My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding: Why do Romany Gypsies dress so provocatively if they have conservative values?

Both the original My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, and the new American version on TLC are television documentaries that follow teenage Romany (or Romani, short for Romanichal) Gypsies as they either prepare to get married or for a big milestone party like a birthday or prom (or in one case, for a party to find a husband.) The dresses are big, sparkly beyond belief, and are often topped off with the monstrous tiaras that toddlers often compete for an another TLC show. The wedding and special event dresses are head-turning but what can really get viewers riled up are the sexy outfits the young teenage girls wear as normal party wear, or even every day clothes.

What makes the Romany gypsy fashion (as portrayed in this television show) even more perplexing is the strict sexual code girls are expected to abide by. They are rarely even allowed around boys who aren’t family members, and many stop attending school around age 13 in order to learn how to cook, clean, and take care of children. They also aren’t supposed to even kiss before their wedding day (which often happens before they turn 18.) Why do the young Romany girls dress in such a sexually revealing way when they have such strict behavior restrictions?

These seemingly contradictory behaviors (especially in relation to other conservative cultures who expect both chastity AND modest clothing for girls) are rooted in their history and patriarchal traditions. Men are considered to be the head of the family, with the oldest man in the household being deferred to first. Girls are trained to be good wives instead of focusing on their education and training for their own careers. They are married young, and although boys are not expected to be virgins, they avoid marrying a girl who isn’t a virgin. In this culture girls are not considered to be indecent when they show off their skin and wear flashy outfits. In fact, because there are such strict limitations on dating and communicating, they way the girls dress seems to be integral to the process of finding a mate. According to what we see on these shows many marriages are based on first impressions. The guys also do their best to stand out, grooming themselves with styled blowouts to rival DJ Pauly D’s.

It can be hard to imagine when you come from a different cultural viewpoint. For instance, many strict Muslims believe that any woman is indecent if she even shows her hair. Christians may have similar moral beliefs to the Muslims (a woman shouldn’t have sex before marriage) but it is often seen to completely innocent for a woman to reveal her hair, arms, cleavage, and legs. Within Christianity itself there are huge differences in what is considered to be modest dress.

Gypsies are often called “travelers” because for centuries they have roamed from place to place instead of settling down. They are believed to have originally come out of India about a thousand years ago, and traveled around parts of Europe, including Ireland. Their religion was originally Hindu, but at some point the Romani people converted to Catholicism in Europe. Their thoughts and traditions about gender roles, and how a woman should behave and dress seem to be, in part, the result of centuries of Hindu beliefs mixing with Catholicism, combined with a “traveling” lifestyle that stayed separate from the behavior, culture, and mores of the Western world.

Here’s a map from Wikipedia of what is believed to be the Romani Gypsy migration pattern out of India:

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  • Jenny

    Isn’t it ILLEGAL for students to drop out of school before the age of 16 in America?

    • whoa

      I have always been under the understanding that it was illegal as well.

      • S

        It is illegal to drop out completely, but they are being homeschooled for one hour (!) a week.

    • Lindsey

      I was homeschooled from Kindergarten through high school and it was perfectly legal. Perhaps it’s a state thing?

  • Tracie


    • k.

      I’m pretty sure you don’t know any Gypsies.

  • tab

    i think the way they dress combined with the fact that the father’s try to marry off their daughters around age 15-17 is very disturbing.

  • hello99

    i’m pretty sure they say they are homeschooling the kids…

  • K

    They don’t home school their kids. The girls cook clean and look after their younger siblings and the boys go out to work with their dads. Where I come from gypsies appear quite often and when they do the education authorities have 2 visit their camp and try and get the parents to put their kids in school, they agree but often when the day comes for the kids to go to school they have moved on to another site. I don’t know If its the same in the US but where I live gypsies choose a patch of land to park their caravans (trailers) and stay for how ever long they like until they are moved on by the police. The young kids are sent out to steal and beg for money. The girls dress the way they do to get attention but its extremely dangerous, a lot of girls end up being raped and are then known as “unclean” and are unsuitable for marrage. I’m not saying that all gypsies are like this but its just my experience of them. Its a very strange culture and worrying that all the girls want 2 do is get married and rely on men!

