give my mother a Qipao and my stepfather a traditional Chinese suit as a gift that they can wear to our wedding in China, which leads me to think that maybe the parents are an exception – what do you think, Jocelyn?

    Reply
  • April 20, 2013 at 5:49 am
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    Taiwan is a little more formal than that – you still shouldn’t dress up too much, but men would generally wear a button-down shirt (no need for a tie) and nice slacks. Women would wear more or less what they’d wear to the office (in the West – in Taiwan there seems to be a whole separate style that fits the idea of ‘Ladies’ Office Wear’ that would look really strange anywhere BUT the office or on a commute – think gray pinstripe A-line skirts and tailored, collared blouses with conservative hose and heels) or out to a slightly nicer-than-usual brunch or tea with friends. Slacks are fine for women, as are all colors but bright red. A long skirt or dress is fine, but a long *fancy* dress is not. If it’s long, it should be in a less formal cut/fabric.

    You occasionally meet someone in jeans or a t-shirt at a Taiwanese wedding – this is OK if it’s at some restaurants or is a traditional outdoor reception (“ban-dou”) but for a hotel or fancy venue wedding you probably wouldn’t wear either. But khakis, jersey fabric, even something with a printed design or logo…all fine.

    At the last wedding I attended I wore a longish but informal brown skirt, a plain black top and black boots, and a slightly-dressy handmade opalite and copper necklace. I was among the nicer-dressed guests but didn’t feel overdressed.

    http://laorencha.blogspot.tw/2012/12/its-christmas-miracle.html – to give you an idea of what people were wearing. Some people looked a little nicer, you can still see some t-shirts, sneakers and jeans though, too. This was a small (about 80 people) evening wedding at the Sheraton Taipei.

    Reply
  • April 20, 2013 at 5:12 pm
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    Jocelyn, your wedding Qipao seemed very simple and modern compared to what most that I’ve seen. Is this the new trend in China? Anyways, I do feel that people tend to dress more casual these days and definitely notice quite a few people with converse/sneakers in weddings. If it’s just a wedding banquet I usually go for the smart casual style so there’s a balance between looking too overdressed and under dressed.

    Reply
  • April 20, 2013 at 7:40 pm
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    @China Elevator Stories, thanks for the comment! Yes, I would say parents are definitely an exception when attending weddings! They can certainly dress up more formally and most do. Though my father-in-law wore simply a nicer version of his usual summer outfit (white button-down shirt, polyester pants with a belt) and my mother-in-law wore black polyester pants with a nice striped T-shirt. They both grew up in the countryside and for them, their clothes would be considered nice enough to be the parents of the groom for a wedding. I also attended a wedding in Hangzhou where the bride’s parents came from the city and the groom’s from the countryside — while her parents wore tuxedo/sequined dress, his had on outfits similar to my father-in-law/mother-in-law.

    @Jenna, thank you for sharing the situation in Taiwan! That will be extremely helpful for anyone getting ready to attend festivities on the “treasured island”.

    @Kin, thanks for the comment! I agree with you on smart casual for weddings — last one I attended, I wore a nice casual skirt and a nice top.

    I can’t really say if my wedding qipao represents a new trend in China — if only because I’m so out of the fashion loop! What I can tell you is it was tailor made and basically the tailor let me flip through a book with possible styles (then I went to the silk market and bought fabric according to her directions). It may be that the styles her book included were more modern.

    Reply
  • April 21, 2013 at 3:11 pm
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    We’re also finally having our wedding in Shanghai this autumn and my mother was troubled about having nothing to wear.. We dress up in our best for the weddings in Finland. I’m a bit worried about my parents’ reactions if they show up in a very formal wear and everybody else are wearing jeans and t-shirts..

    Reply
  • April 21, 2013 at 8:32 pm
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    Jenna nailed it on the head. I went to a wedding in Taiwan and it was exactly like that. 😀

    Reply
    • April 22, 2013 at 10:42 am
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      @orange_rain, don’t worry! Your parents should dress up — they are the parents of the bride, and that would be expected! Just warn them that the dress code for regular guests is a bit more relaxed, but that does not mean they are overdressed for the occasion.

      @Eileen, thanks for the comment — glad to know you also had the same experience as Jenna!

      Reply
  • April 22, 2013 at 9:48 am
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    Don’t have any advice, but hope you’ll have fun

    Reply
  • May 5, 2014 at 4:04 am
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    My son married a lovely Chinese girl and the formal ceremony/party is in her hometown near Beijing. What kind of dress should I wear? Should it be Chinese style? Where would I buy that?

    Reply
    • May 5, 2014 at 1:20 pm
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      I would probably recommend against you wearing a Chinese-style dress — Chinese brides usually wear Chinese-style dresses in the ceremony/reception and your dress might “steal her thunder” so to speak. I would choose to wear the kind of nice, classy “mother-of-the-bride/groom” type dress you would normally wear to weddings in your home country. A Western style dress is perfectly nice.

      Reply
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