Heading to a wedding as a guest? Relax; it’s not your wedding. Your only worry is what you’ll be wearing. Luckily, you can’t go wrong when you follow a few rules when it comes to wedding attire. If you haven’t done it already, the first thing that you should check is the invitation, which will usually guide you in what kind of wedding you’ll be attending. If the invitation is crafted in calligraphy on a thick, cream-colored paper, then formal dress will be your best choice. If the invitation looks quirky, with a funny stamp, graphic, or comic wording, then casual will work well for you. The invitation may also state outright the expected attire for the guests, such as black tie or casual attire.
The second factor when choosing wedding wear is time. Your requirements as a guest can be determined according to whether a wedding is held during the day or in the evening, as well as if it is held indoors or outdoors. A day wedding will begin before 6:00 pm, and after 6:00 is considered an evening wedding.
Once you’ve taken the time to check out the invitation and deduce a little about the dress requirements, all you need to do is follow our guide to look good and enjoy yourself.
Whether the wedding is in the night or day, just keep in mind that semi-formal doesn’t mean sloppy or badly coordinated blazers and slacks—just slightly dressed down. You can wear a dress shirt, a blazer, and dress pants with a tie to a casual wedding, as long as your color coordination is impeccable.
In the evening, wear black or gray. This is also your chance to wear pinstripes, if you prefer, for a very handsome look. In the summer, wear a lighter colored suit, such as seersucker or linen.
For a formal wedding, you should wear a sophisticated suit with elegant accessories. Pay attention to what color suit you are wearing, as this will set the tone for formal or semi-formal wedding attire. Always choose dark suits for the right formal look. Wear a brilliantly white shirt with a turned-down collar, along with an attractive tie.
Cocktail attire is another formal look that requires the same formal dress as an evening wedding, but will have more of an emphasis on sophistication.
If you need to wear black tie as a wedding guest, a tuxedo is the only appropriate wedding attire. For creative black tie, you should still wear a tuxedo, but change your look a bit by wearing a darker colored shirt, or a collarless shirt style.
For “black tie optional” events, you can take your pick on whether or not you want to dress more formally in a tuxedo. If you don’t own a tuxedo or don’t feel like wearing one, you can wear a dark grey, black, or navy suit. You should dress a formally as possible, though, so choose your accessories with care.
With a destination wedding in a warm climate—Italy, the Caribbean, or summertime Florida—you can wear a lighter suit color. Try a taupe or pale blue that will make you stand out a bit, in a good way, and also feel a bit cooler if you’re in the sun.
Some creative receptions will list a theme, making your choice even easier for what to wear—follow the guidelines listed on your invitation, and make sure that you always wear something tasteful. For creative receptions in general, you can go a little wild with your waistcoat, cummerbund, or tie. Choose an unusual pattern or color to make yourself stand out.
Whenever you’re stuck on what to wear at a wedding, err on the side of caution. Ask others who you know were invited for tips, or ask friends for advice. Overdress a little to compensate if you are very unsure, short of wearing a tuxedo to anything but black tie events. Being dressed overly casual is much worse than being dressed up a bit too much.
Here’s what our Winston had to say on the subject:
Most chaps I know consider a wedding to be ‘someone else’s day’, thus shunning the philosophy of the peacock; they dress arbitrarily and even poorly with the excuse that dressing well would somehow upset the bride and groom, especially if you were better dressed than they. Whilst I can appreciate the sensitivity, this is absolute nonsense. The bride and groom are far more likely to clasp your hands warmly in gratitude that someone took their well planned and painstakingly produced function seriously and dressed up accordingly.
It’s a wedding, not a conference
One of the most awful realities of dressing for weddings is that people believe a suit – no matter what type of suit, as long as the trousers match the jacket – is king. Whilst the average suit is a very practical and certainly inoffensive form of clothing, it can also be rather dull and pedestrian. I attended a wedding in a black short jacket, spongebag trousers and patent Oxford shoes only to find the other men had shuffled along in crumpled four button suits and scruffy loafers.
Ironically, some of the worst formally dressed chaps brushed up well later on when they put on their ‘glad rags’ which was even more saddening as it revealed their interest in clothes was merely superficial. I think a pair of smart trousers and a contrasting jacket are perfectly acceptable and far more interesting; a blue blazer with caramel trousers and burgundy Oxford shoes will look urbane and chic, and yet at the same time appropriate ‘costume’ for a wedding. For to me, weddings are a theatrical event that in the past called for the most theatrically grand items of day wear; the morning suit and top hat.
Knowing when to stop…
That last point about morning suits and top hats brings me neatly around to the issue of limits. Having thrown the licence to dazzle and be individual in the air, I think it only sensible to consider the limitations that exist in deciding upon the wedding wardrobe. Firstly, think theatrically but set barriers – there is a fine line between harmonious wedding habiliments and absurd clownishness. By all means be a little experimental and daring but, if you find yourself treading the path of excess, remember the Coco Chanel motto; “always remove one item before leaving the house.”
‘The only link between Art and Nature’
Weddings are a wonderful excuse to wear a buttonhole. I have been known to dabble in orchids, chrysanthemums and black roses (really a very deep red; alluring and frightfully luxurious, though they sound funereal) but the key thing is to buttonhole honestly and appropriately; my chrysanth’ had to match my ivory and blue striped tie and ivory waistcoat or at least depart from it so completely that it did not clash. Another thing to remember is that rarity of flower is not the ultimate; the highest quality rose or carnation will provide greater flourish than the dank and weeping orchid.