Many’s the time I’ve seen a nervous soon-to-be wedding guest panic over what to wear to the big event. It’s a question that comes up again and again in advice columns and Yahoo questions, and around water coolers at multinational corporate offices. Really, though, it’s not that difficult. It’s mostly a matter of common sense combined with a touch of information.
So what are the rules? How to approach the question? Read on and learn, my friends.
1: Dress appropriately for the time of day/evening. How to dress is strongly influenced by what time the ceremony begins. If it’s being held in the morning, then that dictates a less formal approach than one that’s being held in the evening. If there’s a daytime ceremony followed by an evening reception, though, you might consider having something that either transitions well from day to evening wear or else a second outfit on hand.
2: Dress appropriately for the venue. It seems obvious that one would dress quite differently for a beach ceremony than for one held in a church, and quite differently again for one held at an historic mansion. I’ve seen a lot of people fail in one direction or the other to truly comprehend the difference.
Let’s break it down a bit. If the ceremony is being held in a house of worship, it’s a good idea to dress a little conservatively. Keep at least your shoulders and knees covered. Consider a small but festive hat. If it’s being held on a beach or in a building with two-hundred-plus-year-old floorboards, heels are not a good idea. If the wedding is in a ballroom, chances are this is a great time to break out the best cocktail dress you own or can afford.
3: Consider the culture of the couple. Avoid wearing the color most strongly associated with brides and the one most commonly associated with funerals in said culture(s). At minimum, don’t wear the traditional wedding or funeral color unrelieved.
Seriously, even if the bride isn’t terribly traditional it’s kind of tacky to show up looking like you either expect to be the one getting married or as if you’re about to bury someone.
4: If there’s a known theme, do your best to get into the spirit of it. The Renaissance Faire may not be your thing, but if it’s the bride and groom’s thing, will it really hurt you to put on a long dress and a funny hat for one day? And if your best sci-fi loving friends are getting hitched, it’s okay to don Vulcan ears or a Princess Leia cinnamon bun hairdo in their honor…as long as they’re making their sci-fi/fantasy leanings part of the festivities.
5: Let the bride shine the most. It’s an evening wedding at a swanky hotel. You’ve got a shimmery gown of great splendor. Think it’s a match made in Heaven? Think again. Save it for an event where you’re the center of attention. This is someone else’s night. Choose something festive and formal, but not quite so showstopping.
6: If in doubt, ask. If you talk to the bride or groom regularly, and the clues you’ve gotten about the wedding are leaving you flummoxed about your wardrobe choices, you can always ask for a hint or two along the way. And don’t think the bride and groom are your only choices for aid! Mothers, fathers, bridesmaids and groomsmen all make excellent sources of details that will help you decide what’s most appropriate.
7: Make the best of what you’ve got. Some people panic that they need to buy all new clothes to attend a wedding. If you want to and it’s in your budget, by all means have at it and tell me all about the pretties you tried on. If you don’t have a budget, though, don’t let that stop you from going and celebrating with your friends. Just come up with the best outfit for the event you can, and show up wearing a smile.
8: Relax. This is the bride and groom’s day. Most eyes will be on them, not you. Even if you show up in something very different from what everyone else is wearing, chances are your outfit will not be the most memorable thing about the event. Let the happy couple take the spotlight, and let them know how happy you are for them. No matter what else you wear, a smile is always an appropriate accessory.