  • Zilly

    omg Is this the craziest show or what? Not only the way that the girls dress, but dance, and young girls, like real young dance provocative like the older girls do.
    But, what about those HUGE HONKING wedding gowns and 1st communion dresses that are made and worn? Its an interesting life and If I lived in a caravan that small my house would be spotless too!
    Its a crazy show, and I can’t stop watching it!!!!

  • Whitney

    I’ve always wondered why a lot of their wedding dresses are pink? Since a white wedding dress was meant to signify a bride’s virginity in Western culture (or at least it used to) I’ve always wondered if a pink dress was supposed to signify anything in their culture.

    • Coralena

      Pink dresses just because we all love pink. Doesnt mean we werent pure on our wedding day. The gypsy bride always needs to be one step ahead and have a bigger and better dress thats different. Many do have white tho. Im English/Welsh Romany gypsy and we dont behave how the Americans do!! But we do love diamante and bling.

  • amanda

    I’m Romanichal and my parents let me dress like that when I was their age, but I was raised more modern, this show only shows the “old school” Gypsy life style. Who cares if we like the bling, we like to look good is there an problem with wanting to look good all the time? I don’t think so! At least they aren’t running around like some dumbass Gorja’s and getting knocked up *cough cough TM cough cough*. The Romanichal men work hard to provide for their family and not all of us so called “travelers” live in campers etc, lots of us live in nice houses. We Gypsy women are raised to care for the house, the kids, and make sure our men are happy after a long day at work. So instead of putting us down how about you take a page out of our book and learn to clean and cook. Oh and btw I graduated HS and college!

    • Starcasm Staff

      Thanks for sharing your story Amanda!

    • Mimi

      You either didn’t proof your response or high school and college didn’t teach you how to write correct English. This is also demonstrated on the show by the way the girls talk–they sound undereducated.

      • Bunny Boo

        Are u my cousin or not of your not sorry if I said this

    • daisy

      ahem by gorja’s you mean regular/non gypsies people, you stated that “! At least they aren’t running around like some dumbass Gorja’s and getting knocked up”, well that just pissed me off most of us don’t really judge your’re culture or beliefs,you all get married at a freaking early age and as far as the knocked up part I come to believe yall become very young mothers too as well, a lil tip when you point a finger at someone you have 3 pointing back at you which means you either done it or doing it so I’ll suggest you think before you type, I have nothing against you or your beliefs but you’re comment pissed me off….

      • Cool Cat

        Be nice bitch to Amanda I happe to be Romanichal and your comment afended me

        • Gorjagrl

          Uh yah, I can tell, you talk and spell like white trash

    • princess

      I don’t know any gypsies personally but, I think the gypsy culture is fabulous! The only thing I don’t like is the attitude towards Gorgers (not quite sure how to spell that). Just like not all gypsies are criminal vagrants, not all of us Gorgers are without morals or decency. So many of us admire your sense of family and aren’t judging you in the way you think you’re being judged. I admire many things about the gypsy culture like the importance of family and togetherness. Even though I don’t agree with some things, I admire so much more. Gypsies, please give us Gorgers a chance, we’re not all bad and some of us are actually like you!

      • Bunny boo

        Your so right

    • Cool cat

      I’m Romanichal to and you’re so right you’re better then the other b***hes

    • Christopher Martin Quinn

      You’re a disgusting insult to actual Roma people such as myself. Like real ROM people. I don’t know why we still let you guys be a legitimate Romani group. You should never use the word “Gypsy”. That alone proves that you’re White Anglo-Saxon American trash.

  • Mrs. B

    I want to be a Gypsyyyyyy!!!!!!!!

