Whether intimate or grand, a wedding is still a formal event and if you’re lucky enough to be invited, you owe it to the couple to show your respect by dressing appropriately and looking your very best. But also, your “very best” shouldn’t deflect attention from the bride and groom, so here are some very practical—and very easy—rules for what works and what doesn’t when it comes to what you should wear—and what you should never wear—to a wedding.
The tricky part is that these days, weddings can be super-casual, and “casual” street clothes have a whole new meaning, too. Hence, it might feel like anything goes…but it doesn’t. So here’s a short list of Don’t Ever Wear This to a Wedding that’ll save you time and just might help you save face!
1. White Dress or Gown
Unless the bride has planned an all-white wedding and stated this on the invitations, do not wear a white dress. Even more so, don’t wear a white gown—unless, again, it’s a grand “black and white ball” type wedding.
2. Black Tuxedo or Black Gown or Dress
Unless the invitation states “black tie” or another ultra-formal affair, guys should not upstage the groom by wearing a tux or a white dinner jacket. And gals, your LBD may be the best little black dress ever, but don’t wear it to a non-ultra-formal wedding. A good rule of thumb is this: Don’t wear anything black at all, with the exception of black dress trousers with a nice jacket (or a simple black business suit). Black dress shoes for both ladies and gents are fine.
Pantsuits aren’t particularly in style these days, but even if you’ve got the hottest vintage outfit in town, don’t wear it to the wedding. Consider this little comment by one clever bride we know: “That’s why it’s called a dress code.”
4. A Too-Short, Too Revealing Cocktail Dress
It’s fine to wear a lovely conservative off-the-shoulder dress—providing you take a wrap of some kind to wear for the ceremony. There’s also nothing wrong with showing off your beautiful legs—in moderation. An easy rule of thumb: No shorter than one inch above the knee.
5. Backless Dress with Lingerie Reveal
Backless gowns are very much in fashion and are perfect for a wedding—with a wrap for the ceremony, and with everything else under wraps. So please, get a friend to help you do a Lingerie Check before you finalize your outfit.
6. Over the Top Makeup
Of course, you may wear your gorgeous siren-red lipstick…if you remember that, for the rest of your makeup, less is more. Even for a formal black tie/cocktails wedding, don’t wear too much.
7. Animal Prints
Never mind how quietly they “purr,” animal prints don’t go over particularly well in wedding pictures. Yes, We Know: If you search for “leopard wedding” on Pinterest you’ll get lots of hits but not for guest attire. Tip: You can carry your cute little silk leopard print clutch—but not your canvas leopard hobo bag.
8. Club Attire
If you’d wear it to go dancing at a club, don’t wear it to a wedding. (Enough said.)
9. Plunging Necklines
There are a few exceptions to this rule, such as a super-formal cocktail party or ultra-high fashion wedding, but you’ll know by the invitation. Even then, it’s better form to wear a bit higher neckline and definitely a wrap for the ceremony.
10. Jeans or T-shirts, Too-casual Dresses or Crocs
Even if the wedding’s on the beach, or in the backyard, unless you’re explicitly told to, don’t wear jeans (even ones ironed to a razor-sharp crease), a t-shirt of any kind, a super casual dress, or Crocs. Fabulous Comfy Alternatives: Khakis, a button-up shirt, a dressy sundress, and sandals. Also, never ever wear flip flops unless stated on the Casual Beach Wedding invitation.
11. Midriff Jewelry and Rumba Dresses
Good for you for taking excellent care of your beautiful self! Just keep things under wraps, please, especially out of respect for the bride and groom’s older relatives.
12. Short-sleeve Dress Shirt
It may be pretty warm at the wedding ceremony, but it’s no big deal to wear a long sleeve shirt for just a little while. And if it’s a formal wedding, especially in a religious venue, a jacket is a must. You can always lose the jacket at the reception, and a guy can roll his shirt sleeve up to his elbow after the ceremony. For ultra-casual—and possibly high-temperature—beach weddings, consider linen, a linen-cotton blend, or even bamboo in a long sleeve casual shirt.
13. Hooded Sweatshirt
This shouldn’t even be on a list for not-to-wear’s, but sometime, somewhere, somebody showed up to a wedding in a hoodie, so we’re honor-bound to include this on the no-no list.
See #13, as in, somebody wore one, so we have to mention it. Also, avoid headbands that look too bridal-like. And unless it’s ultra-formal black tie, keep your hair comb simple.
15. Prom Dress & Dress that Screams Bridesmaid
We admit it. There is an exception to the No Prom Dress Rule: A goofy fun over-the-top costume-theme wedding. As for wearing a former bridesmaid’s dress, a good rule is this: No floor length hem, no taffeta, no glitz. A lot of thoughtful brides try to choose wear-again dresses for their ladies, but if you went to another friend’s wedding in the last few months and there’s a chance one of the other bridesmaids from that wedding might show up, perhaps make a different choice for this particular wedding.
Bottom Line: Wedding Photos Are Forever
Respect that rule and you’re good to go. Also, weddings don’t happen every day so take a little time to think things through for your dear friend’s event of a lifetime. It’s also trite but true: To a certain extent, what you wear defines you. So define yourself as a respectful, respectable friend and dress to the nines but within these guidelines. Your soon-to-be happily married friends will love you all the more!
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