Reception Dress: Yes or No?

In some traditions, a bride wears several outfits over the course of the wedding. In India the bride is expected to wear a different outfit for each of several different parties over the course of multiple days. In China, during the wedding day a bride may change her clothes as many as eight times.

In the west, though, if the bride changed clothes it was usually for the now rarely seen going away outfit, which she would wear to travel on the first leg of her honeymoon.

Over the last few years, though, a new trend has emerged: the reception gown.

Most often, this seems to be chosen by women who have extremely elaborate wedding gowns for the ceremony, but then want to have the physical freedom to boogie down at the reception. Typically, the bride will wear the same gown she wore for the ceremony through the first dance, and then retire to change clothes. When she comes back, it’s the signal to the band or DJ to really let loose with the dance tunes.

I have to admit this is a trend I almost certainly wouldn’t have followed had it been around when I got married. My mantra has always been that the smart thing to do is to wear a gown (and shoes and headpiece and hairstyle) that’s comfortable enough to be happy in all day.

Then again, my wedding was fairly informal. It’s not like I was getting married in a huge cathedral. We were married in the woods (with no real facilities for changing other than a port-a-potty, which, so not going there) followed by a picnic reception. A grand gown with seventeen layers of crinoline, hoops, cathedral train and heavily boned bodice wouldn’t have made any sense at all under the circumstances. Also, we were broke. The money for a second gown just plain wouldn’t have been there for me.

If I’d worn a gown like that for the ceremony, I might have been tempted to change out of it…or I might have said to myself that having spent that much money on it, I was damned if I was going to change one nanosecond before I had to. After all, when would I wear something like that again?

What about the rest of you? Is this a trend you can see yourself following? Or does it not do it for you?

I have to say, though, if I wanted a reception gown (or a really fabulous informal wedding gown) I might go for something very like this JS Boutique gown:

JS Boutique Grecian Wedding Gown Not only is it elegant and easy to wear, it’s also surprisingly affordable at $138.00 at Nordstrom.

Now if it just came in my size….

19 Responses to “Reception Dress: Yes or No?”

  1. Fabrisse August 30, 2008 at 12:02 pm #

    Oh, that dress is lovely.

    Completely with you on the whole “don’t get the reception gown” thing. I do know that some modern dresses come with detachable trains or other ways to modify the gown which makes more sense to me.

  2. Melissa B. August 30, 2008 at 12:15 pm #

    If the bride is wearing a super-formal gown in the ceremony because of the couple’s cultural or religious tradition, I totally understand wanting to change into a more comfortable one for the reception. But otherwise it just seems like one more thing to buy.

    A while back there was a Top Chef episode in which the contestants had to cater a wedding. The bride wore different gowns for the ceremony and the reception — and her reception gown was actually *more* formal and poofy than the ceremony gown! That struck me as kind of odd.

  3. Kate August 30, 2008 at 3:03 pm #

    I’m getting married in a month, and I bought one gown to wear. I was at the bridal salon where I bought the gown recently to shop for accessories. While I was there, I couldn’t help admiring some of the new bridal gowns they had. (I know, I already have mine…) I was admiring one of them and the owner told me, “That’s really popular as a reception gown.” And this gown cost more than the one gown I bought for everything!

    I’m amazed at how much money some people have for weddings!

  4. blablover5 August 30, 2008 at 7:07 pm #

    I specifically bought my wedding dress as something I could spend an entire day in. I just couldn’t imagine spending money on two dresses I would wear only one day.

  5. Nantoling August 31, 2008 at 10:14 am #

    Like Melissa, I too have seen the bride who wears an even more opulent dress for the reception (e.g., changing from an elaborate white bridal gown to an elaborate pale-pink-and-encrusted-with-crystals bridal gown). I think some women are using the reception as a chance to wear the dress they truly loved but considered too outre for the actual ceremony.

