When it comes to fashion, nothing seems to be quite as confusing as figuring out what to wear to a wedding as a guest. The problem is that weddings come in many different styles ranging from full formal to simply casual. This is why wedding etiquette dictates that the dress code should be communicated on the invitation. If these details are missing, there are a few other hints you can consider, such as the time of day for the event, the type of venue, and the personal style of the couple. Here are a few tips to get your style right.
Consider the Formality of the Wedding
So, the invitation clearly says formal, but what does that mean for a wedding guest? Let’s take a quick look at some appropriate choices for each level of formality. First, formal is never simply just formal. There are two distinct levels of formal attire.
The first is White Tie Formal which is reserved for the highest level of formality. It might be appropriate if you are attending a wedding for the family of a high-level political figure. Imagine a formal dinner at the White House. White Tie events require a floor-length gown paired with tasteful, elegant accessories.
The more common alternative for most full formal weddings is known as “Black Tie Formal.” A floor-length dress is still appropriate, but you’ll have a bit more freedom to showcase your style with a formal cocktail dress or a fancy pair of heels and you can be a bit bolder with your accessory choices.
Cocktail formal opens the door to the possibility of a shorter dress so long as it is tasteful and elegant. For semi-formal weddings, choose a below-the-knee dress or pantsuit in a dark color for evening wear or lighter color for daytime wear. And, for casual weddings, opt for a chic, short dress paired with cute sandals or flats.
Consider the Venue for the Wedding
Many ceremonies take place in a place of worship with a dinner reception in a hotel or event center ballroom. This is ideal for various levels of formal attire. But not all couples opt for the traditional approach to their weddings. If you’re attending a beachside ceremony or embarking on a cruise, the destination will likely influence your wedding guest style choices.
For the beach, the attire should be casual and guests should opt to wear something simple. A tasteful maxi dress or a short crochet dress can be a classy way to be comfortable on the beach while still being dressed appropriately for the wedding.
Another popular trend is the rustic-chic weddings which take place in hayfields, barns, and mountain chalets. While a casual dress code is common, it’s not necessarily a given. There are plenty of rustic glam event venues that bring the two worlds together. If you’re invited to a rustic-chic wedding, check the invitation for details on what to expect. If the wedding takes place in the mountains or in the fall, we recommend planning for light layers as the temperature will begin to drop when the sun goes down. A smart leather jacket or a crochet shawl can be a trendy way to stay warm.
Dress Appropriately Based on the Season
The winter season isn’t the busiest for weddings, but there is a niche audience of holiday-themed events that provide a cozy, romantic setting to tie the knot. If you’re invited to a winter wedding, dark colors and heavier fabrics are appropriate. Layer with a faux fur shawl or heavier tights and opt for a stiletto bootie instead of an open-toe shoe.
The spring is when wedding season begins to ramp up so you should find plenty of dress options that are appropriate for the season. Consider wearing a lighter color palette, fun floral prints, and light layers like a crochet shrug or sheer nylons.
For summer weddings, you want to be dressed well but still comfortable. Choose lightweight fabrics with minimal sleeves or straps. If you’re looking for something fun, a bright color or jewel-toned gown pairs well with summertime events.
For autumn, play up the metallics with rust, silver, bronze, and gold. If you’re attending a formal wedding, use the opportunity to add a little shimmer to your gown. And for a more casual affair, consider tall leather boots paired with a hemline that falls at the knee.
Other Tips to Keep Your Wedding Guest Style in Check
So, you’ve checked the invitation and you’ve considered the venue and the season. You’ve got a pretty good idea of what you’re looking for, but are there any specific faux pas you should avoid? When it comes to wedding culture–there are a few missteps that can make you stand out like a sore thumb. And some that may even offend.
For starters, don’t wear white. In fact, don’t wear anything close to white. While it’s perfectly okay to be stylish, it’s not okay to be dramatic about it or upstage the bride. Keep in mind this event is about the couple getting married–and the couple should be the center of attention.
Avoid overtly sexual designs like revealing cutouts and minimal bust coverage. And make a concerted effort to match the formality of the event. That means, don’t show up to a casual beachside wedding in a full formal gown. And don’t show up to a Black Tie Formal dinner reception wearing a sundress.
The Takeaway on Appropriate Attire for Wedding Guests
A well-dressed wedding guest is a sign of respect for the couple. It shows that you care enough to put some effort into how you show up for them. While many of us have mistakenly under or overestimated the formality of an event at one time or another, there are a few clues that you can use to nail your wedding guest style going forward. If you match the level of formality requested on the invitation and choose something appropriate based on the season and venue, you’ll likely fit right in. The goal is to be well-dressed, not to draw attention.
We partnered with Jonah Levine, Creative Director of TheDressWarehouse.com, to bring you these helpful tips for what to wear as a wedding guest. TheDressWarehouse.com was launched in 2018 as the go-to online source for amazing designer dresses at affordable prices. With 10 years of experience in the industry, Jonah works daily to scour the markets to find the hottest styles and negotiate the best prices for special occasion wear on the internet. As always, thanks for supporting our sponsors!