    • Bunny boo

      Me to your so righ Mrs.B

    • Bunny Boo

      Me to

    • Rylee Johnson

      No the hell you don’t.

  • Mrs. B

    I’m COMPLETELY addicted to the show!!! Coming from such a multicultural, multigenerational and VERY intact family, it just makes me beam with pride to be pivvy to another thread that makes this American fabric so beautiful, colorful and complicated. I’ve also taken my OCD to new levels. The Virgin Mary herself would be proud to take a dump in my bathroom!

    • Bree

      Has any one seen gypsy sisters!!!!

      • Cool Cat

        Yes it’s soooo good

  • My Humble Opinion

    People should not judge others. End of discussion on that front. I am not a gypsy or a ‘traveler’ and I don’t entirely agree with the ‘subservient’ woman idea. However, most of the girl’s I have seen on this show WANT to play that role. They want to be the home-makers and the child care-givers. Those on the show that did not want to live out that role, have taken steps to lead a different kind of life. A lot can be said for living that sort of life. It is like any other path one chooses to walk down and live. There are good things and there are bad things.

    As for their fashion, some of it might be a bit much for my tastes, but there is a lot of it that I like. Very much. And truthfully, I do not see that much of a difference between the clothes young gypsy girls wear and the clothes non-gypsy young girls wear. The difference, I think, lies within the thinking and attitude of the girls themselves. Because of their high moral code, just because a gypsy girl dresses provocatively does not mean they behave like harlots and tramps. From what I understand it takes quite a bit of work on a guys part to even get a kiss from one. The same goes for their dancing. American cheerleaders in kindergarten do many of the same moves and young girls mimic the dances of their favorite pop idols who dance in much the same fashion. Behavior is what makes the difference here, in my humble opinion. Not to mention the fact that because of how tight knit their families and communities are they have built in bodyguards in the plethora of brothers, uncles, cousins, ect. surrounding them.

    As I stated, I am not a gypsy/traveler, but there is something to be said about the fact that many more non-gypsy girls get pregnant at a very young age, without any real concept of the responsibility they are signing up for; and many times without ‘meaning to’. Again, this is just my opinion, but after years of dealing with teen-moms and the like…I believe it stems from a behavior and line of thinking that makes sex a past time or party favor. Many young girls these days do not take it seriously. I find that their thinking is ‘It’s fun, so why not?’ or worse no thinking at all. Where as the gypsy girls who also become young mothers do so in a responsible way. They become mothers after they are married and it isn’t because they had a party romp on the wrong day of the month. They understand the kind of responsibility they are taking on by bringing another life into this world. It is not just the after affect of raging hormones or too much partying.

    Just my opinion.

    • McFee JD

      I love when people say you should not judge. Judgement is everywhere from the court system both criminal and civil. Religion is full of judgment. Even a simple compliment is a judgment. Saying “just my opinion” is judging.

  • LindsNCaleb

    I’m glad I stumbled upon this website as the show doesn’t really explain the morals of Romany girl. I’m happy to know that it’s part of their culture and much like some Middle Eastern countries have to learn to belly dance at a young age to entice their future husbands, it’s very different and most American’s have a hard time accepting that. My concern with the show is not the girl’s attitude, dress or other cultural differences but do they have any idea how many perverted and sadistic men are out there that only watch the show to drool over young girls that dress so flashy? I know all to well how many men would die to run into them and take advantage of their not so innocence. So as long as their men back them up and provide the protection they need, then oh well. But how can they protect the girl’s if they are traveling and making money for the family? Just a thought. Also, can you make American gypsy clothing without being a gypsy? I really love the style and would like to make beautiful creations for the western side of the states. If anyone knows, please comment! Thanks!!

