Despite having gotten married in Korea, I'd never been a guest at a wedding myself. On top of that, my own wedding was a traditional Korean one, so both me, my husband and pretty much all the female guests came wearing Hanbok.
So when the wedding of a close friend came around I wasn't too sure of what would be appropriate when it came to wardrobe. Especially since I knew the event would take place in on of the most luxurious wedding halls of Seoul - I was expecting evening dresses and lots of colors. A bit of research quickly showed how wrong I was...
In general, Korean weddings are over quickly and aren't - to my European sensitivities - very festive. The dress code for guests could best be described as business or business-casual, partly stemming from the fact that a large part of the guests is comprised of co-workers.
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Since I love drawing outfits and makeup illustrations, this was the perfect occasion to document some of the fashion choices I saw on other female guests. Of course, there are differences depending on the size of the event, the general level of luxury of the location, and the season. For example, I didn't even get to remove my coat! Luckily I'd gone with a dark charcoal one instead of my cream colored jacket which would have looked too much like white in pictures.
General outfit tips:
- Subdued colors. The wedding is all about having the bride shine brightest!
- Choose an outfit you could wear to a business meeting or formal event during the day. A lot of Korean weddings don't take place late in the evening, so evening gowns or festive dresses aren't usual.
- Men basically wear suits or a nice jacket, though ties are definitely optional. Like mentioned, business-casual is the order of the day. I've seen my fair share of jeans-wearing guests, too.
- Keep in mind that there will probably be no place to put down bags, jackets or coats and you'll have to carry/wear them all the time.
A "Korean Wedding" How To:
1. Arrive early
... so you can take a picture with the bride. She'll be sitting in a room exclusively for that purpose, so especially if you're a guest from the bride's friend circle, that's probably your best chance to see her up close and give her your best wishes (but fast, other people are waiting in line!).
Bring an envelope (or use one of the envelopes provided somewhere near the entrance) with money. This is your gift - you're essentially helping to pay for the wedding venue, food etc.
The amount varies depending on how close your relationship is, so try asking some friends or colleagues from the same circle on how much they give.
There'll be two tables to chose from - one for the bride's guests and one for the groom's - where you'll be able to hand over your envelope (with your name written on it) and sign the guest book in exchange for a buffet coupon. You'll probably be able to greet the couple's parents there, too.
The ceremony hall was inspired by a church when it came to design and layout. The benches on the right side of the aisle were for family, the left side for friends and co-workers, but we chose to stand to see better.
The actual ceremony is usually short. A ceremony master guides through the process, which is opened by the two mothers. Their part of the ceremony is based in Korean traditional weddings, so they'll be lighting candles and greet each other with bows while wearing traditional Hanbok. Then, the ceremony master introduces first the groom and then the bride, who'll be led down the aisle by her father.
A note on traditional Korean weddings:
While there are lots of elements from Korean traditional weddings sprinkled through-out the modern version, the actual thing isn't that common anymore. For a true traditional ceremony, the bride and groom (as well as close relatives) would all be in Hanbok - with traditional wedding adornments on top! - and instead of exchanged vows or rings, it involves a lot of greetings and gifts between the families in form of symbolic food.
I actually got married in a traditional Korean ceremony and will blog about that in the future!
The groom has to do a lot of bowing through-out the ceremony! Where the bride has a dress (and a flurry of professional ceremony assistants assuring it always looks perfect) that limits her movements to half-bows, the groom will do the traditional full bow on his hands and knees in front of the parents to ask for their blessings.
The couple will also read out their vows, and the fathers or a very close friend will hold a short speech. Depending on the couple's background, there might be other short interludes (my friend had a singer duo sing for her since both she and her husband work in the music industry) but generally, the ceremony will be over in about 20-30 minutes.
4. More pictures!
Then, it's immediately time for some group pictures. At this particular wedding, the large number of guests made them take the group picture with friends before the family ones so that the largest chunk of people would be out of the ceremony hall. The bride will also throw her bouquet to an (already decided on) girlfriend.
While group pictures are still being taken, you can head over to the dining hall. Some guests don't even watch the ceremony, just hand over their gift envelopes, eat and leave. With the number of guest at this particular ceremony being well over 700, that was the only way to have the wedding hall and even dining hall not be completely overcrowded.
Grab food and an empty table (only chairs for the couple's closest relatives come labeled), enjoy the music and make sure to eat noodles! Noodle soup or any noodle dish brings luck for the married couple, with the length of the noodles symbolizing a long and happy marriage.
Is it over...?
The now married couple will change outfits after the ceremony and join the guests in the dining hall.
On this particular occasion, the bride went from wedding dress to evening gown (by the way, none of the guests or even bridesmaids wore anything even close to a gown. Like mentioned: Business-casual) and went around the hall to greet everyone and, since they're musicians, sang a duet. After that, another outfit change into the traditional Korean hanbok was in order. I believe the couple didn't get a single bite to eat!
That is pretty much the end of all official parts.
At one point, the married couple and closest relatives will go into another room to complete the traditional Korean part of the wedding ceremony, but at that time, most of the other guests will have left already.
It can be a bit hard to tell when it's time to leave since guests trickle in and out constantly.
But don't be surprised if you feel like you're leaving early - as mentioned, Korean weddings don't take very long, and as far as I know, there is no dancing involved. In fact, when we had our own 'second' wedding in Switzerland to celebrate with my Swiss relatives and friends, my husband was petrified when he found out we'd have to dance a little bit of a wedding waltz!
Just leave after you've at least once congratulated the married couple and eaten your share of the buffet!
If you - like me - love to decorate your journals and stationery with outfit stickers, you can download the printable file for these illustrations here. Just print them on sticker paper of your choice (or normal paper - a good old glue stick does the trick!), cut them with scissors and put them in your journal, planner, Filofax, or scrapbook. The files are 300 dpi on half a US letter page, making for some cute, small outfit stickers.
Some of the drawings are from my 'OOTD Seoul' post here.