Stylist Haiya Bokhari In Conversation with Libas Now on Wedding Wear
Tehmina Khan chats with writer and stylist, Haiya Bokhari (@haiyab) on the Dos and Don’ts of the Shaadi Season, and the importance of the revival of Pakistani tradition and crafts in the fashion industry!
Tehmina Khan: When you’re getting dressed to attend weddings, do you play it safe or take some risks?
Haiya Bokhari: “As someone who doesn’t like doing things in a very conventional or traditional manner, I like taking risks with my wedding wear. I wouldn’t even necessarily say risks – I try approaching it with the same aesthetic that I would getting dressed for any other occasion or event. Personally, it depends on how close you are or how distant you are to the person whose wedding you’re attending. More than that, there’s so much opportunity to have fun with wedding wear, to mix and match pieces, that I think it’s a shame we keep sticking to the same over-embellished aesthetic year after year after year.”
TK: What makes you cringe when you take a general look at what guests are wearing to a wedding?
HB: “Okay, I’m a maximalist at heart. There’s absolutely no doubt about that. There’s no bones about the fact that I love accessories. But there is a point where it gets too much. Fashion or style for me is all about balance and proportion – if you have a teeka and a jhoomar, [along with] saharas and big jhoomkis and on top of that, a choker and then embellishments on the kapray and more and more and more – you’re not wearing the clothes, your clothes and jewellery are wearing you and that for me is always a massive fail. The clothes are supposed to say something about your personality, rather than the fact that you’re just trying to show off either a price tag or a designer. It’s like I don’t know what you’re trying to say with your outfit any more.”
TK: Your favourite outfit you’ve worn to a wedding?
HB: “I recently bought a piece from this young designer called Mahlaqa Marri. She does handmade Balochi jewellery, so for her thesis she did this really, really cool reinterpretation of a harness done entirely in Balochi embroidery and handwork and beadwork. And again very maximalist, I paired that with a plain black bandeau and like a kind of sari-skirt type situation and I thoroughly enjoyed it because it was just dressy enough. It was desi and Eastern but it was also entirely unlike the diamanté, crystal, embellished kind of ulti that you see everywhere.
There are other ways of being traditional and playing with desi wear than just going super bling all the time. Pakistani bridal couture now doesn’t really say anything about our tradition or our culture at all. It’s a weird cross between embellishment, embroidery and kind of taking on whatever the idea of embellishment [featured on] like Zuhair Murad gowns [for example], and adding it to a shadi ka gharara. That says nothing about the gharara or the embellishment or the person or the designer any longer.
I would love, love, LOVE to see a gorgeous patchwork ajrak lehenga for like a mehndi with mirror work. We’re losing our desi craft and there are so many ways of incorporating that in our wedding wear but we’re stuck in this princess-y, overly embellished situation.”
TK: Your favourite outfit that you’ve seen someone wear at a wedding?
HB: “Can I tell you, I’m kind of technically the worst person to have this conversation with because I don’t remember the last wedding I attended. I don’t do weddings at all, I absolutely hate them. The closest I get to a wedding is the pre-wedding party, ha ha! But, I think, maybe not full blown bridal wear but wedding wear that I’m very, very excited about (other than Kami [Kamiar Rokni], obviously, because Kami is just classic and you can never really go wrong with him, and also he’s a great example of how not to do a crystal ki ultee and still have some personality in your clothes while making them look like fancy or whatever. The other brand I’m obsessed with is Muse. The way they posit the Muse woman: she’s modern, she’s not afraid of taking risks, she’s VERY feminine (there’s absolutely no ambiguity about that at all), but she’s also not wishy washy, she’s not demure and she’s not coy at all. She’s a very strong woman who isn’t afraid of turning heads and isn’t afraid of the attention her outfit will bring.”
TK: Any other designers you would like people wearing more as wedding guests?