  • K

    I happen to not be gypsy (sorry if thats offensive) but I happen to believe that there isnt anything wrong with making sure the house is clean kids are taken care of and dinner is on the table when my husband gets home, he works very hard to provide for us. I also dont see anything wrong with teaching your girls not to be running around trying to sleep with boys. My daughter is only 6 years old and she knows for fact that she will be a virgin until her wedding day period! I have only known one gypsy family my whole life but they were both extremely highly educated and possessed masters degrees thier girls were proper and respectful. They were really great people. The women stay home to protect the kids and care for them while the men work and just so you know more women working than caring for thier families is a very recent development in the USA. Thier girls were homeschooled and expected to study/attend school 4 hours a day every day and both girls who were twins and age 12 tested out of high school and recieved thier diplomas at 15. I am married to a Jewish man and it seems to me that Jews and gypsies have alot of the same values and by the way I LOVE to look good and “bling” and I have an extremely high IQ.

    • Sean

      Hi, well i’d like to leave a comment regarding the origional article….Practically all of the “My Big Fat Gypsey” weddings
      are about “Irish Travellers”,or Pavee weddings…..The author is
      completely wrong to class them as” Romany”…and they were in the British Isles hundreds of years before Romas..Pavees are a completely different Etnic group….Absolutely no relation to Romany….But i have great respect for both

  • G. Carr

    The Irish Travellers are indeed a separate group from the Romanichal gypsies. Irish Travellers, whether in the UK or the US, are strict Roman Catholics.

    However, from watching the shows about Romanichal gypsies in the American south, I doubt that all of them are Catholic. Some of the churches do not appear to be Catholic at all, nor are the ceremonies.

  • Jane

    I find this really weird. I haven’t seen the movie but I lived for years in a mainly Romany Gypsy community and saw nothing of what you are saying. The girls dress provocatively from a very young age, yes. But they sleep with boys and men from a very young age too. I can only speak for the area I lived in but there was and still is a huge amount of prostitution there and the gypsy girls are right into it. Not all of them but a lot of them. People say that their families make them do it and bring back the money for the family but I don’t know if that’s true. I see young girls as young as 8 flaunting themselves in a sexual way. No, generally they don’t like to mix with non gypsies, and they very often steal too. I have nothing against them, I got friendly with many of the kids as my son was their age and I’ve always been fascinated by the culture, just happens that in this area, culture is something that seems to have been lost…

  • Romni in America

    This show is NOT about Rom or Roma.This is show is about the boyash who came from England to America.The boyash are wanna be Roma.Our girls would be locked up in their room if they even thought about going to a store that sells the clothes that these people on this show wear.This show in NO way shape or form represents the America Roma.Our language is different,our looks and dressing is different.A real Roma will be offended by the name “gypsy” as it is a racial slur to us.This show is a disgrace and lawsuits will be coming from the real Roma here in America.

    • Guest

      I find your comment about “gypsy” as a racial slur interesting, as I happen to meet quite a few people who self-identify as Gypsy, not Roma. They use the term to ask me if I’m Gypsy, so I’d think they’d think I’d know what Roma means. FWIW, I’d skip the lawsuits. LOL, tru

      • Fiametta

        Literally it’s a pain but when people don’t recognize Roma then we kinda have to revert to using the word gypsy to be understood

        • Rylee Johnson

          It’s kind of like how Central Asians would have to explain to Americans. “I’m Turkmen. No, not Turkish. *sigh* My people are from a country near Afghanistan.” *uneducated gringo runs*

    • terri fendley

      You are an idiot…you’re just one of those “kind”who is wanting to start a bunch of crap! EVERYONE please get over these two minor words… “racial slur”…ppl who throw those words around are simply looking to start crap! Why all the drama over a freaking GYPSY……yes a “GYPSY”. A racial slur? Ha,,,,so I can be considered or called- a white-american-christian-female-born and raised in the ‘deep’ south….because that is WHAT i am. its just words you idiot!

      • Carmen M. Rentschler

        Well they don’t look anything like the Rom that came to my town and stayed for awhile. These Rom had dark skin and eyes, women dyed their hair red and wore long skirts. They did not look anything like the one’s on tv……….

