In 2008, when the Salvages decided to get married on the remote Easter Island off the Chilean coast, bride-to-be Jennifer, a high school guidance counsellor in Pennsylvania, US, never imagined wearing her wedding white over a hundred times. The strapless gown from Australian designer Maggie Sottero’s Destinations collection was so easy to pack that her husband Jeff, a professor at Philadelphia’s Drexel University and a part-time photographer, suggested they use it for a round-the-globe photography project. Through One Dress, One Woman, One World, the dress has turned into an enviable frequent flyer with underwater snorkelling trips in Jamaica, to dog-sledging adventures in Iceland, pit-stops at the Great Wall of China and the Vatican along the way.

Not all brides can afford to be as democratic with their trousseau buys. Especially in India where the bridal ensemble is treated and preserved like a sacrosanct piece. Most women are reluctant to repeat it even for family weddings because “everyone has seen it". So the exorbitantly priced garment remains in closets waiting for another generation to gush over it as “vintage".

But if you think about it, the Indian wedding lehnga too can be worn diversely, perhaps not for adventures like those of Jennifer Salvage but for many other events.

A manish Malhotra ‘lehnga’ worn with a plain silk top and net ‘dupatta’
A manish Malhotra ‘lehnga’ worn with a plain silk top and net ‘dupatta’

So before you consider stashing away your prized possession as a family heirloom, take cue from leading bridal designers to style the outfit in unusual ways:

White makes it light

A standout pairing was mirrored in a memorable advertising campaign for Ritu Kumar’s bridal wear by late photographer Prabuddha Dasgupta. Model Lakshmi Menon wore a white cotton button-down shirt with Kumar’s most luxurious, antique lehngas. Kumar says that even though the lehnga embroidery adds to the weight, most of the tulle and crinoline (designed to add volume and theatricality for the wedding function) can be easily removed and the skirt can be later paired with T-shirts, halter and tank tops in black and white.

To the tee

Tahiliani recommends wearing the “heaviest lehnga" with a black turtleneck. “The focus should be on newer combinations. A fitted Western silhouette as a top could work well," he says, adding that he saw one of his clients wear it like that at a black-tie event and she turned out to be one of the best dressed people at the gathering.

Suit up

At the recently concluded PCJ Delhi Couture Week, models walked the ramp at Varun Bahl’s show in pre-pleated saris and lehngas with attached net bodices. Bahl says anyone can recreate the svelte silhouette by shopping for a figure-skimming bodysuit. The onesie, available in lace, stretch net and solid colours at lingerie shops, not only fits and holds better than any other top but also creates the illusion of an elegant, floor-length ball gown, tightly cinched at the waist.

Half full

Kumar suggests another quick-fix by pairing a lehnga with a long Khadi kurta. It’s best for day-time celebrations as it covers up half the embroidered skirt. She also recommends trying a white Lucknowi chikan tunic for a summery event with light jewellery.

Flow forms

Manish Malhotra, one of the top-selling wedding designers in India, says that even though he wouldn’t recommend changing the core look of a traditional wedding ensemble by mixing it with Western separates, a good way to repeat the lehnga is to have completely non-embellished plain top in a flowy drape stitched for it. He emphasizes keeping the traditional appeal alive—something that designer Anju Modi did for her recent show titled Draupadi at the PCJ Delhi Couture Week. She paired long jackets and dresses over lehngas. Modi says A-line fits in slightly sheer chiffon, georgette and net in colours similar to the skirt to create an outfit that can be worn to someone else’s wedding.