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After going to more than a few catering halls and restaurants for weddings, being invited to an outdoor celebration can be refreshing. Feeling a cool breeze on your skin as you eat dinner, and dancing under the stars and twinkling lights is one of the loveliest ways to spend an evening, especially when surrounded by family and friends. As wonderful as they are, though, outdoor nuptials can also come with some dress code confusion.
Trying to figure out the appropriate attire for an outdoor wedding can leave you second-guessing yourself. Does a beach wedding automatically mean you should wear something more casual? Is an evening wedding in a beautiful spot still considered formal? What should you bring to stay warm that won't clash with your outfit? Outdoor weddings have a different vibe than ones held indoors, and if you find yourself asking the above questions then you're not alone.
According to Grace Thomas, founder and lead stylist of Builtgracefully, there are a few things to keep in mind when trying to find an outfit for an al fresco affair. "The venue will give you an idea of how formal the event may be," explains Thomas. "The location really does set the tone for the attire. Generally, a wedding on the beach would be more casual than a wedding set in a vineyard or at an outdoor resort."
Meet the Expert
Grace Thomas is the founder and lead stylist of Builtgracefully, a personal wardrobe styling company based in Portland, Oregon. She offers event styling to clients for things such as engagement parties and weddings.
Since you'll be outside, you also have to think about the elements, like the locale and the temperature. "Will you be walking on sand or grass? A flat shoe or block heel will be your best option," Thomas says. She also notes that since you'll be exposed to the weather, it's important to be prepared. "For a warmer day, you'll want to wear materials that are breathable like linen or cotton. If you're in a chiller climate, adding a suit jacket for men or a shawl for women will help you stay warm throughout the night."
Below, you'll find a guide on exactly what to wear to an outdoor wedding based on the season and dress code.
Outdoor Attire Based on Dress Code
Regardless of the location, the most important thing to keep in mind is the dress code. For most weddings, the couple will most likely put it on the invitation to make things perfectly clear. However, if a dress code isn't noted anywhere, it's perfectly fine to text the bride or groom for clarification. And if you're not comfortable doing that, asking one of their close family members or friends is fine too. Remember, it's better to ask than to show up in the wrong attire.
While outdoor weddings have a reputation for being more low-key, that isn't always the case. White-tie attire is the most formal you can go, and any wedding that specifies this dress code has little room for interpretation when it comes to what you should wear.
"Women should be dressed in floor-length evening gowns, beautiful jewelry, and, optionally, a pair of satin gloves," Thomas says. She recommends wearing heels, but of course, you should always do what's most comfortable as well. Men should absolutely wear a tuxedo with a black or white jacket with tails, "formal trousers, a crisp white shirt, white vest, and a bowtie," notes the stylist, adding that they should also wear appropriate cufflinks and patent leather shoes.
While not quite as elevated as white-tie, a black-tie event is still very formal. Again, Thomas recommends floor-length gowns, or a gown made of a luxe material such as lace, silk, chiffon, or velvet. "Men should wear a tuxedo to this event and can ditch the coattails," she says. "But a bowtie is a must for this dress code."
Formal or Black-Tie Optional
For a formal outdoor wedding, you still want to look quite dressed up. "Men get a little more flexibility in this dress code," Thomas says. "While you can still choose to wear a tuxedo, a suit with a black tie versus a bowtie would be acceptable." For women, it's pretty similar to black-tie attire. Floor-length gowns are encouraged, but a dressy tea-length dress is also an option. And if you don't want to wear a dress, a pantsuit is appropriate.
This is the most popular attire for weddings, even outdoor ones, so you'll likely run into this dress code a few times. "Women should still opt for a style that is on the dressier side, but a wider range of options are available," Thomas says. "Think midi dresses, tea-length, or knee-length." Men can wear a suit and tie in a range of fabrics and styles. Still, Thomas notes, while this is a more versatile dress code, the newlyweds are still going to expect you to look on the fancier side.
A bit formal but on the more casual side, semi-formal is another popular dress code choice. "Think of styles that are more daytime rather than evening attire," Thomas suggests. "Dresses in a knee or midi length are great options. You'll want to avoid a floor-length dress unless wearing a more casual maxi dress." A jumpsuit is also a great alternative to a dress, as is a pantsuit. Men can get away with trousers with a dress shirt—and while suit jackets aren't required, ties are highly suggested.
You'll often find that a casual dress code accompanies an outdoor wedding, and while it allows guests to truly show off their personal style, don't confuse it for the opportunity to wear jeans. You're still at a celebratory event, and there are still fashion etiquette expectations to adhere to.
"Women will want to choose a laid-back look such as a sundress or a light silk slip dress," Thomas advises. "Men aren't required to wear a suit, but they should still look put together in something such as chino pants and button-up shirts." The best part is that for casual nuptials, you can have more fun playing with color and patterns.
A festive dress code usually ties into a specific look or event, like a wedding that takes place on New Year's Eve. "Within this dress code, you'll want to think 'party' when dressing," Thomas says. "Women and men should opt for pieces that really show off their personality. Materials such as sequins and feathers would be acceptable for this dress code." In other words, festive means fun. Don't be afraid to try something bold or go for a more unique option.
