How to dress for a wedding: the rules if you're a guest
Wedding season is upon us, and judging by your comments, tweets and emails, plenty of you are struggling to know what to wear to the many nuptials taking place in the coming months. To help you find the perfect wedding guest outfit, we've pulled together a FAQ to ensure you don't upset the bride (or the Vicar). If you're off to a wedding this year and you've yet to sort out your outfit, make sure you read this first!
Do I have to wear a dress?
Absolutely not, but it's quite often the easiest choice (as you just need the one item plus shoes and a bag) and given that many of us don't get much of an opportunity to wear smart dresses and heels, it's a nice treat. But there are no rules that say 'ladies must wear dresses' if you hate them. A skirt or a smart pair of trousers with a blouse or silk top, or a trouser suit, are just as appropriate. The only things that are a real no-no at most weddings are denim and sportswear - you need to make a bit of an effort!
Is it ok to wear black to a wedding?
It really depends on the type of wedding and how high maintenance the bride is. If it's a church wedding, don't risk it. If it's a modern, informal wedding you can probably get away with it. Always err on the side of caution, as it's better to be safe than sorry. If you only feel comfortable in dark colours, try navy, grey or chocolate brown to be on the safe side. Most things with black in (ie. a floral print with a black background, or a colourblock dress with a black panel) will be absolutely fine.
Do I need to wear a hat / fascinator?
Not unless it's specified on the invitation. Traditions like hats are usually more appropriate at more formal church weddings and can look a bit silly at more relaxed affairs. If in doubt, ask the bride. I've been to low-key weddings where the bride fully encouraged headwear, but on the flipside, if the invitation says no hats / no fascinators, don't break the rules. You are not the Queen.
How do I know how 'smart' to go?
Take your cue from the men's dress code, which is more likely to be stated on the invitation. If men are expected to wear morning dress, then women are likely to be a bit more formal too, with hats or fascinators and more modest hemlines. This is rare unless you run in specific social circles, though. If there's no dress code on the invitation, you can probably just wear a nice dress or skirt and top (or smart trousers if you prefer) with no need for all the bells and whistles unless you want to go all out.
How short a hemline is acceptable?
If you're a daytime guest at a church wedding, I suggest sticking to 'Ascot rules' to be safe. Keep dresses just above the knee or longer, and wear a dress with straps (or put a jacket / cardi / wrap over your shoulders the top for modesty in church - the only people going fully strapless in church should be the bride or her bridesmaids). If it's not a church wedding the rules relax a little but it usually depends on the bride - use her personal style as your guide and remember your role is to look smart and respectable, and to let her stand out. Evening guests can be more casual still, but it's still a party, so why not dress up a bit!
Can I go bare legged?
Yes. It's 2013! Unless you are going to a very traditional or strict religious ceremony with different rules, you can probably ditch the American Tan. I have heard stories of brides requesting that every female attendee wears flesh toned tights, but I think they're few and far between. You might need tights for warmth, especially at winter weddings, but unless the bride specifically asks, go bare legged if you want.
Can I wear white?
No. It's just not worth the risk. It's usually fine to mix white with other colours though (eg. a white cardigan over your dress, or a printed dress with a white background).
How do I avoid clashing with the wedding party or accidentally wearing the same colour as the bridesmaids?
This is bound to happen to someone, but if it's a reasonably large wedding, nobody will care as there'll be a rainbow of different colours on display. If a bride is concerned about keeping her bridesmaids colour exclusive, she will probably put a note with the invitation or send an email asking people not to wear a specific colour. You can also take the invitation design as a hint - it's likely to match the colour scheme.
Are there any colours I should avoid?
Aside from white and black, beware of red - it's usually fine if you team it with another colour, but some people think it's inappropriate on its own as it's so striking and can divert attention away from the bride (oddly, hot pink doesn't have this effect). Red should definitely be avoided if you and the groom have a romantic history (to avoid 'scarlet woman' jokes). Some real traditionalists also think green is bad luck.
If there's a theme, do I have to follow it?
If it's specifically requested by the bride and groom, yes. If it's optional or 'suggested', no, but try to blend in (so if the theme is elegant Regency romance, don't rock up in a bright 1950s style polka dot dress - you'll be all anyone looks at in the photos). If you absolutely hate fancy dress and can't bear the thought of whatever theme you're being asked to follow, the safest option may be to turn down the invitation to avoid offending anyone - but this depend on how close a friend the bride or groom (or both) is - sometimes you have to take one for the team, suck it up and be part of a day that is not about you.
