And the Guest Wore White?


A long while back I bookmarked a People Magazine poll that asked whether it was ever okay to wear white as a wedding guest. If I recall correctly, something along the lines of 73% of people said “No way, Jose.” I tend to agree with the majority, not because I imagine that wedding guests would wear anything resembling a wedding gown (though some of the nastier ones might), but because all of the other wedding guests will make assumptions based on one’s fashion choices.

Summery cotton or linen dresses in white can be wedding appropriate — especially when paired with bright and colorful scarves, sashes, stockings, or other accessories — but why risk being incorrectly regarded as a jealous ex-lover or peevish in-law? That’s my take, anyway. What say you?

12 Responses to “And the Guest Wore White?”

  1. Melissa B. says:

    I tend to agree — white at weddings is best avoided, *especially* if you’re a family member likely to be in a lot of photos. Even if the bride herself is laid-back and won’t care, you don’t want to be the reason people do a double take at your brother’s wedding photos for the next 40 years. I still remember the mother of the bride who wore a lovely pink silk suit to the ceremony and then changed into an ivory, floor-length, beaded evening gown for the reception. (She also spent the entire evening monopolizing the dance floor and trying to make sure all of the attention was on her. It was bemusing to witness, to say the least.)

    I will say, however, that one of the cutest wedding parties I’ve ever seen wore white with green sashes. It was fresh and summery and just lovely — and since the bride picks out the bridesmaids’ dresses, no one gave a second thought to whether the bridesmaids were trying to Make A Statement.

  2. KTB says:

    I’ll be totally honest–I don’t recall what most of my guests wore! I know a few wore red (and looked completely fabulous–especially our friend who is a recent cancer survivor), but I can’t even think if anyone wore white. Probably not, but it obviously didn’t bother me!

    I think as long as you are just trying to look nice and not trying to Make A Statement (like Melissa B.) said, just about any color would work.

  3. KTB says:

    Ack–messed up on the parentheses placement! Melissa B. said, not Melissa B. was making a statement. Sorry!

  4. Twistie says:

    As far as I’m concerned, if you’re over the age of six and not the bride or a member of the bridal party specifically asked to wear white, then one should never wear unrelieved white to a wedding. Note the ‘unrelieved’ part. As long as it doesn’t look like a wedding gown and there’s another color involved somewhere, it’s not a big deal.

    I remember once on an advice board a girl was asking whether it was okay to wear a white dress to a wedding she’d just been asked to. The dress was the only thing she had in her wardrobe she felt was formal enough for the occasion and she was on an extremely tight (student) budget. Oh, and the wedding was in something like two days right when she was taking mid-terms, so no time for shopping even if she had the money. I told her if she wore it with a colored jacket, sweater, or scarf she would be just fine.

    What I couldn’t believe was the number of people who seemed scandalized by my response and informed her she couldn’t even wear an outfit that included any white at all!

    I’m very conservative on the question of how to dress to attend a wedding. I believe in covering my knees and shoulders, at absolute minimum in deference to the importance of the occasion. I would never dream of wearing a black outfit. I always wear an appropriate and festive hat. On the other hand, not only do I live in a real world where some people can’t afford to go out and buy an entire outfit for one social event, I also understand the reasons behind the etiquette rules in re: black and white at weddings. Since the restriction against black is to avoid looking like you’ve put on mourning for the event, the important thing is not to wear unrelieved black. Since the restriction against wearing white is to avoid looking as though you’re trying to upstage the bride, the important thing is not to wear unrelieved white, especially a completely white/ivory evening gown.

    Oh, and KTB, wearing red to a wedding has never been an etiquette faux pas, so not only did your guests look fabulous, they were dressed absolutely correctly. In fact, I’m going to a wedding in October, and one of the outfits I’m considering for the event is bright red.