HB: “I was telling this friend of mine, Umar Ejaz, who does tailored western wear pieces, and I was telling him that if I had to design my perfect wedding outfit, it would be a collaboration between him and Muse. Because he does a lot of structure: he’ll do corsets and cool, pleated skirts to go with it. What I would really love to see is people playing more with silhouette rather than embellishment, like the way India has done with the sari. It would be really, really cool. We haven’t updated any of our traditional outfits, I haven’t seen a really, really cool dhoti that you can wear to weddings. Why haven’t we gotten to that point yet?
Suffuse by Sana Yasir – [she] started this new brand called, Namah, so their formal wear is really cool. She does corsets with wrap-around skirts, so that’s a really cool, modern way of looking at wedding wear, as a bridesmaid or even someone who’s just attending.”
TK: Coco Chanel famously said that before you leave the house, take a look in the mirror and take one thing off. What would be your rule as a stylist for us before we step out of the house for a wedding?
HB: “Balance. There has to be some negative space somewhere. If your make up is really, really heavy, then maybe go lighter on the jewellery. If your jewellery is really heavy, then maybe go slightly lighter on the make up. If your outfit is really, really intense, balance it out with fewer accessories and more neutral makeup. Not everything has to be done to the absolute max. Just give the eye something to concentrate on rather than a cacophony of sounds that you’re trying to create with this outfit.”
TK: Weddings became intimate during covid time and people refreshingly started dressing simpler, but this wedding season is back with a bang. What do you envision the dress code will be for this wedding season?
HB: “It’ll go back to the same exact thing. We’re not really quick to experiment or change or go against the tide, I think. Generally, because there’s so much scrutiny, there’s so much family, everyone’s looking at you. People don’t really want to do something that’s going to make them stick out too much.”
TK: In the West, wearing white to a wedding is considered incredibly rude. In Pakistan, it is actually a weird custom for sisters and cousins of the groom (or bride) to wear their own bridal and get their hair and make up done. What do you think of women getting decked out as much as the bride?
HB: “These are really f****** expensive outfits. I would be miserable if I spent even three lakhs on a jora that I can never wear again. So, by all means, wear your shaadi ka lehnga, or your shadi ki choli, or your shadi ka dupatta but then just keep it one piece. Get a completely plain top made, or a completely plain organza ka dupatta made, and wear just your jhumke or just your tikka. I would hate to say that ‘oh never wear your shaadi ka outfit ever again’ because we spend so much money on that s***. Please wear it everywhere! Just kind of tweak it so that it doesn’t come across as though you’re in competition with the bride. I understand that, a lot of times, with our families, it’s very close-knit (I want to use the word toxic, but we’ll say close-knit instead lol). So, you’re very excited and you want to dress up, it’s also one of the only times we may get the opportunity unabashedly to go all out and kind of really deck ourselves. So I get it, and it sounds great, but just remember, you’ve already gone through this day so please let someone else enjoy it.
I’m not saying please don’t wear it, please don’t wear the full outfit, [and] then all your jewellery on top of it and then go for full bridal make up. That’s just nasty. If you’re feeling so nostalgic for your own wedding, wear all your s*** again, get your hair and makeup done and do a random shoot.
There is a weird toxic cultural aspect to this, you know? There’s a mentality here. There’s a family dynamic thing that definitely plays in here and it’s not just about the clothes or the cost of the outfit but the way we look at women, the way we look at marriages, [and] the way families interact with each other.”
TK: So, do you think there’s a deliberate attempt to already start devaluing the bride, the new bahu or the new bhaabi?
HB: “Yeah, absolutely. There is something to it that speaks of a lack of consideration or understanding that, you know, this an important day or a special day for someone else. I’ve always found this very, very strange ke yaar, jis ki shaadi hai, us ko toh pehle tyaar honay do. There are other ways of showing your joy. There are other ways of celebrating it. Why does it have to be through your full bridal?”
TK: It’s so insidious, it’s even worse than I thought!
HB: “Yeah, yeah, it absolutely is. It absolutely is. When someone wears white to a wedding abroad, you know they have beef with the bride, and you know that they’re doing the bride a nasty and this is exactly the same. You very rarely see the bride ki behen wearing her shaadi ka jora. You will mostly see the in-laws.”