  6. Sarah August 31, 2008 at 11:25 am #

    I would consider buying a reception dress, but only because I’ve always dreamed of wearing my mother’s (stiff, uncomfortable, cumbersome) wedding dress for the reception, so would then only be buying one dress.

    Of course, I think the odds of that happening are pretty slim, since my mother weighed under 100 lbs at the time she got married, and the dress would probably need some serious letting out to fit me. But under those circumstances, I don’t think having two dresses would be unreasonable.

  7. Sarah August 31, 2008 at 11:27 am #

    Oh, whoops, I meant wearing my mother’s dress for the ceremony, and then changing for the reception.

  8. Roya September 1, 2008 at 6:07 am #

    The funny thing reading this is though that most asian weddings I have been to in the last ten years, the bride changes into the cheongsam or korean dress at some point in the reception, you start the toasts and then she switches back to her white dress for the dancing, I think you do it so you can do the pretty costume, but the big white dress is THE DRESS. My s-i-l, who is a lot more traditional girl than me, wore a cheongsam for the tea ceremony before the wedding, but she got married in a really pretty dress and wore a chinese dress for the toasting and switched back the the real wedding dress. In fact the only time I have seen it otherwise in US at Asian wedding, was my an white american girl who married a korean boy and just really was into the korean dress (they are really pretty) and a real chinatown wedding that didn’t even have dancing, just endless toasts, and she never even wore a white dress.

  9. Katy September 1, 2008 at 5:46 pm #

    My sister wore the one dress when she got married recently. The train somehow was able to be fastened to the back of the dress for easier dancing. The only other things she changed were taking off the veil (which was detachable from the little tiara thing she was wearing) and change into tennis shoes for dancing (which all the bridesmaids did too!).

  10. La BellaDonna September 2, 2008 at 10:57 am #

    I had actually designed my sister-in-law’s dress with that function specifically in mind. She wanted a very formal gown, she wanted a train, she wanted to cover her arms, she wanted to be able to dance all night and have the skirt spin out, she didn’t want to sweat to death …

    Oh, and she didn’t speak clothing-language. At. All. (I mean REALLY at all – she didn’t know that she had to specify that she wanted the sleeves FITTED if she wanted … fitted sleeves. Fortunately, she was a sweetheart to work with.)

    And yet, I managed to make exactly what she wanted, and she looked lovely. I designed the train as a separate overdress, with sleeves (the whole overdress/train was sheer silver-embroidered organza; the sleeves were mounted on peach-coloured organza). It was elaborate, with a high half-collar in the back, and the whole construction looked just like part of the dress. When the train/overdress came off (it hooked up the front, under many little jeweled buttons [except for the one the cat stole]), she was left with a sleeveless bodice with a sweetheart neck which laced up the back; the skirt was as full as an 1890s bell skirt could get. The bodice was covered with the same silver-embroidered organza that the train/overdress was made from, and the skirt front was made en tablier with the organza. There were yards and yards and YARDS of silver trim, and the dress weights that kept the skirt down also helped it spin – they were covered in grosgrain ribbon, and over that, they were covered with blue satin ribbon rosettes – one weight/rosette at each seam – except for the front two, which were covered in white.

    So she got her formal gown, and she got to dance all night, too, without – well, I was going to say without two separate dresses, but hers was closer to that than not. But it is possible to make it happen without a separate dress for the wedding and the reception – unless, of course, you actually are looking for an excuse for two dresses! There’s nothing wrong with that, but most folks have enough trouble getting one dress that’s “right;” getting two seems to be more of a challenge than most folks would want. And really, how many excuses will there be to wear that wedding dress, after the wedding?

  11. Never teh Bride September 2, 2008 at 12:25 pm #

    I wore one dress, and I was comfortable and mobile throughout the reception. Both of my lady attendants, however, changed out of their dresses at the first possible opportunity, which struck me as kind of odd. I let them choose their own frocks, so I would have guessed that they both would have chosen something they could easily move around in. I told them to do as much, after all! My SIL put on a more casual dress, which was fine as my reception was very much a garden party. My own sister, however, changed into a tank top and jeans. That was a little odd.

