What to Wear to a Wedding

We’ve all been there: the invitation drops through the door, you scoop it up off the matt and excitedly open the creamy, cardboard envelope. Maybe you even get to untie a pretty satin ribbon in order to unveil the invitation itself: aww!

Once the initial “Wow, they’re getting married?” moment has passed, however, many of us start to get that sinking feeling in the pit of our stomachs. “What will I WEAR?” we wail, and so begins one of the biggest sartorial dilemmas of the year.

What DO you wear to a wedding, anyway?

Of course, to a large extent, the answer to this question will depend on the type of wedding you’re going to. Is it summer or winter? Morning or evening? Home or destination? Church or stately home/swanky hotel/registry office/the pub round the corner/hot air balloon/you name it. All of these factors will influence your outfit choice, but there are some points of wedding etiquette that remain the same, no matter what. Perhaps it’ll be easier if we tell you what NOT to wear, first:

What NOT to wear to a wedding

1. Never wear white/cream/gold/ivory to someone else’s wedding*

You might be thinking this is old fashioned. The “no white” thing? Really? You may even be preparing some kind of argument along the lines of, “But the bride’s a punk/a goth/a Lady Gaga clone/an otherwise unconventional dresser. She won’t care if I wear that white dress that looks so good on me!” Forget it, sister. It doesn’t matter how unconventional your bride is, you never wear white to a wedding. Not unless you’re the bride, anyway. And sure, the bride may NOT care. But some of the other guests may not be as progressive as she is, and some of them will undoubtedly think that either a) you ARE the bride or b) you really WISH you were the bride. Either way, you’ll be perceived as trying to steal someone else’s thunder, and that’s just not classy. Back away from the white dresses. And yes, the cream ones and the gold ones and the ivory ones too.

(* Some people like to have “themed” weddings, which come with a specified dress code, such as “wear white”. Obviously, if that’s the case, disregard the advice above. In fact, disregard the whole article: if your wedding invitation came with a dress code, you don’t need the fashion police’s advice.)

2. Don’t wear anything that threatens to expose your underwear

If you’d wear it to the club, you don’t want to wear it to someone’s wedding. Or maybe you do want to, but that’s too bad: you can’t. Very short skirts, very low-cut tops, those horrible dresses that expose the midriff, or the ones that are so tight you can see your internal organs through them: leave them at home. And not just for weddings, either. Remember: it’s not about you. You’re not aiming to be the centre of attention, because that’s just not polite at a wedding (unless you’re the bride), so while we’re not suggesting you should dress like someone’s maiden aunt from the 1800s, you don’t want to be dressing like a lady of the night, either. That’s for the hen party. Similarly, you should try to avoid wearing anything that screams, “Look at me! ME! MEEEEE!!!!” Save that for your own wedding.

3. No jeans. No, seriously: NO JEANS.

Another question we’re asked frequently is “Can I wear jeans to a wedding?” To which we answer, “For the love of Gaga, NO.” Not unless it’s a denim-themed wedding, obviously, in which case those are some pretty interesting friends you got there. For reasons we can’t even begin to fathom, some people want to wear denim everywhere, to everything. If you’re one of those people: get over it. You have to wear other clothes some time, and this, my friend, is one of those times. Weddings are not casual affairs. They’re formal occasions which someone has paid a lot of money for, and if you turn up in an old pair of jeans (or even a new pair: you’re not getting off the hook that easily), you’re basically saying, “Hey, look: your important event that you put so much thought into means so little to me I couldn’t even be bothered getting changed out of my jeans for it!” We know you LOVE your jeans, and we know you HATE getting “dressed up”, but trust us: no one wants to be the asshole who turned up to Cousin Mavis’s wedding in jeans, do they? Also off limits for the same reason:

  • Uggs
  • Sweats
  • Crocs (these are off limits ALL the time, by the way, not just for weddings)
  • Combat pants
  • Ripped/torn clothing: we don’t care if it’s Balmain, it’s a mess.
  • Dirty or creased clothing

OK, so having worked out what not to wear, back to the original question:

What should you wear to a wedding?

We’re going to make this really simple and put it into a handy list format. We’re assuming here that you’re going to a full-day wedding (i.e. ceremony plus reception) where there are no religious clothing rules to observe. We’re also going to assume you’re female, because this is a female-orientated site. Sorry, guys.

You’ll be appropriately dressed in:

  • A dress of some description. Remember: not too short, not too low cut, not too tight. And not white, cream, gold or ivory. Almost anything else will do.
  • A skirt and dressy top. Observe the rules above.
  • A pretty cardigan/jacket to throw over the top in church or if it gets chilly.
  • Understated jewellery.
  • Smart, polished shoes: they don’t have to be heels, just make sure they’re comfortable, because you’re going to be doing a lot of standing and dancing in them.
  • A smart trouser suit, with perhaps some great jewellery or shoes, or a brightly coloured top to make it look a little less business-like.
  • A handbag. To carry all your essentials in. Bulging pockets aren’t a good look at this kind of thing.

Some simple rules to help you:

When you’re deciding what to wear to a wedding, try to bear in mind that:

It’s a festive occasion.
You don’t have to wear kerrazy colours, but you don’t want to turn up looking like you’re on your way to work, or – heaven forbid – a funeral either. This is why bold, bright and light colours work best for weddings.

It’s a formal occasion.
Don’t go too casual, and make sure your clothes are clean, pressed and well-mended.

It’s not YOUR occasion.
This is someone else’s big day. Don’t dress like a nun (unless you are a nun, in which case go ahead, Sister), but don’t be tempted to try and out-do the bride, or make yourself the centre of attention either.

A couple of other frequently asked questions on the subject of what to wear to a wedding:

1. Can I wear black to a wedding?
Well, it depends how you wear it. Black is no longer the taboo it once was for weddings, but you need to wear it with care: rather than head-to-toe black, which will create a funereal look, try accessorising with brighter/lighter colours, or add a fun pair of shoes, a great hat or some whimsical jewellery, so that it’s clear that you’re going to a wedding, not a funeral. If in doubt, have a quiet word with the bride, or another member of the bridal party, and ask if they mind your choice of colour: most won’t.

2. Do I have to wear a hat to a wedding?
It used to be the case that you HAD to wear a hat to weddings. These days, that rule has been relaxed in most cases, and only members of the bridal party can be relied on to wear hats, however, there’s nothing stopping you wearing one too if you can pull it off: alternatively, a fascinator, headband or other type of hair accessory can look good.

Finally, for those of you still floundering in the dark, here are some of our reader’s suggestions on what to wear to a winter wedding:

What to wear to a winter wedding, part 1
What to wear to a winter wedding, part 2
What to wear to a winter wedding, part 3
What to wear to a winter wedding, part 4

1 Comment

  • Reply July 22, 2011

    Siobhan

    My brother is getting married in August and I’ve bought this gorgeous Henry Holland dress… my only worry is that it’s white, but it does have an all-over cherry pattern. Can I get away with this?

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