I'm going to the wedding of a couple whose religion and / or cultural traditions I'm not really familiar with. How do I make sure I'm appropriately dressed?
There's really only one thing to do - ask! These people have invited you to their wedding because they want you to join their celebration - they'll be more than happy to fill you in on what to expect. It's much better to ask questions than to arrive and feel uncomfortable (or be unable to experience the whole ceremony) because you've made a faux-pas of some sort. There are often rules as to what you can wear in places of worship - especially if you're female - so err on the side of caution as ever. Don't forget to ask about appropriate colours - they often have symbolic meanings, or represent certain areas or families in some cultures.
How much cleavage is appropriate at a wedding?
This depends on three things: a) the venue b) how big your boobs are and c) how you feel about flashing your cleavage. The general rule at weddings is that if you're unsure, always go for the more modest option, especially in church. If you're bigger up top, the chances of not showing a bit of cleavage are pretty slim unless you go for a very high neck which probably won't suit you very much, so just use your common sense. The truth is the bride and groom are going to be so wrapped up in their big day they won't have time to consider your cleavage. So if you like a v-neck, go for it! Just leave the plunged-to-the-waist backless mini dress at home.
How do I avoid looking frumpy?
The key is often in your choice of accessories and your hair and makeup. Some people like the perfectly matched, Kate Middleton circa 2010 look for weddings. It's elegant, appropriate and timeless. But if you're trying to look a bit younger and more modern, it's better to clash a bit and have some fun. Try a pair of coloured shoes instead of the dreaded beige courts. Add a big necklace or a stack of bangles. Keep your hair simple - no hot rollers or hairspray ringlets, no half-up, half-down styles (you're not a bridesmaid). And throw on an unexpected lipstick colour or a coloured eyeliner into the mix.
How on earth do I pick the right shoes?
A lot of this depends on your pain threshold, as high heels really are the obvious option for a wedding. Stock up on blister plasters and party feet, wear them in before the big day and grit your teeth if you can.
Mid heels are the obvious compromise, but they can look a bit old-fashioned. Look for retro details that give them a vintage feel instead of a frumpy one. ASOS has a great t-bar style, Office is always good for mid heels, and for super comfy options, try Clarks - you may be surprised at a few of their more modern styles and many have built-in cushioning.
I seem to be at a wedding every other weekend - it's getting expensive buying new outfits, how can I look great but save cash?
Magazines would tell you to buy one 'statement' dress and wear it half a dozen times, just changing the odd accessory, but we all know that's easier said than done, especially if you're seeing the same group of friends at every wedding. If you feel like you need multiple frocks, there are few options. The first is to hunt down great dresses from cheap retailers. Primark might be a bit too obvious, but try George, Matalan, F+F, boohoo, Prodigy Red and of course, ebay (try searching for hardly-worn bargains from brands like Project D, Coast, Milly, Karen Millen, Ted Baker, Alice + Olivia, Diane Von Furstenberg and Reiss).
Alternatively, if you prefer something a bit more high end, you could try a dress hire service like Girl Meets Dress or Wish Want Wear. It's quite expensive to hire a dress, but if you love your labels it might be worth it. Plus, dry cleaning is included!
Finally, remember that your friends are probably in the same situation. If you have friends or family who wear a similar dress size, swap with them, or borrow their rarely-worn frocks. This is particularly useful if you are not a dressy person, but you have a mate with a wardrobe stuffed full of dresses - she'll probably love the idea of lending you something!
How do I stay warm and dry? I never know what to wear as outerwear
You'd be surprised how much wear you will get out of a formal coat or jacket, and if you have the money it's worth treating yourself to one that you can stash away for occasions like this (even if you're usually a parka / leather jacket kind of girl). Ideally, you need something that feels like part of the outfit, not something you've just grabbed as you left the house. Zara is a really great place to look for a smart, lightweight coat and Warehouse has a lovely cream coat with a removable collar. Charity shops are worth checking out for vintage finds too - look for luxury fabrics like brocade, velvet and lace. To make it work seamlessly with your outfit, match your shoes to your coat. Job done!
As for keeping dry, there is only one option - a clear dome umbrella!
Got more wedding-related fashion questions? Let us know!