East meets West

February 5th, 2014

February 5th, 2014

Wedding traditions are inevitably linked to thoughts of white dresses and ‘Something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue.’  Different countries, cultures and tribes all carry sacred traditions to this rite of passage – and the bride’s make-up is no exception.  Warpaint delves into the history books to bring you bridal tales from around the world.


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The African continent holds some of the most exotic and unusual traditions in marriage, although it should also be noted the huge variety of traditions which exist.  Even within countries these traditions can differ, with the various tribes carrying their own histories forward.

In Swahili society, for example, on the day of the wedding the bride receives special beauty treatments including a coconut oil massage, bathing in sandalwood oils, anointing with special perfume and applying decorative henna tattoos to her limbs. The Karo tribe of Southern Ethiopia take a more radical approach, by tattooing or sometimes scarring different symbols into a woman’s abdomen to enhance her beauty.  The brides of the Maasai tribe are also given tattoo-like markings, with passionate red lines marking her face to highlight her features.

Before the start of traditional Muslim weddings in Tanzania, every bride gets a Sumo, who is her mother’s best friend, and accompanies her wherever she goes to help her.  The Sumo performs the beauty treatments for hair, skin and nails to prepare her for the wedding.  A mixture made of sugar and lime juice covers the body, to remove all the body hair except that on the head.  Hands and feet are then decorated with Mehndi or henna tattoos.  Special oils are applied to hair and her make-up is applied.

In Morocco, a Nekkacha is a specialist in henna who is employed to paint the hands and feet of the entire wedding party.  The bride’s hands are painted with the most intricate designs, traditionally a mix of floral and geometric patterns to ward off evil spirits.

Traditionally, the colour of African royalty has been purple, accented with gold.  These colours may be used as accent colours worn by the bridal party, to show their wealth. The colours have also become popular in African American bridal make-up.

Although traditionally make-up has been hard to come by in remote African regions, there is evidence of making the brides appearance glowing with deep skin cleansers and nourishing oils, as well as ritualistic henna and tattoos.

Western Asia

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The areas around the Middle East, India and Pakistan have deep-rooted and elaborate wedding traditions which include lots of colour and embellishment.  These traditions extend to the bride’s make-up and appearance, including the elaborate henna application which African nations also use.

Before Muslim weddings, a mixture of turmeric, honey and lemon is sometimes applied to prepare skin and brighten the complexion.  Kajal is applied liberally, to make the eyes appear whiter and brighter.  In the Mehndi, or Mehendi, ceremony on the first day of the wedding celebrations, the bride has decorative henna applied to her hands, feet and up her limbs, thought to bring her good luck.


With warmer skin-tones, Indian and Pakistani brides favour elaborate eye make-up to match their highly decorated clothes for the wedding.  West Asian brides also use a lot of contouring in varying shades of gold, bronze and red.  This palette of warm, earthy colours is mimicked in the colours usually used for eyes – reds and pinks, browns and bronze – offset by the dark kajal and hair.  Red lips are also popular, though many brides wear a more natural pink or nude glossy lip to avoid distracting from their enhanced eyes.

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Make-up and cosmetics have long played a part in oriental traditions, from geishas to the current global trend of BB creams.

In traditional Japanese Shinto ceremonies, make-up plays a large part in the bride’s preparation, as she is painted completely white from head to toe, visibly declaring her maiden status.  A wig and an elaborate headdress, along with the heavy white make-up, work to cover her features from public view.  Dark, lined eyes, a very lightly flushed cheek, and often a deep red lip colour complete the look.

In China, red is famously the colour of joy and good fortune, which features heavily in the clothing and other ritual objects within the wedding.  Chinese brides also favour a red lip, as well as often having her face covered by a red silk veil or a tasselled curtain of beads that hang from a bridal Phoenix crown.  Other than the red lip, however, the colours are very muted and natural in appearance.  A key feature in oriental beauty is flawless, pale porcelain skin, often using quite a heavy base to achieve this.  Soft accent colours, such as peaches, pinks and pale browns are used to enhance the eyes and cheeks, keeping the focus on the perfected base.


At dawn on her wedding day, the bride is bathed in water infused with pumelo, a variety of grapefruit, thought to cleanse her of evil influences whilst also softening and conditioning the skin for the day ahead.

Korean brides have the most simple bridal make-up of the three cultures, keeping to the soft browns and pinks most suited to her skin-tone.  However, unlike the other East Asian traditions, the Korean bride does not have her hair elaborately braided and pinned up. It is drawn tightly into a ponytail at the base of the skull and adorned with a ceremonial pin.

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Bridal make-up traditions are less prevalent in Europe, though some remain nonetheless.  In Spain, for example, brides traditionally wore black dresses instead of white – to represent that marriage was until death parted them – and they played up their dark hair and lashes to reflect this.

British brides tend to keep to more natural-looking make-up – wanting to look their best, but still like themselves – which is in-keeping with British traditions of demureness and a natural, healthy appearance.  Naturally flushed cheeks and lips with bright eyes were – and still are – popular in wedding make-up.

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By Deborah Murtha

2 responses to “East meets West”

  1. Zahdah says:

    This a article is interesting but is incorrect. Muslim brides do not wear a red bindi to signify marriage and neither do they wear red vermillion in their partings. This custom is for Sikh and Hindu brides and is of religious importance.

    • Warpaint Magazine says:

      It’s great to hear from our readers. We’ll amend the feature and thanks for bringing this to our notice.
      The Warpaint team

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