  12. La BellaDonna September 2, 2008 at 2:58 pm #

    NtB, your sister changed into a tank top and jeans? For your wedding? That does seem a little … odd. Did she say why she did that? Was she barbecuing?

    My own sister, less than three weeks before my wedding, chopped her all her long hair off. I was distressed, because the style of the dress was meant to be worn with long hair, but you know what? She’s still my sister, I still got married, and I just roll my eyes a litte bit at the pictures. (Except the one where she looks like a blonde version of Gypsy Girl by Franz Hals – it’s really cool.) And if I ever get married again, I don’t care if she dyes it blue, or shaves it off, or has the cat sit on it, as long as she’s there.

  13. mary martha September 2, 2008 at 3:25 pm #

    I can understand the two dress weddings. If I were to get married anytime soon I would have different needs for the ceremony and reception.

    I am a very traditional Catholic so I would have the whole Mass in Latin at a huge (bigger than some Cathedrals) Church. That would require shoulders covered and limited cleavage… and with a huge long aisle it’s hard to resist the train.

    At the same time I LOVE to go swing dancing and I would want a shorter swingier skirt for the reception (even as short as just below the knee) so I could really have fun and dance. Even with a bustled skirt a dress with a long train is heavy and cumbersome.

    I recently saw on some wedding website the perfect thing for me. It was two dresses that were essentially the same… just one was the short length that I love, and the other was long with a train. I think as a hobby photographer I would want the continuity of having basically the same dress in all the pictures.

  14. Never teh Bride September 2, 2008 at 4:58 pm #

    La BellaDonna: Indeed she did. I thought it was pretty bizarre, but she’d already make the switch and she was only 16 so I figured I’d keep my mouth shut. Honestly, the pictures were already taken, so it really didn’t bug me. No barbecuing…it wasn’t that casual. She definitely stuck out among all the pretty dresses and nice light suits everyone else was wearing!

  15. Ninjarina September 2, 2008 at 7:03 pm #

    My friend’s wife changed at least 3 times during the course of the wedding day. She’s Vietnamese (they wear an ao dai), married into a Chinese family (we wear qipao/cheongsam), and she also wore a white wedding dress.

    I don’t think it’s the worst thing for one to have a reception gown TBH. There’s no rule saying that it has to be white right? Therefore, it could probably be worn again for some formal function. And who says it has to be a dress anyway? Why not a white pantsuit or something?

  16. Embly September 4, 2008 at 5:53 pm #

    my best friend just got married and had two gowns. The first one was this beautiful formal gown that her grandmother had picked up at some swap meet for $10. It was unbelievable, the second one was far more modern and easier to dance in, and on the clearance rack in David’s. So with two gowns and two sets of veils she still spent less than is normally spent on one gown and looked fabulous!

  17. Sonya Stew January 27, 2009 at 10:38 pm #

    I have three dresses, why? Because I can afford it and I want it…woo hoo, I am so excited!

  18. inMayIwillbeMrs July 2, 2009 at 12:19 am #

    I am wearing two dresses. I will be wearing my mother’s gown for the ceremony and changing into a more comfortable tea-length dress for the reception. Mostly because I want to, but I have convinced myself that this is best so I don’t spill anything on my mother’s extremely expensive gown, nor get it dirty as I kick up my heels to celebrate!

  19. Jennifer August 18, 2009 at 10:27 pm #

    I plan on using separate dresses for my wedding and reception. Why? Because I’m not a long dress kind of girl. I have found the wedding dress of my dreams, but I know myself and that I will get hot (and, inevitably, cranky) if I don’t have a shorter, more playful dress to change in to.

    This decision is probably based more on the bride’s personality and preferences than any standard set.