        • Carmen M. Rentschler

          Where do they get the money for such extravagant party dresses,festivities, and nice houses?????

      • Christopher Martin Quinn

        You’re a dumb cracker-cunt. I am full-blooded Hungarian Vlach Roma. I was born in Hungary and had to be adopted by White (Cascuain European) Christian Americans just so I could survive. Gypsy is highly derogatory exonym for my people. Look-up the origin of the word and the other word “cigány”.

    • Marina Doshkevich

      Gypsy is simply a shortened form of Egyptian, as Gypsies were thought to come from Egypt( and actually many do) there is no negativity in the word. You should know that. Many if not most Romani are NOT offended by the word.

      • Cool cat

        We are not afended of that word

      • Christopher Martin Quinn

        I’m offended by it. It’s a highly derogatory exonym. Most Romani you probably know are White American and are of British descent. Look-up the word cigány and tell me that it’s not offensive.

  • Romni in America

    yes thank you finally someone who understands that these people on this show are boyash,NOT Roma!!

  • caz

    These men in this so called culture are chavounist pigs!!!!

  • Cool cat

    Yea we do u just can’t see it cuz your not on of them so don’t say crap about things you aren’t so stop

    • Christopher Martin Quinn

      I’m full-blooded Roma. I’m a direct descent of the first of the Rom people in Europe. I was born in Hungary and faced racial discrimination as an infant so I had to be adopted by White Americans for my own healthy and safety. You’re a moron. You know nothing about actual Romani.

  • Carmen M. Rentschler

    I often wonder how they get the money for such extravagant parties and nice homes.

  • Methadras

    There is a completely logical and reasonable explanation for why These girls dress provocatively and yet maintain conservative ideals. It’s called seduction. In other words, these dresses, their flamboyance, their gaudiness, their outrageousness in color and style is a form of plumage. Think of a male peacock. When he wants to attract a female, what does he do? He spreads his tail feathers in a display of sexual attraction to a female. The larger his tail fan, the brighter his colors, the more iridescent and reflective they are, the more chance he will attract a mate.

    The same goes for these girls. Since they are groomed from birth that around 13 – 14 years old they basically leave school to learn how to become housewives and caretakers of their families, they only have a certain outlet within their respective cultures to be able to attract a male. And since the boys of these cultures are groomed since birth to basically be the providers, then their roles are basically set. Unlike other cultures that totally control their female stock, Rom’s basically understand the attitude of letting the female choose her suitor and the only way she can do that is trying to attract him in the most flamboyant way possible and this is how they do it.

    No one would question the courtship/seduction rituals in the animal kingdoms, but when it comes to humans using these displays, then the outrage can begin. Learn people, learn.

  • Natalia Valentino

    Well while their Jersey Shore Guido look is awful and ridiculous, who cares really what they dress like, its their very sexist patriarchal religion and customs that I have a problem with.

    • Rylee Johnson

      So much for ‘tolerant feminist’.

  • Christopher Martin Quinn

    Everything about this article is inaccurate. Romani is the overarching term for all Roma-descended people. The real ethnically Indian Romani groups are the Roma, the SInti and the Iberian Kale. This is not a legitimate co-culture and in no way represents the Romani culture. As a Roma who is only “White-passing” without sunlight and who was actually born in Southeastern Central Europe after the immediate collapse of Communism, I am offended by this article and by the comments. I had to be adopted by White Americans just so I could survive and be happy and healthy and live a normal life as no one wanted me as an infant. Look up the word “cigány”, okay?

  • Christopher Martin Quinn

    Thank you. As a Hungarian-born Rom (singular male) of full Vlach Roma heritage, I am pleased to see others standing up for the Romani and actual Romani culture. The Romanichal, Welsh Kale, and Finnish Kale have very little Roma heritage and are barely a legitimate Rom people, yet, we still keep insisting that they’re somehow still Romani. And don’t even get me started on Irish & Scottish Travellers.