Are you crazy!? One might ask.
Or maybe just adventurous.
A year ago I was in a situation that probably many Indian brides today find themselves in - living in a foreign land but getting married in your home country. This comes with a few challenges, namely:
1. Not having adequate time to shop. If you're a working bride, chances are that you don't have a lot of spare time to hit up the stores, customize outfits and such. You probably outsource a lot of this work to your trusted family members, or cram all of your shopping to a few weeks before wedding day.
2. Not knowing what's out there. Unless you're someone who spends a lot of proactive time on the internet (namely, Instagram or Pinterest) looking for inspiration and the latest trends, you're probably not as informed of the latest and greatest trends in wedding fashion.
3. Pulling a look together. Brides may also often find themselves in a situation where they may have one part of their outfit figured out but don't really know how to piece the rest of it together. Say you really want to wear your grandmom's wedding saree on one of the occasions but don't quite now what blouse design or jewelry would pair well with it.
Although I had almost a year's worth of time to plan for the big day, it didn't help a ton given I was miles away from home-base and couldn't make a trip back home exclusively for wedding shopping. I also realized it would be way too overwhelming to do all the shopping and outfit planning myself for the 5+ events (standard Indian wedding fare), while on the other hand be too nerve-wracking to outsource all of it to my mom or family members in anticipation of likely fashion disasters. So I found a middle-ground wherein I'd have my mom pick out all of the traditional outfits (a.k.a. sarees) and leave the Reception, Mehendi & Sangeet outfits (and jewelry) to me.
Online shopping is not for everyone. I'm going to level set right away and say upfront that I've always been an avid online shopper - from shopping for heels to underwear. Some (rather obvious) reasons for this being variety and price. Because of this, I've always been on the lookout for great online stores, both for Indian and Western outfits. But my tryst with online shopping found a new niche in the bridal space.
Instagram helped a great deal.
As I began my hunt for wedding inspiration, I found myself on Instagram a LOT - looking at bridal inspiration pages, wedding bloggers and such. Thanks to the explore feature on Instagram, I was often led to images that had product mentions and tags, citing some exciting potential vendor sources. But one might ask - how can you trust your wedding dress on a vendor you found on Instagram?
The truth is - you can. With a lot of research, and some risks.
Establishing vendor credibility.
With some online vendors, their credibility is well established - especially if they have a website of their own. Or a physical store location, with some online presence. A quick look at the website should give you an initial sense of the vendor's credibility. Furthermore, looking up reviews (preferably outside of those in the vendor's website) and understanding the demographics and relevance of the reviewers is also important. For example, if I'm researching on an Indian Bridal Online Boutique, I'd give more credibility to reviewers who fit within that demographic (women of South-Asian origin, with some mention of real South-Asian outfits), versus a random review that reads a generic "nice!" and is by an anonymous reviewer or someone with a questionable username (who's likely a bot!). Another thing to be vary of, particularly for vendors on Instagram, is that some vendors don't share original content. Often, I'd find myself on pages claiming to sell Sabyasachi-look alikes, when the content posted has literally been lifted off of the designer's original instagram page.
(Image Courtesy: SocImage - Pure_desii)
Catalog to Reality
Even after you've established that a vendor is credible (i.e. has a genuine, working website and accountable reviews), it's also important to ensure that what's on the catalog is somewhat representative of the real product. A good way to get a sense of what a designer's work looks like is to find evidence of real clients wearing their clothes. Some online vendors/designers are good about posting client photographs in their outfits, often times citing them right against the catalog image. This helps one understand how something might look on a real person!
Direct Contact with Vendors
A huge advantage to online business, particularly ones that have an Instagram presence, is that they often manage their entire business communication through either Instagram Direct or Whatsapp. If you like something you see on a vendor's instagram page or online catalog, you can often reach out to the business owner or an associate directly or contact them via Whatsapp to get more information on price, actual product photographs and such. Another area where this is really useful is during and after your purchase, particularly if you have customization requests or want to track your order (with a human VS a machine). Some online business vendors are often stylists themselves, and can provide tailored recommendations based on your needs (Customized bridal consultations for free! YAAAS!).
Payments & Shipping
What's the point in finding a vendor with jaw-dropping outfits if there's no way you can buy them. One thing to always check for (especially if your vendor is based in a different country than the one you live in) is whether or not the vendor accepts international payments or PayPal, and if they offer worldwide shipping. Most vendors charge an additional fee for international shipping, and this is often not revealed until you're at checkout (or in more embarrassing situations, after you've placed an order over the phone or Whatsapp). Be wary to look for estimated delivery times, as some orders may take months to arrive, especially if the item is made to order.
Moving on to the specifics.
The very first (daring and expensive) bridal purchase I made online was this red-kundan studded silk blouse. I didn't have a sari in mind to pair it with it (which is usually the opposite of convention, especially for a bridal outfit), but I figured red wasn't too difficult a color to find a complementary sari for. And what screams more bridal than a red blouse?
(Product as seen on me)
This blouse looked absolutely stunning and was of very good quality (as justified by the price). My only slight gripe about it was that the sleeves were a little broad (but were fixed easily with a few hand-stitches), and the color was a little more orange than red. My mom had gifted me a beautiful orange saree for my engagement party, which paired elegantly with the blouse. So on the whole, this purchase was a success...which egged me on to more.
