So one of your close Japanese friends is finally tying the knot, and a couple of weeks before the ceremony, you get a little card in the mail – inviting you to their wedding ceremony.
Of course you reply back “yes!”
As the date draws closer, you realize that you don’t actually know what guests are supposed to wear to a Japanese wedding ceremony in Japan. Is it the same as in America/Europe? Are there taboo colors? Does it have to be a dress? Are you only allowed to wear black suits?
I went to my first Japanese wedding last weekend. It was in my husband’s hometown of Ibaraki, so we were spending the weekend with his parents. I’ve been to a handful of weddings in America, so I have several wedding-appropriate dresses. Together, Ryosuke and I picked the most “modest” one, a beige and dark brown abstract patterned dress that went below the knees. I had worn it at a wedding in America before; he thought it would be great for a wedding in Japan.
Ryosuke’s mom, on the other hand, took one look at it and veto-ed it off the table. And trust me, this woman is not typically vocal about her opinions.
You see, neither Ryosuke nor I had ever been to a wedding in Japan. And, as we learned that weekend, weddings in Japan are VASTLY different than weddings in America (or Europe/Africa/etc).
In this case, I’m talking about a Western-Styled Japanese wedding. I’ve never been to a Japanese wedding at a Shinto Shrine before (so I wouldn’t know) – only a Japanese wedding inside a reception hall in Tokyo. Every married couple Ryouske and I know were married at a Western-styled Japanese wedding (it’s a trend).
Assume a wedding will be in a reception hall (and therefore following this dress code) unless otherwise indicated on the invitation.
What women / girls should wear to a Japanese wedding in Japan:
Nearly every female at a Japanese wedding was wearing like a muted, plain version of what every girl wears to junior prom at an American high school (plus a shawl).
If you don’t understand that reference, sorry. What I mean to say is that every woman was wearing a knee length, formal dress made out of taffeta, silk, or chiffon with a shawl. Shoulders were covered. The dress always went below the knee. Everyone was wearing nude-colored stockings. Their shoes were either place or plain/muted pink pumps. No open-toed shoes.
If you happen to have something that fits the criteria in your closet, great! If not, these are the things you should look for when shopping for a dress to wear as a guest to a Japanese friend’s wedding.
Typical Dress Code for a Japanese Wedding:
1. The dress should be made of taffeta, silk, or chiffon. Try to stay away from the non-shiny fabrics (like cotton). The dress should be whimsical and somewhat modest – don’t do a bodycon or very tight, structured work dress. The ideal dress is tight at the top and then flows out at the waist.
2. It must hit below the knee
3. But it can’t be floor-length or tea-length. The dress needs to hit below (or just at) the knee, no longer, no shorter.
4. It usually should not be strapless (but if it is, you can always layer it with an opaque shawl, to keep yourself modest).
5. It needs to be a plain color. Common colors are beige, muted pink, light brown, dark purple, dark blue, light sky blue, maroon, and brown. Avoid flashy or vivid colors like white, mustard yellow, red, green, and orange.
6. You have to have a shawl.
7. Your shawl should be either white, beige, brown, or black. It can be see-through or opaque – made up of any number of materials. If you’ve been shopping at a department store in Japan, you know the kind of cover-up I’m talking about.
8. You need to have nude pantyhose/stockings. Even if it’s dark, you will be sitting at all times, and your dress goes below the knee. Pantyhose.
9. Your shoes need to be plain black, brown, or nude/pink pumps. No open-toed shoes, no strappy heels, no flashy heels. They need to be plain. According to Ryosuke’s mom and sister(s), black pumps are ideal.
10. Muted, small jewelry is a plus. Pearls are ideal (or so I’ve heard).
What men / guys should wear to a Japanese wedding in Japan:
A suit and tie.
The suit can be black, brown, navy, pinstriped, grey, or really anything else you can think of.
1. The suit CANNOT be white. Only the groom wears a white suit (don’t ask me why, I have no idea why grooms in Japan always wear white suits). Also, try to avoid overly flashy or unusual suits like maroon, orange, yellow, and pink (but then again, who would actually wear a pink suit to a wedding?)
2. Your work-shirt can be any color, but most people wear white. If you want to play it safe, stick to a white shirt. My husband wore a purple shirt. A couple of people laughed at him (jokingly), but he rocked it.
3. You should also wear a tie. Don’t wear a black tie (black ties are for funerals in Japan). Most people wore silver, gold, plain striped, or neutral colored ties. If you want, you can also wear a bowtie (less common, but you do see it happen).
4. If you want, you can also wear a vest. Most people don’t, but some do.
5. Your shoes should be plain black.
Basically, dress like you’ve been working at a Japanese company for a couple of years. If you couldn’t wear it to work without getting demoted/fired/judged, don’t wear it to a wedding in Japan.
There you have it. That’s my advice for what to wear to a western styled wedding in Japan.
Now before you go around trying to invite yourself to every, single wedding (because, why not), remember that when you go to a wedding in Japan, you’re expected to give 30,000yen (about 300USD) to the happy couple.
Weddings can and will break your bank.
I recommend going to one or two, just for the experience (or if they are people you really, really care about), but don’t try to hit up every single wedding you can. There are so many other, better things to spend your hard-earned cash on.
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