Wedding Planning Guide

what to wear to a wedding

When it comes to deciding what to wear to a wedding, there’s one fact to keep in mind that supercedes all else: It is not your day. We don’t say this to sound harsh (heck, maybe you’re relieved!), but to keep your ensemble in perspective. Not just in terms of what not to wear, but what to wear—the wedded couple has spent a lot of time (and, likely, money) planning this event, and it’s a big one for them. Be a joyful guest, not fodder for gossip.

Okay, now that we got that out of the way, let’s get to the fun part: picking out the perfect wedding outfit! Whether you’re perusing your closet or your favorite clothing store, we have all the tips, rules, and cheat sheets you’ll need to look your best.

Photo: Rebecca Yale Photography

Our Top 10 Wedding Attire Rules

When you’re going through your various outfit options, we have 10 golden rules of dress code for weddings that, when followed, will help you strike the perfect balance of fashionable and appropriate.

Rule #1: Follow their rules. Seems simple, but it’s often overlooked. The spouses-to-be will typically state their attire desires on the invitation, wedding website, and/or other wedding correspondence. Sometimes it’s a simple dress code category (see our cheat sheet below), other times it will be more explicit. Whatever they say, follow it as best you can, even (or especially) if this rule means you break all the others in this list. It’s their day, not ours!

Rule #2: Don’t wear white. Whether it’s a dress or a suit, don’t do it. White is for the ones exchanging the vows. Gentlemen, white shirts are totally fine; white suit jackets are not. Unless Rule #1 dictates otherwise, leave your white party look at home. This goes for pre-wedding events, as well (e.g., rehearsal dinners, engagement parties, bridal showers, etc.)

Rule #3: Bring on the colors! Sure, you can’t wear white, but you can pick from literally any other color—including black!Bonus guest points: Avoid the wedding party colors if you can, so you don’t have to keep saying you aren’t a bridesmaid all night. You won’t always have access to this information, so it’s not worth stressing over, but if you know the wedding party is wearing navy, go a different way (or bring in a pattern).

Rule #4: Err on the side of overdressed. It’s always better to look overdressed than underdressed—generally in life, and especially at a wedding. Formal wedding attire might mean sacrificing a bit of comfort if you hate ties or dry cleaning, but the betrothed will appreciate your efforts.

Rule #5: Dress appropriately. By that we mean, of course, don’t show too much skin—particularly if you’ll be attending a religious ceremony. In general, follow the “rule of one”: feel free to highlight your one favorite asset, and leave it at that. For example, choose only one feature between a plunging neckline, or a cutout, or a low back, or a short hemline, or a body-hugging silhouette. For men’s outfits, you’re in less luck: aside from some rolled sleeves and an undone top button on your dress shirt (if permitted by the dress code), we advise to keep the rest covered.

Rule #6: ...and accessorize appropriately. You aren’t there to steal the show with your chunk-tastic necklace or Hope Diamond-esque earrings. You’re not walking a red carpet or performing on stage, so find accessories that accentuate your look—not make everyone look at you.

Rule #7: Don’t forget the shoes! Shoes are an important part of any ensemble, and there are rules about what shoes to wear to a wedding, too. When it comes to deciding what shoes to wear at a wedding, the same general principles apply: keep the wedded couple’s dress code in mind, and lean dressy over casual. This means no sneakers, no Crocs, and no flip-flops (if you want to shove a pair in your purse for the dance floor, that’s fine—otherwise, find a fancier sandal).

Rule #8: When to loosen up your look. Most of these rules are particularly crucial for the ceremony. Once the reception hits, it’s okay to make yourself a bit more comfortable, especially if it’s warm out. For men, this can mean losing the suit jacket, rolling up your shirt sleeves, and even taking off your tie if the dress code isn’t too formal. For women, your options are more limited—but if you’ve got a comfier pair of shoes saved for the dance floor, break them out!

Rule #9: Wear it with confidence. You followed the rules? You look great. When you feel good about what you’re wearing, it will show. And if you’re not thrilled about stuffing your feet into dress shoes or keeping your enviable cleavage covered, fake it til you make it (home).

Rule #10: When in doubt...don’t. You have their instructions zoomed in on your phone in one hand, and on the other you have a truly fabulous outfit that may or may not fit their specifications. How to tell? Well, you can always ask the bride(s) or groom(s). But if you’re like us, it’s the day of their wedding, and they do not have time for your questions. Our advice? Go with the safe bet. You’ll look great, and feel greater knowing that you aren’t taking an unnecessary risk.


Seasonal Wedding Looks

What you wear to a wedding can often depend on when the wedding takes place. Here’s our quick tips for what to wear when.

What to Wear to a Spring Wedding

  • First and foremost, be mindful of the weather. In many areas of the country (and world), spring is a beautiful time of year...with some unpredictable weather. Check the forecast, and come prepared!
  • This is a great time of year to have some more fun with colors and patterns—think brights, florals, and stripes.
  • Be mindful of your layers, so you’ll look great weather your jacket or wrap is on or off.
  • What to Wear to a Summer Wedding

      • It may be hot out, but that doesn’t mean you can throw their dress code out the window. Dress to their specifications—even if that means applying some extra antiperspirant or feeling a little warmer in your tuxedo.

      • Find the right fabrics to help beat the heat: silk, chiffon, cotton, or linen.

      • If it’s a beach wedding, have fun with it! Boat shoes, sundresses, strappy sandals, etc.

      What to Wear to a Fall Wedding

        • It’s like spring, but with even less predictable weather. So same layering and preparation rules apply!

        • Fall tends to be more muted, and there are a lot of great pieces that stick with that theme. But a fun pop of color never hurt…

        • For men’s fall wedding attire, don’t be afraid to mix textures, like a cotton coat and silk tie.

           

        What to Wear to a Winter Wedding

        • Make sure your warm layers match your outfit—not just in color, but in style. Your favorite hoodie over your lovely dress isn’t a good look.
        • Darker colors are best for winter weddings, including emerald green, royal blue, purple, gray, brown, and—of course—black.
        • Try and avoid boots, as they can quickly become too casual.

Wedding Dress Code Cheat Sheet

What to wear when the wedding invitation simply says “dressy casual”? Or “black tie optional”? We’ve got answers.

Dress Code

Strictness Level

Women

Men

White Tie

High

Formal floor-length evening gown in a neutral color (e.g., dark brown or black)

Tuxedo, long black jacket with tails, formal white shirt, white vest and bow tie, white or gray gloves, black formal shoes

Black Tie

High

Long evening gown or chic, formal cocktail dress (long is usually preferred)

Tuxedo, white shirt, black vest or cummerbund, black bow tie, black dress or patent leather shoes

Formal/Black Tie Optional

High

Long dress, dressy separates, or formal cocktail dress

Tuxedo or formal dark suit, white shirt, conservative tie

Cocktail/Semiformal/Dressy Casual

Medium

Cocktail dress, or dressy skirt and top

Suit and tie (dark or light, depending on season and time of day)

Festive Attire

Medium

Cocktail dress, or dressy skirt and top, with more playful colors or accessories

A suit and tie (dark or light, depending on season and time of day), with fun pops of color or patterns

Beach Formal

Medium

Formal summer dress/sundress, flat sandals

Summer suit with linen shirt, or suit jacket with linen pants or khakis, boat shoes; no tie required

Casual

Low

Summer dress/sundress, or pants with nice blouse

Dress pants or dark denim with button-down shirt or polo

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