Wedding guests outshine brides, debate rages

By Quynh Nguyen   May 26, 2024 | 12:31 am PT
Showing up at her friend’s engagement ceremony in a white ao dai (traditional Vietnamese tunic), a headband and elaborate makeup, Minh Anh drew criticism for taking the spotlight off the bride.

Anh, 25, from the northern city of Hai Phong, was invited as a close friend of the groom. Thinking that the bride would wear a red ao dai for the ceremony, Anh opted for a custom white ao dai, complemented with accessories. However, she was taken aback on seeing the bride also donning a white ao dai while only sporting soft, "natural" makeup upon arrival.

Anh’s towering height, bold makeup, and extravagant attire led many to mistake her for the bride. Those same visitors also mistook the bride for a guest. Some even praised Anh, saying that she and the groom made a good couple. This caused discomfort among the bride’s family and friends.

"Let it be!" said Anh. "There was no dress code for guests to follow. If their wedding attire is lackluster, that is their fault, not mine."

Images of female guests turning up more striking than the bride are often shared on social media, garnering tens of thousands of reactions. The majority of online commenters have expressed their frustration and discomfort. But some opine that to dress well is a sign of respect, arguing that if the bride and groom do not want to be upstaged, they should outline a dress code in their invitations.

A female wedding guest wearing a beige dress posing with the groom (far R) on May 10, 2024, leaving many to mistake her for the bride. Photo by C.T.

A female wedding guest wearing a beige dress posing with the groom (far R) on May 10, 2024, leaving many to mistake her for the bride. Photo by C.T.

Psychologist Nguyen Thi Minh, a lecturer at the National Academy of Public Administration in Ho Chi Minh City, identified four reasons people sometimes wear attire that outshines the bride.

Firstly, some guests may not fully understand their role in the wedding, and many believe they need to stand out like the bride or even more.

Secondly, they may want to show off and get praised by the crowd for their beauty and excellence.

Thirdly, for those who grew up in deprived circumstances and have experienced the psychological trauma of being belittled, they may use every opportunity they can to represent themselves as the opposite of this, whenever and wherever possible.

And finally, some guests may be unintentionally overdressed, while the bride may surprise guests by opting for a simple look that is easily overshadowed.

According to Minh, young people or older individuals who want to look youthful are the most likely to enjoy wearing outfits that are over the top.

"Whether the guests’ attire is intentional or unintentional, it could upset the bride and cause hidden conflicts," warned Minh. "Moreover, those who outshine the bride may face backlash on social media if their images are circulated."

For the wedding of a high school friend last year, Thanh Ha, 28, from the northern province of Thai Binh, purchased a black party dress for VND2 million (US$79), and paid an additional amount for makeup and hairstyling.

Ha said she made the considerable investment because she wanted to make an impression on someone she quietly admired. However, she did not expect that her outfit would be more eye-catching than the bride’s when the two friends were photographed alongside each other. Many guests whispered that she was intentionally seeking attention without thinking of the bride’s feelings.

Nevertheless, Ha had no intention of changing her outfit. She felt fabulous in it, she said.

The most viral incident of this nature occurred on May 20, when social media circulated images of a woman at her best friend’s wedding. She was wearing a multi-tiered, flared dress, sporting a high bun hairstyle, holding a bouquet, and posing with the groom. On seeing the photos, many thought she was the bride. A video in which she explained her choice of attire, which resembled that of the bride, attracted over 1 million views and tens of thousands of comments.

"Dressing properly for a wedding is a sign of how much you respect the couple," a social media user named Ha Phuong commented. "However, one should never overshadow the bride and groom. Such an act could make your look, however impeccable it is, become ugly."

Associate Professor Le Quy Duc, former Deputy Director of the Institute of Culture and Development at the Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics, stated that traditionally, there is no rule on wedding guest attire. However, guests should arrive appropriately outfitted for the celebration, not for the sake of their own appearance, but to honor the couple getting married.

He added that while it is not wrong to dress well for nuptials, it is also essential to be considerate. A wedding is a once-in-a-lifetime event, a significant milestone for the couple, so it is understandable that the bride and groom wish to look their best and shine a little spotlight on themselves.

"Therefore, guests should be mindful of the bride and groom’s feelings, behave appropriately, and maintain a harmonious environment," said Duc.

Earlier this month, Cam Tu, a 29-year-old from Ho Chi Minh City, got slammed for photos of herself at the wedding of a close friend she had known for 10 years. In one commemorative photo, she is seen wearing a creamy white dress, a high bun hairstyle, holding a bouquet, and standing between the groom and another close friend, which provoked some to accuse her of "playing pretend bride" for the day.

Tu explained that it was the photographer who asked her to stand that way for a visually pleasing composition. She said she had no ulterior motive. However, her photos clocked up a barrage of negative comments.

"I was accused of deliberately stealing the limelight, but the truth is I just wanted to look neat in the crowd," Tu explained.

Faced with such internet shaming, Tu had to delete all the wedding-related images and videos on her feeds.

Not every bride who’s felt uncomfortable about being outshone speaks up.

Thuy Han, a 30-year-old Ho Chi Minh City resident, admitted feeling uneasy seeing guests wearing overly flashy attire at her wedding early this year. However, she refrained from expressing her discomfort for fear of damaging friendships and being judged as petty.

"I always attend others’ weddings in simple attire because I know who should be the main focus," Han said. "But not everyone understands things the way I do."

To avoid awkward situations between guests and newlyweds, Duc advised attendees to adopt an only slightly-more-formal-than-usual style without being a scene-stealer.

If one’s attire seems more eye-catching than the bride’s and there are no alternatives, Minh suggested that guests refrain from standing too close to the bride and groom to avoid confusion and conflicts. Guests can also incorporate additional accessories such as scarves, hats and handbags to differentiate themselves, he said.

Furthermore, if the bride expresses her frustration, it is best to communicate with her, explain the reason behind the chosen attire, and seek understanding, he advised.

"A sincere word, expressed with goodwill, will make the bride feel comfortable and happy with your presence," Tam said.

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