Sanjana Rishi says she wore a vintage, powder-blue pantsuit to her traditional Indian wedding recently “simply because I love suits”.
But, with her choice of wedding outfit, she also delivered a bold fashion statement – that made many wonder whether more brides would ditch traditional clothing in favour of the power suit.
In the West, bridal pantsuits have caught on in the past few years. Designers are promoting trousers in their wedding collections, and they’ve received celebrity endorsement too. Last year, Game of Thrones actress Sophie Turner wore a pair of white trousers when she married musician Joe Jonas in Las Vegas.
But, Ms Rishi’s outfit was highly unusual for India – where brides usually dress up in silk saris or elaborate lehengas (long skirt-blouse-scarf combos). The preferred colour is red and many are embroidered with expensive gold or silver thread.
“I’ve never come across an Indian bride dressed like this,” says Nupur Mehta, former editor of a bridal magazine. “Brides usually like to wear Indian attire along with the traditional jewellery from their mothers and grandmothers.
“This was something very new. And she really stood out.”
An Indian-American entrepreneur, Ms Rishi, 29, married Delhi businessman Dhruv Mahajan, 33, on 20 September in the capital, Delhi.
She had worked as a corporate lawyer in the US before returning to India last year and the couple were living together for close to a year.
They had planned a wedding in September in the US – where the bride’s brother and most of her friends live – and a second traditional Indian wedding in Delhi in November.
But then Covid happened and their plans “got completely derailed”.
Unlike America, there is little acceptance of live-in relationships in India and Ms Rishi says that, although her parents are “incredibly progressive, there was a lot of external pressure from friends, neighbours and extended family to formalise the relationship.
So, in late August, “one fine morning I woke up and said, ‘let’s just get married'”.
Ms Rishi says the moment she thought of getting married, she knew exactly what her outfit was going to be.
“I knew I was going to wear a pantsuit, and I knew exactly which one,” she told me.
Ms Rishi, who “believes in environmentally sustainable fashion” and generally buys a lot of second-hand clothes, says she had seen the suit in a boutique in Italy a long time ago.
“It was a pre-loved vintage suit, made in the 1990s by Italian designer Gianfranco Ferré. I was surprised and delighted to know that it was still available when I decided to get married.”
While working as a corporate lawyer in the US, suits were her choice of clothing because all the “strong modern women I idolised” wore them too.
“I have always thought that there is something very powerful about a woman in a pantsuit. I loved them and I wore them all the time.”
It also made sense, she says, since the wedding was a small intimate affair, attended by only 11 people including the bride and the groom and the priest.
“It was just our parents and grandparents. The wedding took place in Dhruv’s backyard. Everyone was very casually dressed, it would have been really awkward if I was dressed up in an elaborate wedding costume. I would have looked so overdressed.”
Mr Mahajan says he hadn’t anticipated his fiancée turning up in a pantsuit.
“Until I saw her, I had no idea what she’d be wearing, but it really didn’t matter because I knew that whatever Sanj wore, she’d rock it.”
In fact, he says when he first saw her, “I didn’t even notice at first that she was wearing trousers, all I noticed was how stunning she looked. She looked angelic, absolutely gorgeous”.
“I can go on with more adjectives,” he laughs.
Ms Rishi’s wedding outfit has created a stir on social media.
After she posted some images on Instagram, friends and followers complimented her on her looks – they called her stunning, beautiful, awesome and “the coolest bride”.
Fashion designers and fashionistas, too, approved of her choice.
“OMG, how great do you look!!!” wrote designer Masaba Gupta; and Rhea Kapoor, Bollywood producer and actress Sonam Kapoor’s sister, described her look as “awesome”.
Anand Bhushan, one of India’s best-known contemporary womenswear designers, told the BBC he loved Ms Rishi’s outfit and that “it is a lovely way for a bride to look”.
“When I saw her photograph, the first thing that went through my mind was, “if Carrie Bradshaw [one of the protagonists in Sex and the City] was Indian, she would dress exactly like this for her wedding.”
But then some bridal accounts shared her pictures and the trolls began trashing her.
In the comments, they said she had brought a bad name to Indian culture, and warned her husband that he was stuck with an attention-seeker who would do anything in the name of feminism. Some said she would never understand Indian traditions because her mind had been influenced by the Western culture. Some “even told me to go kill myself”.
Ms Rishi says she doesn’t understand the criticism since “Indian men wear pantsuits at weddings all the time and nobody questions them – but when a woman wears it then it gets everyone’s goat”.
“But I guess it’s because women are always held to stricter standards,” she says.
And it’s not just in India. Women’s fight to wear trousers has been long and bitter and it goes on globally, with many cultures, even modern ones, frowning upon women who dare to ditch dresses.
Until 2013, it was illegal for women to wear trousers in France, though the ban had been ignored for decades.
In South Korea, female students were only recently told that they could buy a set of trousers to replace the skirts that came as standard with their uniforms.
Female students in North Carolina in the US had to go to court to be allowed to wear trousers in school, even in the harsh winter cold. In Pennsylvania, an 18-year-old took on her school for her right to wear trousers last year and won.
A similar resistance to women wearing trousers continues in India.
“Though women in India have worn some sort of stitched trousers or pyjamas for centuries, outside of big metropolitan cities, many conservative families do not allow women to wear trousers or jeans,” Mr Bhushan says.
“In a society dominated by patriarchy, men have become very insecure about women, so they want to dictate women’s behaviour, their reproductive rights, how they talk and laugh and what they wear,” he adds.
Although Ms Rishi says by wearing a pantsuit, she wasn’t trying to make a political statement, she acknowledges that she may have ended up doing it unwittingly.
“I realise that not all women, at least in India, are free to wear what they please. Once I put out my photographs on Instagram, a lot of women wrote back saying that, looking at my pictures, they had also got the courage to stand up to their parents or in-laws about what to wear at their wedding.
“At one level I was very pleased to hear this, but at another level I was also a little concerned. I was thinking, ‘oh no, I’m causing problems in other people’s lives or in other people’s homes.'”
So could a bride wearing a powder-blue pantsuit inspire others to do the same?
Her unusual choice could become “a spark point – it may go into a flame, or it may die out,” Mr Bhushan says.
“I hope it will be the former.”