The phrase “I have nothing to wear” is common enough, but wedding season makes people shout it from the rooftops. If you’re in your twenties or thirties, you may have at least one ceremony per weekend during the wedding season. Some will be casual, others will be semi-formal, and dress codes are always a possibility. What are the rules of wedding guest attire? How can we make it through without maxing out every credit card? Here are our top do’s and don’ts when considering what to wear.
The 15 Do’s and Don’ts of Wedding Guest Attire:
Here's a quick rundown of elements to think of when choosing the perfect outfit as a wedding guest! Everything from traditional attire etiquette to weather should be considered.
1. Do Consider the Wedding Dress Code
Is this celebration black tie, semi-formal, casual, or even a costume party? What the couple wants should always be considered before making any fashion decision.
Here’s a quick rundown of the most common wedding dress codes:
- Black Tie: floor length gowns, black ties, tuxedos.
- Formal: floor length gowns, tuxedos optional, black suits acceptable
- Semi-Formal: below the knee dresses, dress shirts, slacks
- Casual: sundresses, collared shirts, khakis
2. Do Consider Location
The attire you wear to a beach will (obviously) be much different than the outfit you rock at a ritzy hotel. Consult the dress code provided, but use common sense when it’s time to decide between sandals and heels.
Photo Credit: Brittney Lucy Rivera | Fog Bridesmaid Dresses
3. Don’t Match the Wedding Party Colors
Make sure you know the couple’s color palette. The invitation should give you some insight, but it doesn’t hurt to ask a member of the wedding party. You don’t want to be mistaken for a bridesmaid or groomsman, right?
4. Do Check the Weather
Know the forecast before you leave the house. Be prepared for rain, snow, or whatever else Mother Nature decides to throw at you. Ladies, the most important thing to consider is wind! Do not wear a shorty, flowy gown that you’ll have to hold down all evening. The last thing you want is a Marilyn Monroe moment in front of 200 people.
5. Do Wear Layers
Layers are something everybody should live by. AC can be a life saver, but it can also be a woman’s worst nightmare. Bring a cute, cropped jacket, shawl, or cardigan no matter what. An outdoor party can quickly turn chilly as it reaches evening hours. Tights and leggings are layers to think about, too.
6. Do Consider Time of Day
This may seem obvious, but so many people forget that summer evenings can still be a bit nippy! Layers are a great go-to, but if the event is an evening affair, consider a maxi dress or long-sleeved cocktail look.
Credit: Earth Below Photography
7. Don’t Wear White
This isn’t the first time you’ve heard this, but I can’t leave it out. White is an obvious faux pas, but be careful with champagne, cream, and even light shades of gold and tan. Brides are going for colored wedding dresses these days, so an awkward match can happen when you least expect it.
8. Do Think Twice Before Wearing Black
Obviously someone with a lack of love for the Little Black Dress came up with this rule years ago without thinking of its flattering and fashionable traits. At modern weddings, wearing black can be perfectly acceptable within reason. Just make sure you aren’t wearing something that you’d wear for a funeral. Since a wedding is a celebration and some people might misinterpret your choice to wear black, it might be safer to wear a brighter, cheerier color.
9. Don’t Dress Too Casual & Definitely Don’t Wear Jeans
Don’t mistake a casual dress code for jeans and a t-shirt; those are never acceptable unless you’re specifically told by the bride and groom that they’re having jean and t-shirt nuptials. Trade in your Levi’s for a pair of khakis or slacks. You’re still participating in an important ceremony even if it’s a casual affair.
Photo Credit: Kiana Grant Photography
10. Do Wear the Right Undergarments
Remember that concept of “wind” we discussed above? The dreaded Marilyn Monroe moment? An easy way to avoid potential slip of nudity is to make sure you’re wearing the proper undergarments for your outfit. You also don’t want the entire room seeing your underwear, bra, or shapewear. Make sure all your layers fit well and will stay put comfortably during hours of sitting, standing, eating, and dancing.
11. Don’t Go Too Bold
Sequins, animal prints, bright red, and other over-the-top designs are fun for a night out but not the right choice for a wedding. Of course you want to look good but you don’t want to be the center of attention at someone else’s wedding. The focus should always be on the bride, not your outfit.
12. Do Ask Friends What They’re Wearing
If you’re stuck, there’s nothing better than getting advice from a fellow attendee. That way you can exchange ideas and will be less likely to commit a fashion faux pas. You could also avoid the potential “one of us needs to change” moment by making sure you aren’t wearing the same thing as other guests.
Credit: Kost Productions
13. Do Lean Toward Modesty
Summer calls for showing a little skin, but don’t go over the top. This is similar to the rule about going too bold. You don’t want to be a distraction from the bride on her big day. If you find yourself in between a few dress options, it’s safer to err on the side of modesty when it comes to wedding attire.
14. Do Wear Comfortable Shoes
If you know you’re a dancing fool and will be on the dance floor for hours, comfortable shoes are a must-have. Flats or wedges are always good options. If you want to wear heels, consider a shorter heel or a chunky style. If you think your heels will get uncomfortable, you can always pack a pair of flats or sandals for later on in the night.
15. Do Consider Bridesmaid Dresses
Bridesmaid dresses are obviously wedding-approved, so don’t shy away from wearing one. Here are some of our favorite simple bridesmaid gowns that can easily double as wedding guest attire:
Wedding Guest Attire Examples by Dress Code
Wedding guest dress codes can be confusing. While each one of these dress codes has a set of suggested attire, it’s important to keep in mind the location, weather, and what you know about the bride and groom when you pick an outfit. When in doubt, it’s safer to choose an option that’s a little more formal.
Below are some guidelines for each wedding dress code. While these suggestions are gendered, you can always opt for a more gender-neutral option if you’d like as long as it is formal enough for the wedding couple’s chosen dress code.
Black Tie Wedding
Black tie weddings require a full tuxedo for men, preferably with patent leather shoes, and of course a black tie. In summer men could wear a white jacket with tuxedo pants. Women are expected to wear a full length gown that is formal and covers their ankles. A formal pantsuit can also be a great option.
Formal Wedding Attire
Another name for a formal event is “black-tie optional” which gives a good idea of the dress code’s intentions. A formal wedding is fancy enough for men to wear a tuxedo but they could also opt for a nice black suit with a simple tie. Women should still opt for a full-length gown but could make due with a nice cocktail dress.
Cocktail attire for men is a suit and tie. For women, cocktail attire could be a knee length or longer dress. The intention is to still look very classy without being quite as strict in dress code as a formal wedding.
Semi-formal might be the most common wedding dress code. Think date night at the nicest restaurant in your town. Men should definitely wear slacks and a dress shirt but they can choose if they’d like to wear a tie and sport jacket or not. Women should wear a nice dress, skirt, or pants.
An important factor in dressing for a beach wedding is the weather. Men can wear a nice linen shirt or a breathable button down with khakis or slacks. Women can wear a nice sundress or flowy skirt. Don’t dress down too much just because you’re on the beach, it’s still a wedding. Just remember to wear something that can withstand an ocean breeze and will be comfortable in hot weather. You may want to consider something that won’t show sweat in case it’s an especially hot day.
Casual Wedding Attire
A casual wedding means you can wear something more comfortable and more similar to what you would wear on a normal day. Jeans, t-shirts, tank tops, flip flops, and sneakers should still be off-limits. Men can wear a nice pair of khakis and a collared shirt. Women could opt for a sundress, a nice skirt and blouse combo, or a jumpsuit.