The specific destination is important in choosing an outfit for a tropical wedding. "Tropical destinations tend to be on the warmer side, so you'll want to keep that in mind when picking materials," Thomas says. "Linen separates will be the star of the show for men. Short-sleeve button-downs in a gauze or linen fabric are deemed acceptable as well." For women, Thomas recommends cotton and linen dresses in lighter colors or patterns. Instead of stilettos, a strappy sandal or wedge would also be a great shoe choice.
Outdoor Attire Based On Season
Since you'll be spending the night (or day) outside, it's fun to dress in an outfit that complements the weather around you. Keeping the season of the wedding in mind can play a big role in picking the right look.
When choosing an outfit for a fall outdoor wedding, use the hues of the season as inspiration. "A palette of gold, orange, rust, or sapphire are beautiful colors to wear during this season," notes Thomas. "If you're attending a wedding in early fall, a dusty blue is another great color to choose from." Weather is also an important factor to keep in mind. Autumn typically isn't too cold, but it can still get quite chilly in the evening, so adding an element of layering to your outfit is key. "Look for a dress with sleeves, a lightweight suit, or a pashmina or blazer to wear over your dress," Thomas says.
For men, Thomas recommends taking advantage of the warmer dark tones of the season, like navy, browns, and greys for their suits. "Since it tends to be milder in the fall, you likely won't need a heavy coat, so you can make a statement with your suit jacket," she says. "Look for fabric like cotton or wool-linen blends, which will provide a little warmth." But don't go overboard, you don't want to be sweating too much on the dance floor.
You almost definitely won't be attending an outdoor wedding during the middle of a snowstorm, but winter weddings can still be on the cooler side, even in places with warmer climates. Layering is key, as is picking warm materials, so you should choose wool or velvet for the extra weight and warmth. Deeper colors are also going to look more on-trend, and black and jewel tones will be more appropriate than pastel or floral prints. As for layering, always think of a warm piece as part of your look rather than an add-on. "Think about the outfit in pieces: a jacket will be a key item to your outfit, so something a bit more formal will be best, such as a long wool or peacoat," Thomas says. Matching your jacket to your dress is not a bad idea as well.
Men should also look for warmer fabrics, like a wool-blend suit. "Tweed is a great fabric for a winter season wedding as it'll look the part and keep you warm," Thomas suggests. "If you're in a really cold climate, make sure to accessorize with a scarf and gloves, which is where you can add a little print or color to make your outfit pop."
In the spring, you'll want to play with lighter, brighter colors, and we recommend that you do! "Your color palette expands this season into florals and brighter and bolder colors," Thomas says. "Think romantic pinks and reds. Light blue is another beautiful color to incorporate into your dress this season. Pastels will always be a great choice for any spring wedding." And that goes for men and women. Thomas suggests men lighten up their suits with something like a light blue option instead of the standard black.
As for materials, she recommends a suit in a linen-cotton blend, since it's more breathable. "While the weather will be warming up, early spring may still call for a lightweight layer like a cashmere shawl," she notes. Women can still wear dresses with long sleeves in the spring, as long as the fabric is lighter.
Dress as if you're expecting to be hot because you most likely will be. "This is the season for bright and light," Thomas says. She recommends that women opt for fabrics like linen, chiffon, or lace, which are the most breathable. "Without having to think about layering this season, your dress will be the star of the show," she notes. This is the time of year to wear strapless or sleeveless, especially in a warm climate outside.
For both men and women, color is in. "Opt for bright colors such as blues, pinks, and yellows, or patterns that incorporate these colors," Thomas says. "For men, linen is a fantastic option when wearing a suit. Colors like light blue and beiges are great options for jackets, pants, and suits this season."
Outdoor Attire Etiquette
If attending an outdoor wedding, you'll want to keep the below fashion etiquette rules in mind in order to appropriately dress for the occasion.
- Avoid bringing jackets that don't match the formality of the event. Thomas recommends paying attention to the dress code when picking a layering piece. For example, if the dress code is formal, bring a blazer or luxe shawl. Just because it's a layering piece doesn't mean it can be too casual.
- Don't wear white. It might be an outdoor wedding, but it's still a wedding. The biggest faux pas is wearing white when you're not the bride.
- Wear the right materials. Pick the appropriate materials and fabrics for the season, like breathable options such as cotton or linen for spring and summer, and heavier options like cashmere and velvet for fall and winter.
Are outdoor weddings always more casual than indoor weddings?
Not necessarily. Some outdoor weddings can be formal, black-tie, and white-tie, and that means dressing appropriately regardless of the fact that you're outside. The dress code is the most important thing to keep in mind.
What should you wear to an outdoor wedding as a guest?
You should always adhere to the dress code, but for an outdoor wedding, you may have to add a layering piece to your ensemble. Winter and fall celebrations call for formal jackets, a nice scarf, or a sleek pair of gloves. For a spring wedding, a pashmina, blazer, or shawl will work (skip the cardigan). And for summer nuptials, even if it's warm, you might still want to bring a lightweight shawl just in case there's an evening chill.