Kate K popped this into the Suggestion Box:
I am at that age where everyone I know is getting married and so thus, I go to about four or five (or six or seven!) weddings a year. I have no problem dressing myself in every other arena of my life but when it comes to weddings, I’m stumped. I have no idea what fabrics are appropriately dressy enough or if I need take time of the wedding into consideration, and I always look back on what I wore and wish I’d worn something else. I’d love some tips on wedding wear!
So most of my thoughts on wedding guest attire can be found here, in a post about dressing for emotionally significant events. I get a LOT of questions about what to wear as a wedding guest, and find it challenging to generalize. Weddings take place across seasons, at varying levels of dressiness, and across regions that may have culturally specific dressing expectations. And, of course, each individual wedding guest has a personal style, fit and figure flattery concerns, and a specific set of resources at her disposal. I don’t feel like I (or anyone) can create a single set of rules that will work for all guests at all weddings, so I’ve put off writing about this topic for ages. I’m happy to share my own guidelines, but here are some additional factors to consider and actions to take:
- Ask someone close to the bridal party: Most invitations include some mention of dress code, but if the phrasing is vague, contact someone associated with the bridal party. Bridesmaid, brother of the groom, mother of the bride … anyone who might know a bit more about the decor, bridal party attire, and general feel of the event. If you’re going to do this, do it EARLY. The closer to the wedding date, the less likely you are to receive a helpful (or civil) reply. But reaching out months in advance should work.
- Err on the dressy side: If you’re concerned about the opinions of others, my guess is that fewer folks will frown upon an overdressed guest than an underdressed one. (Unless it’s a Jimmy Buffet-themed, Hawaiian shirt extravaganza.) Floor-length gowns will be overkill in most situations, but classic dresses are nearly always appropriate.
- Be aware of the timeline and activities: If you’re attending full Catholic mass, a pre-reception happy hour, dinner, and dancing you’re gonna need a comfortable outfit and forgiving shoes. (Or a change of shoes.) If it’s a beach ceremony, come prepared with sunscreen and removable footwear. Again, most wedding parties will want you to be prepared, so you’ll get this info well in advance and can plan accordingly.
Now, here are my reluctant generalizations:
When in doubt, wear jewel tones
Nearly everyone can find a jewel tone that flatters her skin and hair, and these rich-yet-subdued shades are ideal for broadcasting respect and sophistication.
Simple hair, makeup, and accessories
Obviously, this doesn’t apply to evening soirees or anything that specifies black tie. But for a typical day wedding, keeping your grooming and adornments clean and classic will help further the goal of broadcasting honor and respect for the bride, groom, and families.
Classic attire, elegant accessories
Don’t feel obliged to purchase a new dress or outfit for every wedding! A classic sheath, shift, or fit-and-flare dress in a solid color can create the perfect backdrop for a simple belt, eye-catching necklace, and chic pair of shoes. A silk blouse and clean-cut slacks paired with sleek heels or flats and a few sparkly jewels will create an elegant ensemble.
I generally point folks to the following three sources for wedding guest dresses:
- J.Crew’s Wedding Section – meant for brides and bridesmaids, but the bridesmaid dresses are all so simple and chic they’ll work beautifully for wedding guest attire. And holiday parties, birthdays, and just about any dressier-than-officewear occasion.
- eShakti – simple dresses that can be customized, and all available in sizes 0 – 36W.
- edressme.com – selection is a bit flashier, but also includes more floor-length and unusual options
- Igigi – edressme has a few plus options, but J.Crew has none. Igigi is my favorite source for elegant plus-sized dresses and evening wear.
- Talbots Occasion – separates and dresses for a variety of styles and body types
Again, all this goes right out the window for weddings in exotic locales, themed weddings, black-tie, super casual, and loads of other specific styles of events. Your true best bet is to head back to bullet point number one and talk to someone directly involved with planning the wedding to get a feel for what would work best for a guest. But, barring that, some of these ideas and guidelines may be helpful.
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