There aren’t many things in this world that are more fun than being a wedding guest. You get to see people that you love proclaim their love for one another, on the happiest day of both of their lives, in beautifully decorated surroundings. Often, this all happens in a wonderful environment that you can enjoy while reconnecting with friends and family who you may not have seen in some time. Let’s be real — there is also usually food and plenty of alcohol, live music, and dancing the night away. Not to mention the favors, which I like to call free parting gifts. It’s a pretty sweet deal.
Weddings are by invitation only, and most of the time the brides and grooms have had to spend hours whittling down their list until it’s only their nearest and dearest listed on the table settings. It’s a huge honor to be invited to a wedding, and it’s a pretty exclusive party invitation. To earn one — you don’t have to do much except to show up on time, bring a gift, and dress appropriately.
That doesn’t seem like it would be hard, but the latter item, “dress appropriately,” seems more and more difficult these days. With many more couples opting to DIY their weddings, and a few couples going more over the top than ever with theirs — a wedding could mean a variety of things from sundresses at a garden party, to flip-flops on a beach, to black tie formal wear. How can you navigate all of the rules?
1. When in Doubt — Choose a Print, or a Neutral
You should have received context clues from the invitation (which we’ll go into in a minute), and you should know for sure whether it’s black/white tie or whether they’d like a more casual wedding attire. If you’re still unclear about the level of dressiness and what may or may not be inappropriate, you can never go wrong with a printed dress, for the ladies, and a neutral for the gentlemen. By choosing a print, you’re appropriate for day or night.
If you’re still unsure you can bring accessories with you that are casual and dressy in case you need to swap them out. For gentlemen, wearing a nice navy or tan suit will look great no matter how casual the ceremony and reception wind up being.
2. Use the Venue to Dictate your Footwear
Footwear can be a tricky one, especially since so many people are now opting for destination weddings and outdoor ceremonies. By finding out where the venue is you’ll automatically get a lot of really solid hints.
If the ceremony will be held on grass, you’ll want to wear outdoor wedding attire — flats or wedges, and avoid heels. You’ll also want to avoid shoes that are light colored (like a white, nude, or light gray) – as they might get grass stained. If it’s a ceremony that calls for beach wedding attire, you can bring a pair of flip flops as long as you have a backup pair of shoes in case the event moves inside.
A really neat tip is to go look at the social media or Yelp pages for the venue and look at pictures posted by past event participants. It won’t be exactly like your event, but you’ll get an idea of the way that the space is arranged and what people have deemed appropriate for the venue in the past.
3. Bring a Spare Outfit Choice Just in Case
Bringing extra accessories and shoes are always recommended for any event (as well as a makeup and hair bag for touch-ups), but if you’re really unsure it could never hurt to bring a spare outfit, just in case. You should definitely do this if you’re traveling to a destination wedding or a ceremony located out of town, because the worst thing is to show up at the hotel to find out that everyone else has on floor length gowns and formal wedding attire, and you’re wearing an A-Line cocktail dress, or a polo and khakis.
At the very least, bring a jacket (men) or a cardigan or blazer (ladies) so that you can
dress your outfit up or down if needed, plus you’ll be covered for all of the elements.
Jackets are especially helpful if you have a low cut dress and are unsure how
conservative the family of the bridal party is.
4. Use the Invitation As a Guide
The invitation should be extremely instrumental in helping you figure out what’s up and what’s down when it comes to planning your attire as a wedding guest. If it’s casual, self-printed, or electronic — this may indicate that the wedding is lower budget, and therefore more casual in terms of dress code. You’ll do best choosing semi-formal attire, if it’s an evening wedding, or Sunday best clothing if it’s a day wedding.
Conversely, if the invitation has three interior envelopes and weighs 2 pounds just in the weight of the paper — that may tell you that the bride and groom expect you to dress your very best. Obviously, it should specifically spell out “cocktail wedding attire”, “black tie wedding”, or “wear a mask” if there’s a very specific list of requirements that the bride and groom would like to you follow, but often times they leave out information for whatever reason (formality, space, or even a high cost-per-letter).
It’s really interesting though how the unspoken rules of wedding etiquette vary, especially from place to place. There’s otten a lot left unwritten, and reading in between the lines of the invitation will ensure that you’re dressed appropriately. Additionally, by looking at the font and border colors, or ink color of the invitation, you’ll often be able to tell what the wedding’s theme or colors are. Men’s wedding attire doesn’t necessarily have to be color coordinated (they typically wear less offensive colors anyway like beige, blue, black, and gray)– but they should avoid wearing a fall color like maroon unless it’s an Autumn themed wedding, for example.
5. Pick Colors that are Complementary to the Wedding Party — but never the same
It’s important that you pick colors that are complementary to the wedding party without being too similar. If all of the bridesmaids are in blush, and you are too– well, people may mistake you for one of them.
By the other token, if everyone’s in bright red and you’re in bright green, the bride may be annoyed with you for making her wedding look like a Christmas party. Especially if you’re photographed in the cake pull or bouquet toss pictures. Gentlemen, same thing — if you’re wearing the kind of suit or tuxedo that you rent from a Tuxedo rental store– be absolutely certain that you aren’t wearing the exact same style as the grooms. You can always verify with the Formalwear store that you use to make sure that the Groom isn’t a customer.
6. Don’t Ever Wear White
This is important. People say that this doesn’t matter anymore, that times have changed, that only Bridezillas really care about this mundane “secret” policy. They may tell you that the “wearing white at a wedding” rule is as antiquated as the theory behind what color of shoes you can wear before and after Labor Day. Don’t listen to them, as wearing white to a wedding is one of the most offensive things that you can do.
If you’re a guy and you wear all white, you may seem like you’re either trying to be a member of the bridal party (or that you just arrived from the 1970’s disco). If you’re a lady — you really should know better. It has little to do with upstaging (or looking more beautiful than) the bride and more to do with having her not stand out as much on her special day, or have her have to worry about being in a similar outfit as someone else. Wearing white in a sea of people not wearing white is possibly the most fun thing that a bride gets to do (after slipping on the ring) — don’t take that away from her.
7. Choose Something that Will Photograph Well
This may sound shallow or vain, but it’s yet another thing that you can do to show your appreciation for the bride and the groom. If you look terrible in an article of clothing, if something is ill-fitting, if something wrinkles easily, or if it looks see-through in certain lighting, you shouldn’t wear it. If it’s a color that washes you out, or something you often have to adjust, you shouldn’t wear it. You should always dress for a wedding as if you’re going on a first date, or are going to appear on national television — just like each of these events, at a wedding people will likely care about your appearance, and there will be cameras everywhere. Not only will it make matters weird for the bride and groom if they have to decide whether or not to share a photo because you’re having a wardrobe malfunction in the background, but it will be embarrassing for you as well.
8. When In Doubt — Ask the Bridal Party, or Even the Guests of Honor
If all else fails and you’ve used all of the tips and tricks in this guide to no avail — you can ask someone in the bridal party if you’re close enough to them. Just mention that you’re unsure of the dress code and ask what they would recommend you wearing. Most people are eager to help, and females especially love giving fashion tips and advice. Plus, I guarantee a bride would rather you ask than show up in a white mini-skirt, see-through blouse, and flip flops.
Weddings are supposed to be joyous celebrations and not events that have you feeling extremely uncomfortable, or worse — annoying close friends. By following these simple steps you’ll ensure that you feel your best, look your best, and have the most fun possible!