  5. Mary says:

    I think white’s okay if the white is obscured with a scarf, jacket, or something else major in another color. If a guest is pregnant, or has other restrictions on wardrobe purchases, a white dress may be the only thing she has that’s otherwise appropriate. As long as the dress and accessories don’t look bridal it’s fine. Looking at our wedding pictures, a guest wore a crisp white dress with brown belt and a scarf and looked great.

    At my husband’s sister’s wedding, her mother in law wore a cream colored gown. It strikes me that there’s something unpleasantly Freudian about a groom’s mother wearing a shade of white or off white, and the pictures are not flattering to the MIL. The white gown just invites comparison to the bride, who is beaming and lovely.

  6. Ally says:

    I was at a wedding where the bride had worn a fairly non-bride-ish off-white gown (it was calf-length and not poofy) and one of the guests wore almost the same dress, which was sort of weird. Based on that experience, I’d say no white. To make it worse, they had the same hair colour.

  7. Melissa B. says:

    “It strikes me that there’s something unpleasantly Freudian about a groom’s mother wearing a shade of white or off white.”

    Mary, I completely agree. I get a similar creepy factor from the bride’s mother wearing white — there can be a very Grimm Brothers “I want to take my daughter’s place” vibe.

  8. Cheri P says:

    I feel that white should not be worn to a wedding. If someone were in a white dress at my wedding, I would have been shocked. Like others said, it looks like they’re making a statement.

    On the subject of black dresses, my MIL wore a black dress to my wedding (and incidentally her dress cost more than my wedding gown from David’s Bridal–she bragged about how much she spent). Then she confronted me merely an hour or so before the wedding, in my prep room, about overhearing someone say I wasn’t happy with her choice to wear BLACK to my wedding. For her to wear black was an insult, and then to come upset me during what was supposed to be a happy exciting time was really disheartening.

  9. Elsa says:

    This is one area where I’m happy to take advice straight from Miss Manners: you don’t wear an all-white dress to a wedding because it smacks of an attempt to mimic the bride or share the couple’s spotlight. Even if your all-white dress is accented with colorful scarf or shoes or shawl, it’s a little iffy. Also straight from Miss Manners: pregnant guests get special dispensation to wear solid black or white accented with colorful accessories.

    That said, I figure it’s part of my role as The Bride to assume good will on the part of friends, family, and loved ones. If someone shows up in a white dress or a black dress or a clown suit or a suit of armor, I might roll my eyes privately, but who knows what happened? Maybe it’s their poshest outfit, and they wanted to dress up to honor our wedding day. Maybe they have a different family custom or cultural tradition than mine. Maybe their intended outfit got splashed with tomato juice and this was what they could hustle up at the last minute.

    (If a white-clad guest is also wearing a sparkly veil and holding a bunch of flowers, I might not be quite so understanding.)

    I’m not wearing white for my upcoming wedding; I’m wearing a very simple blue outfit. I love love love it, but I notice it’s causing some loved ones a little clothing anxiety to the few loved ones who’ve seeen it. Seized in fits of loving consideration, several people have asked cautiously if I mind them wearing blue, too. It’s sweet of them to be so thoughtful, but very silly to think I might mind.

  10. libbyblue says:

    my future mil sent me an email tiptoeing delicately around the question of wearing black to my wedding. my mother has been anxiously trying to find a colored jacket she likes as much as her white one to wear. i’ve told both of them that they can wear anything they’re comfortable with as long as it doesn’t reflect some malicious intent, and neither of them adds a veil. if the pair of them show up decked out in what are apparently no-no colors for the classy north american wedding, i will laugh so very hard. also, family photos would look absolutely fantastic.

  11. Jamie says:

    Where is that white dress from? Would be really cute for a rehearsal dinner.

  12. Yvonne says:

    I went to a wedding where the bride wore red and so did I. I was so embarrased because all the guests looked at me as if I did it on purpose. It is true that she might have mentioned that she will be wearing red and it just passed over my head. Girls trust me, if you don’t want to feel really uncomfortable during the entire evening, wear another color then the bride!