For my engagement party, I also purchased an off-white anarkali online, that I found on sale. While this looked rather simple from the catalog, it actually turned out to be quite bridal-esque in reality.
My wedding reception lehenga was a 3-part story, which endured a few trials and tribulations, until quite literally a week before the actual event. However, the best thing about all of this is that I had options. And that's always a good thing.
I started my search exploring a few bridal boutiques in my neighborhood. While this definitely gave me an opportunity to try a few lehengas in person (to see if they would even suit my body type in the first place!), the stores had exorbitant prices with no room to negotiate. I also didn't want to wait to purchase my reception outfit until weeks before the wedding, lest there be alterations that were required (or I found nothing I liked). So all of these constraints prompted me to scout online.
I landed on this traditional red & pink lehenga set by designer Kshitija on Pernia's Popup shop within about a month of online research. There happened to be a big sale on the website at the time as well, which put implicit pressure on me to decide on whether or not to make the purchase (which also meant there would be less room in the budget, in case I found something better later). I decided to order the item, with the understanding that if I had to return it for some reason, the most I'd lose was the shipping cost.
When the package arrived a few weeks later, I was very impressed with the skirt and the dupatta. However, the blouse was a disaster! Although I ordered the largest size they had (L), I had to battle with it quite a bit to get it on and I decided this wasn't ideal for a wedding outfit. However, I was hopeful that I could find/order/stitch another blouse that worked with the rest of the lehenga to make this outfit work.
Here's one potential look I put together with my engagement blouse and the rest of the lehenga I purchased on Pernia's. Although this would've looked great for a daytime north-Indian wedding ceremony, I wanted something a tad simpler and more evening-wear appropriate.
My quest to find a blouse that would work for this lehenga led me to look for online vendors who would support custom orders. I worked with a designer on Carma Online and sent him a picture of the rest of the lehenga and a few of his blouse designs that I liked. After some back and forth, we agreed on a design I liked and I sent over detailed measurements to get a perfect fit. My two main criteria was to have ample blouse length (i.e. go way below the bust) and long sleeves. The blouse arrived (after about a month) and thankfully, paired very well with the lehenga. Although the neckline was a tad deeper than I had hoped, what stood out to me the most was the blood red color and the gold embroidery work. After some additional contemplation, I switched out the original dupatta with one I bought from Lashkaraa (for another outfit) and I finally had an outfit I was convinced about.
(Reception outfit: Skirt from Rana's by Kshitija, blouse by Joy Mitra, dupatta from Lashkaraa. Photo courtesy: Akshay Sunil Photography)
For my mehendi, I purchased a white and maroon lehenga off Lashkaraa (material only), and had it custom stitched by a tailor I found locally.
(Mehendi Outfit: Lehenga skirt & blouse by Lashkaraa. Photo Courtesy: Akshay Sunil Photography)
For my reception, I wanted a polki set that would make a statement without being too over the top. I had a few options from purchases I had made in the past (but seldom worn), but I decided to buy a customized necklace made to order by Mortantra. I sent the vendor a picture of my outfit and discussed some styles that would work with it and eventually settled on one I liked. I also ordered two pairs of earrings from them that I ended up wearing on my Sangeet and mehendi, respectively.
I bought a passa and a pair of jhumki earrings from a designer off of Pernia's Popup shop. I really liked the designer's style - classy with a lot of detail. I wore the jhumki earrings to my wedding ceremony and the passa for my sangeet. (I received a lot of compliments on the passa!) I also ordered some gold-plated silver jewelry (necklaces & waist-belt) from a Hyderabad-based vendor on Instagram, that I wore on my wedding ceremony as well.
(Sangeet Outfit: Lehenga skirt and blouse from Rupam Sarees - Bridal Boutique in Berkeley, CA. Dupatta from Lashkaraa. Passa from Pernia's Popup Shop. Earrings from Mortantra. Photo courtesy: Akshay Sunil Photography)
(Wedding/Muhurtham Outfit: Saree from Chennai, Blouse design by Lakshmi Prasad, necklaces (top two) and waist belt from MsPinkPantherJewlery. Earrings from Pernia's Popup Shop. Photo Courtesy: Akshay Sunil Photography)
Would I recommend purchasing your wedding outfit online?
Yes - if you're crunched for time, want more options, are willing to be creative, and can order ahead. If things don't work out, there's always a return policy!
Seriously though, I strongly believe that bridal e-commerce is a fast growing space, and social media has made it all the more easier for a variety of designers to get out there and showcase their work. Buying designer clothes used to be an exclusive thing in the past, but today, with a whole suite of options, there's something to fit everyone's style and budget. And much of these great styles get online first, before hitting physical stores. Even if online shopping is not your thing, I highly recommend bride-to-be's to check out a few of these online bridal boutiques to get a sense of what's out there (and to get your inner creative/stylist juices flowing!), even if you don't go all the way to making a purchase.
Beyond a few great outfits, I learned quite a lot about bridal e-commerce in general, built up a good database of reliable online stores, and made a few stylist friends in the process. So, I have no complaints!
(This is not a sponsored post. Weblinks and product mentions are for informational purposes only)