The wedding invitation arrives and all of the details such as who, where, and when are included – all except the specifics like what to wear. This becomes your responsibility as a guest, unfortunately, to read between the lines and figure out just what would be appropriate. The guidelines of what to wear to a wedding are changing each year, but all these rules seem be a bit more open to individual expression and taste.
- Avoid white or off white clothing
- Nothing too short or revealing
- Don’t look unkempt or wrinkled
Even though these rules haven’t changed much, there are still gray areas. Above all, be respectful, conservative, and appropriate. The couple will appreciate it and you will feel much more comfortable in a social event such as a wedding. You’re likely to have a good time with a cheerful presence, regardless of what you decide to wear.
This can be the most open ended type of dress, but usually the venue can tell you more about the level of formality – or lack thereof. Usually casual style dress is revered for morning or daytime weddings in an informal venue.
For Women: A casual dress, or a pretty blouse with a skirt or pants will work here. For footwear, a low heel is recommended such as structured sandals or wedge heels (absolutely no flip flops).
For Men: A nice collared or button down shirt in a short or long sleeve, or a nice polo, with dress pants, or casual, but neat, khaki pants. No jacket or tie is mandatory, but one or the other would be fine to wear. It’s easy enough to take it off if you feel overdressed.
No tank tops, jeans, cargo shorts, t-shirts or athletic clothing. It is almost always better to err slightly on the side of being overdressed, so dress as you would for meeting with clients in a business casual setting. Again, let the venue, weather, season and time of day be your guide.
Semi-formal dress is an evening style of dress with formal fabrics like a satin, chiffon, silk, and maybe a bit of beading. A rich fabric like velvet or velveteen in the winter months would also be very nice.
Dress length would be cocktail length—in other words, just above, or at the knee; or a little longer. A tea length, or a longer, ankle-skimming hemline–like a maxi slip dress would work, as long as it is not an overly formal silhouette or material–save those dresses for the fully formal wedding invites you receive!
Black Tie Optional
This one can be such a mind game sometimes, however always assume that the father-of-the-bride and the groomsmen will definitely be wearing tuxedoes.
For the women, a dressy cocktail dress, or a full length formal dress is appropriate here. If you or your date is an elegant man who owns his own tuxedo and has it at the ready and a person who particularly enjoys bringing the James Bond tux out for these occasions–by all means wear black tie. However, there will be probably many other men in a dark suit and dark tie or bow tie and these gentlemen will look just as elegant and proper as the dapper tuxedo folks.
Formal is nearly the same as black tie optional, but I also think this implies slightly less pressure for the men to wear a tuxedo. A dark navy or black suit, and crisp white shirt, with a dark, or neutral tie is appropriate here. Women should wear an elegant cocktail dress or full length dress, and elegant or dramatic accessories are encouraged.
This one is very clear for the men – in this case, a tuxedo in a dark color is in order with a vest, or cummerbund and appropriate black tie.
Women should wear a full length gown, but some types of mid-calf, cocktail, or tiered skirt length could be appropriate if the material, cut, or embellishment is highly formal. To be truly correct, full-length is the norm.
White tie is the most formal type of wedding, so you should adhere to the rules on this one. Women should wear a floor-length, formal evening gown in a fairly neutral or dark color. (No coral cocktail length dresses here!)
Men should wear a tailcoat with white vest, white shirt, and tie with white gloves (gloves optional), and fine black shoes without laces.
If the wedding party will be wearing some sort of cultural dress that is not your own culture–for example, kilts or saris, you could wear something that might be a bit relatable to that, as long as you are sure you are not mocking or upstaging the wedding party’s style.
For instance, if you were attending an Indian wedding, but not specifically asked to wear a sari, perhaps wearing some Indian-inspired jewelry or a jewel tone dress would be a nice way to be festive, again without detracting from the bridesmaids’ rich saris.
If the invitation is vague, more information on what to wear can also be gleaned from the wedding party. It is advised not to request this information directly from the bride or groom, since they already have enough going on already.
Hope these tips will help you decode your next wedding guest attire dilemma. Always remember the number one, golden rule: dress nice and you will enjoy yourself!
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