STORY OF A DRESS
Newlywed Mishal Cazmi on her traditional-meets-modern wedding style
Before I got engaged, I never scrapbooked or pinned pictures of my dream wedding dress. Terms like “sweetheart neckline” and “mermaid silhouette” meant nothing to me. My apathy probably had a lot to do with the fact that I always knew that my future dress would never be a white gown.
South Asian brides like me— Pakistani Muslim to be more specific—traditionally wear a lehenga (a long skirt paired with a blouse and a long scarf known as a dupatta) and usually have more than one outfit, given the multi-day festivities. Along with knowing the style of what I’d likely wear, I also knew how extravagant it would be. Think tiers of tulle or a bedazzled bodice on a white dress is OTT? You’ve never seen South Asian bridal wear in all its glory— intricate beading and mirror work, sequins as bright as a disco ball and ultra-vibrant colours. The dresses are utterly unapologetic in their opulence. South Asian weddings are also no place for modest pearl earrings. When it comes to jewellery, you need statement pieces: earrings, necklaces and stacks upon stacks of bangles.
This was my rough visual until I was engaged to be married two years ago. That’s when I went from zero to a hundred, caring way too much about every major and minute detail—from the colour of our menus to the varietals of roses in the centrepieces. Because my then fiancé and I were determined to have an intimate celebration, we wanted everything—and everyone—to feel special.
I found my outfit for our family-only ceremony quickly and serendipitously, off the rack at an Indian boutique. The white and gold number (a churidar salwar kameez—the Western equivalent of a dress over pants) reminded me of Chanel’s Paris-Bombay-inspired Pre-Fall 2012 collection but cost as much as a fancy dress at Zara. I was over-the-moon to have found something so easily. But finding my reception dress was a whole other matter. I soon realized that my minimalist aesthetic (my closet being a sea of greys and muted pastels) and reserved personality (I avoid attention like the plague) were completely at odds with the flashy Bollywood outfit I always assumed I’d wear. Because our reception extended to friends and family friends, I felt more pressure to look the part of a Western bride.
Finding the right dress became a precarious balancing act between wanting to honour tradition and staying true to my personal style. I searched everywhere—showrooms, boutiques, e-retailers and big-ticket bridal wear designers like Élan and Sabyasachi (which is like trying to wrangle Valentino couture)—for an outfit that mixed my contemporary likes with my family’s history. But I came up short.
Eventually, I came across Toronto-based fashion designer Mani Jassal’s business cards at a showroom. She happened to dabble in South Asian bridal wear (this year, she launched an entire bridal collection). Her watercolour palette, delicate textiles and playful styling made her work refreshingly modern without losing that touch of tradition. I set up an appointment.
At Jassal’s studio, I sifted through clouds of fabric, choosing a diaphanous blush pink dupatta with gold and pearl detailing from an existing collection and a rose gold sequined, floor-grazing skirt from another, asking if she’d swap out the fabric layered underneath for the same pink hue. I also requested a custom top in raw silk with embellishments to match the dupatta. Jassal listened, took notes and just got it. In the end, it took three months and two fittings before I could fully see the dress in all its shimmering splendour. It was everything I didn’t know I wanted when I first began looking. I loved it.
When our reception day finally arrived, I felt like Cinderella from the very first twirl. I had managed to balance that swinging pendulum between tradition and individuality—my choices reflected me as well as my heritage. I had wedding stilettos, but I also had a pair of custom monogrammed Adidas sneakers in blush pink waiting for me to slip into as soon as I hit the dance floor. I’d stacked up on the bling, but my hair stayed loose.
As I stood in front of the mirror, while my mom helped put the final touches on my dress, the person looking back felt authentically me. What I had chosen to wear made me feel beautiful, confident and ready to enter the next chapter in my life, which is, I suppose, exactly what the right wedding dress should do for you.
“My choices reflected me as well as my heritage.”