Getting married abroad is an amazing experience. It’s a chance to explore the country you love with the people you love in the most remarkable way.
However, being a minority in your chosen wedding destination can pose some unique challenges. There can be a greater chance of working with suppliers who are not used to working with people of your ethnicity and cultural background.
This may seem innocuous, because in theory a good professional is a good professional regardless, but as you’ll see, it bleeds into many areas of your wedding that you may not think of at first.
More than anything, I don’t want these annoyances to get in the way of you going after the wedding you truly desire, so I am here today to give you some practical tips on how to navigate getting married abroad as a person of colour.
1. Ummm…no, that’s not my foundation shade
So tell me, when was the first time you turned to the mirror and saw a vaguely familiar, lilac-tinted ghost with potholes for eyes staring back at you? I’ll be honest, my first time was my own fault, having been sweet-talked by a saleswoman at a department store into thinking that “caramel” was my foundation shade – yikes.
We all know how tough it is to find wedding makeup artists who stock a good range of foundations and are skilled in all skin tones. Your unique features, undertones, skin type and, yes, skin tone all play important roles in perfecting wedding makeup. Ask potential makeup artists to show you their previous clients with skin tones similar to yours and be sure to have an in-person makeup trial where you can give honest feedback.
Depending on the country, it may not be possible to hire a wedding makeup artist with a lot of experience with your skin tone and a plethora of shade ranges in their arsenal. You want to avoid this, but if it does happen, have your foundation shade matched at home and bring that foundation with you, just in case the foundation that your makeup artist uses is not suitable for you.
2. Black hair will never cease to perplex
Oh hair… *beleaguered sigh*
As a curly-afro-wielding individual myself, I cringe at the thought of some hairstylists here in Portugal even daring to rake a spindly, bright pink, fine toothed comb through my thick 3C/4A hair. Even with local black hairstylists, my experience has been wildly different to what I was used to in the UK, with products that seem a bit too lightweight and techniques that are somewhat outdated for naturalistas and relaxers alike.
Wigs and weaves also pose challenges. Sometimes finding the right professional is nigh on impossible so, as we are well used to, we often need to take matters into our own hands.
Wig and weave wearers, I suggest having your install done in your home country before travelling abroad. Most skilled hairstylists should be able to work with natural hair wigs and weaves the same way they would for extensions in causcasian hair. My fellow naturalistas, you could be in more of a pickle as experts in our hair texture are rare.
Practice wash&gos, curl formers and twist-out styles that you could potentially do for your wedding day. If you want an intricate braiding design done, I would suggest doing this at home before your trip. Even if you do find a skilled hairstylist in your chosen wedding destination, be sure to bring your own hair products that are tried and tested on your tresses, so that they are in tip-top shape for your wedding day.
3. Photography of multiple skin tones is NOT a universal skill
Yep, it’s true: not only can a makeup artist turn you into a ghost, but so too can a well-meaning wedding photographer. You could be completely washed out so you transform from Viola Davis to Taylor Swift in a sharp flash of overexposure. Conversely, your beautiful melanated features can melt away as you become an amorphous shadow of yourself because of underexposure. Interracial couples need to have a particular eye on this.
Be sure to ask your photographer shortlist to see their photos of people of colour. There are nuances to this with colour correction and editing in post production as well. Look at the editing style with a critical eye and make sure you and your soon-to-be-spouse will be photographed in the best way possible.
4. Customise your menu to celebrate your heritage
I fully believe in bringing a piece of your heritage and culture with you whilst also celebrating the culture of the country you’re in. Next year we have the pleasure of planning an Argentinian- American wedding, and to bring this in, the couple are having carajillo as an after dinner aperitif. Last year we planned a Goan-English wedding, in which the bride’s Aunty made and brought gourmet Goan sweets that the venue were instructed to prepare in a special way for authenticity.
I myself will not be getting married without fried plantain being featured somewhere. A must for Caribbeans like me.
It’s always great to give a nod to where you come from through food and what this symbolises in your union. Don’t be afraid to speak to your venue about changes to the menu to accommodate your cultural foods. If they aren’t able to make or import the liquor or ingredients needed, a flexible caterer will allow you to bring special items for them to cook and prepare for you.
5. DJs need coaching
I remember learning how to dance to Candy for the very first time. That unifying dance that gets black people on their feet at a wedding is a tradition I hope will live on forever. If you have songs like this in your family and culture that you want to play then don’t count on every DJ having the same musical repertoire as ones back home. Though music is very diverse and mainstream songs infiltrate all corners of the globe, wedding DJs in your chosen wedding destination may not be so well versed in the music your friends and family really want to hear.
Next year we have a wonderful couple with a Palestinian bride who wants a particular Arab-reggaeton-house mix for an amazing party. Though we know some fab DJs, we still had to give a bit of coaching.
Prepare a playlist of music that you like for your DJ. Here you can emphasise those songs that your wedding DJ may not be too familiar with and it’ll help them create personalised mixes especially for you.
6. Choose professionals who are excited to celebrate your culture with you
There is also the aspect of cultural ceremonies that are not as common in your chosen country. You could be faced with less than sympathetic, fake smiles when you say you want to do a traditional Goan roce before your wedding day, or jump the broom to end your wedding ceremony. Many wedding suppliers may even express indifference to these special traditions and not give them as much attention or respect as they should.
When I did my first Goan wedding, I made a point of having a call with the bride’s father to ask him about how things are done in Goa and understand the culture better. It’s a delight to me to broaden my knowledge of the wedding traditions of my international clientele.
Choose a wedding planner that is not just open to your cultural wedding traditions, but is excited about them. Just because it is not the done thing in that specific country does not mean you should give up celebrating your heritage.
7. Don’t give up on a destination wedding
I know some of these things are annoying. Why can’t we just skate on by and have the same level of services ready for us as our white counterparts?
Well, in a global industry where we are simply not as seen in the unmelanted pages of major wedding publications and social media feeds, the need for services to cater for us just isn’t seen as necessary.
By going after the destination wedding you truly want in the place you choose, you are saying something loud and proud. You do belong there, your love deserves to be celebrated there, and you deserve to be seen together there. In the more unique countries, you could even be setting a precedent and paving the way for other couples of colour to celebrate their weddings there; opening up that local industry to a brand new clientele, where the more diverse and skilled suppliers will win the most business.
If you truly want a wedding abroad, like with every great, life changing experience – prepare, plan and enjoy!