Weddings are an incredibly visual event. Photos are being taken at every turn, everyone’s looking to see who’s with whom, who’s doing what and saying what, who’s wearing what, and…And then there are the bride and groom. Just kidding. As a guest, the happy couple is naturally your main focus, but you also have a responsibility—aside from filling out your RSVP and sending it back promptly and buying them a gift—to dressing in a way that is respectful of them, that reflects the occasion, and that follows any dress code it might require.
Choosing your attire can be unbelievably complicated, especially if the invitation doesn’t offer you any specifics. If you aren’t sure what to wear, however, it’s safe to follow a few guidelines that generally apply across the board, regardless of the time of day or the formality of the event.
For one, it’s a universal rule that women should wear dresses and men should wear a suit—avoiding the color black for suiting and white for the dress, of course. Those are off-limits, unless the initiation makes mention of “black tie.” In that case, the black tux gets a thumbs-up. The white dress, however, is still a major faux pas and should never be considered. Nor should off-white, cream, or ivory. You’re a guest, and wearing one of those colors would be extremely disrespectful of the one and only woman who has claim to that color pallet: the bride. The only exception to the rule will be spelled out—literally—in a wedding invitation that specifies a “white wedding,” in which case, go nuts.
As much as we all love to sparkle, daytime weddings are not the time to break out the sequins. It’s also not the best time for black, as both sequins and black dresses are both considered more evening attire and more on the formal side; so reserve the sparkles and the LBD for those occasions.
It’s also important to be respectful of the other people at the wedding—most specifically your hosts and their family members. Avoid anything that’s low-cut, too revealing, or with too high of a hemline. You don’t have to wear a turtle-necked dress that goes to your ankles; just be tasteful in your desire to show off your figure and look attractive.
Most weddings are either informal or semi-formal, with no set dress code, which means that the bride and groom are putting their trust in the fact that you’ll know how to dress as you peruse the contents of your closet or go shopping for a new ensemble. Take a look at the invitation and let the location of the ceremony help guide you in the process of knowing what to wear, and look at the wording. If it seems on the more formal side without actually saying “formal attire preferred,” play it safe and plan on going dressed in something that could be considered semi-formal. If it gives off a more casual vibe, you should be okay dressed more informally. For informal, think sundresses or dressy separates for day or a maxi dress or dressy separates for evening. Your choice of flat shoes or heels will depend on the style of the dress. For semi-formal affairs, both day and evening ceremonies mean cocktail dresses and heels or dressy separates. Go for sleek hair and a classic makeup look that doesn’t look overly trendy. Guys will be well-dressed in dress pants or chinos paired with button-down, collared shirts and oxfords.
A Formal Affair
If the wedding is a formal affair and the invite specifies it as such, it’s clear what you have to do: dress in formal attire. That means longer dresses that are appropriate for evening, cocktail dresses…Think sophisticated and elegant, and you’ll hit the nail on the head. Some invitations will go so far as to specify “black tie,” “black tie optional,” and “white tie.” For women, black tie optional means a cocktail dress and heels, a formal dress, or even an elegant jumpsuit. Men have the option of a tuxedo or a dark suit and tie worn with black dress shoes. Black tie weddings require a formal dress or your dressiest cocktail attire and heels while guys have to break out the tux or wear a black suit with a black tie. White tie is top-tier when it comes to dressing, which means you’ll have to wear a long, floor-length gown, heels, and your very best jewelry. Guys should wear a tuxedo with a white bow tie, vest, and black patent leather dress shoes. Regardless of how “formal” the formal gets, ladies, wear your hair in a way that compliments your dress and its neckline. Show off your shoulders in a strapless dress with a ‘do that’s upswept in a simple French twist or chignon. If you’ve got great hair that you want to showcase, treat yourself to a blowout or DIY one at home—just make sure your hair looks in top form. Heels are, of course, a must; but whether you choose pumps or a sophisticated pair of strappy heels, the style needs to be dictated by the style of your dress. Keep makeup looking tasteful with a smoky eye or a bold lip—just remember to pick one, rather than doing both at the same time.
Going to a wedding where the theme is country chic? You’re free to explore your more casual options, but never, ever, ever wear jeans or denim shorts—not even to a barn wedding. You’re there to celebrate the blessed union of two lives, not to bale hay or ride a horse, so be mindful of that. Think day dresses with hemlines just above or below the knee, a great top paired with a skirt, or a breezy maxi dress. Your options in footwear are anything from sandals to heels to cowboy boots, but those boots better not look like they’ve been stompin’ through the barnyard. Guys will need to wear slacks or chinos and a shirt with oxfords, loafers, or—you guessed it—cowboy boots. In keeping with the theme, a country chic or barn wedding gives you a great excuse to wear a cowboy hat, so take advantage! Choose one that compliments your dress and makes you look like the total package, and wear your hair blown out to look bouncy and healthy. Keep your makeup minimal, with just a touch of color on your cheeks and eyes.
Love’s a Beach
Beach weddings are definitely not the time to dress in anything overly formal. You’re on the sand, looking out at the waves, breathing in the salty sea air…What you wear should have that same feel. Think light, airy materials and hemlines that won’t drag in the sand. Depending on the look of your dress, wear sandals or dressy flip-flops—heels aren’t beach friendly and will make your trek through the sand a struggle. Forego the blowout and embrace the beachy breeze with beachy-looking hair. Do loose curls or try a side braid, and keep your makeup fresh and sun-kissed. Guys should wear chinos or dress pants with a button-down shirt and loafers or oxfords on their feet.
Whatever type of wedding you’re attending this season, however, the most important thing you can wear is a smile that shows your love for the couple and the happiness you feel at their new future. Even the most expensive dress can’t top that look.