Figuring out what to wear to a wedding can be fraught with a special kind of anxiety. Not only does it involve deciphering the event dress code (case in point: does anyone actually know what white tie is?) in order to choose an outfit that’s stylish and appropriate, it also means adhering to a few sartorial do’s and don’ts. But before you skip over to Google to search ‘can you wear black to a wedding?’ (yes!) or ‘should wedding guests wear white?’ (no), allow us to help. We’ve pulled together a list of tips and tricks to make getting dressed for any kind of wedding a cinch. Regard it as a cheat sheet for always getting your outfit right.
Keep reading for everything you should consider when choosing a (well-dressed) wedding guest outfit.
Tip #1: Consult the dress code
Your first clue for getting dressed will be in the dress code. Here are some of the most common:
White tie: Men will be in a tux or tails, so dress appropriately. Floor length is really the only way to go here.
Black tie: Floor-length dresses are the way to go, but other interpretations of ‘formal’ are usually welcome.
Formal: Slightly more flexible but still quite reserved. Cocktail length is OK, as is trousers and a tux jacket.
Cocktail: Traditionally refers to knee-length dresses, but shorter party dresses or jumpsuits are welcome.
Smart casual: Usually reserved for garden or beach weddings – floaty dresses, skirts and flats are a big yes.
If the couple hasn’t included a dress code on the invitation, you can either ask for more direction or freestyle based on the location. If unsure, it’s generally best to err on the more formal side of things. A longer-length dress or skirt paired with a smaller heel and simple jewellery will look appropriate in 99 out of 100 settings.
Tip #2: Consider the location
Your next clue for what to wear can be found in the venue. Attending a wedding on the beach will call for a different outfit than you’d wear to a ballroom. (For starters, you’d be best off wearing flats or a chunky heel so as to not sink in the sand.) Also, consider that weddings held in religious spaces may have specific dress code rules intended to convey respect to the institution, e.g. covering your shoulders.
Tip 3: Check with the BOM
Checking the forecast before you get dressed can help you both dress appropriately and be comfortable. (Shivering in your cocktail dress or ruining a pair of shoes thanks to a surprise downpour is not a good time.) If you need to layer your outfit with a coat or blazer, ensure what you’re wearing is compatible. An emergency knit thrown into your bag (or kept in the car) can be a lifesaver if the weather turns unexpectedly.
Tip 4: Follow the do’s and don’ts
While different couples will have varying takes on what’s appropriate for their wedding, there are a few rules you should always follow. The biggest – don’t wear white unless the couple explicitly requests it. It’s too risky. A pattern with white in the mix can be OK, but only if you couldn’t possibly be confused for the bride, even at 100 metres away. That said, the old-fashioned idea that black is only for funerals no longer holds sway.
Tip 5: Draw from wardrobe essentials
Unless you’re in a period of life in which you’re attending a lot of nuptials, it’s unlikely that you’ll have a wardrobe of wedding guest dresses to draw from. If you’re going to splash out, invest in classic dress silhouettes you can wear more than once, styled with different accessories. If you can dress them down for every day, so much the better. PS. tailored suiting separates and silk pants are great alternatives to a dress.
Tip 6: Consider your accessories
Accessories are just as important as the base of your outfit – they can dress it up or down. A statement pair of earrings or another piece of standout jewellery will level up even the most basic of ensembles, so it’s a good idea to take something along in case you feel underdressed. A smaller clutch or evening bag is usually appropriate, regardless of where the wedding is held. (Rylan’s mini satchel in cognac brown is a timeless pick.) Ensure your shoes are in line with the dress code, and comfortable enough for you to dance in alongside the happy couple. (We love A.Emery’s sandals paired with a maxi dress for smart casual affairs.)
Shop our edit of minimalist-approved wedding guest outfits here.
Read next: Outfits You Can Recreate