What Should the Stepparents of the Bride or Groom Wear to a Wedding?

A stylist shares helpful tips on what to wear and what to avoid.

bride and mother of the bride

Tom Merton / Getty Images

In general, parents of the wed-to-be are expected to dress to impress. Think formal gowns, suits, and a look that fits the theme and dress code of the wedding exactly. But while there are plenty of rule books that dictate what mom and dad should wear, many stepparents often wonder if they're required to follow the same guidelines (especially if the family situation is a little bit complicated).

While there are no hard and fast rules stepparents have to follow when attending a stepchild's wedding (like adhering to a specific color or dress silhouette), there are definitely some things to keep in mind like the dress code, season, and location of the event. Of course, as a stepparent, your ensemble might ultimately depend on family dynamics—so it's always best to consult the couple beforehand—but for those who'd like to try and navigate this experience on their own, we have a few answers for you. Ahead, we spoke to a stylist to help shed light on exactly what stepparents should wear to any type of wedding. Read on to learn more.

Meet the Expert

Grace Thomas is a Portland-based personal stylist and owner of BuiltGracefully.com.

How to Decide What to Wear as a Stepparent

There are a few things to keep in mind when initially thinking about what to wear to a wedding: namely, the dress code, the venue, the theme, the season, and how much you'll be participating. These factors will provide the basic information you need in order to put together an outfit for the big day.

To start, the dress code is one of the most essential things to think about, stepparent or not. Following the dress code shows a sense of respect towards the couple and ensures you'll fit in no matter your role. Once you know the dress code, it's important to consider the venue and season, as this will help you choose an outfit that holistically makes sense. According to Portland-based personal stylist Grace Thomas, the venue is an important consideration as relaxed settings, like beach locales, require lighter-hued outfits made with light and summery fabrics, while "formal venues will call for gowns and tuxedos."

Lastly, try to figure out how much you'll be taking part in the wedding. "Find out if you will be included in family photos," Thomas recommends. "Are you considered part of the wedding party? This will indicate that you are playing a pretty big part in the event, and you should make sure your outfit aligns with the rest of the bridal party." If you're playing a smaller role, though, be sure to talk to the couple to get their dress code expectations clearly outlined.

Outfit Recommendations for Stepmothers

As already mentioned, what you wear will ultimately come down to the dress code, so be sure to always keep that in mind. "It's better to be overdressed than underdressed, so if you're unsure on the range of a dress code, go with the more elevated options," Thomas says.

For stepmothers in the wedding party, you can likely look through some classic mother-of-the-bride options to find an ensemble that works best for you. However, if you don't have a large role in your stepchild's big day, you may be able to get away with a less formal look. No matter your position in the wedding, though, it's always a good idea to ask the couple the below questions before you begin shopping.

  • What color is the bridal party wearing? Don't make the mistake of wearing the same color as the bridesmaids. Plus, if you know you'll be in photos, confirming this hue will allow you to find a look that complements their day-of attire.
  • What color and style dress will the mother of the bride and groom wear? The goal should be to make sure no one is feeling upstaged. Find out what the mother of the bride and groom are wearing, and make sure your dress isn't more formal or the same color. There's no need to start family drama over avoidable wardrobe issues.

For further guidance on what to wear, here are a few basic attire ideas to consider when searching for your outfit.

  • A formal gown: If you're playing a larger role in the wedding party, or the wedding has a black tie or black tie optional dress code, be sure to go with a long, formal gown.
  • A formal jumpsuit or pantsuit: Not into dresses? An elegant jumpsuit or pantsuit can look just as sophisticated.
  • A midi dress: If the wedding is less formal or you aren't part of the wedding party, think about sporting a more subtle look. For instance, a nice midi dress is a great option since it allows you to dress up without being over the top.
  • A sheath dress with a coordinating jacket: This is a more classic mother-of-the-bride look that is put together and traditional, without feeling too dramatic.

Outfit Recommendations for Stepfathers

Stepfathers should also follow the same dress code guidelines that are outlined for stepmothers. Specifically, you don't want to show up in a tuxedo if no one else is wearing anything that formal, but you also don't want to be in a suit if everyone is in a jacket and tails. So, when looking for an outfit, try and find out what the father of the bride or the groom will wear before you officially decide on your attire. You can even ask about the groomsmen and coordinate (but not match) your look based on their outfits.

Simply put, you basically have two options: a tuxedo or a suit. If the dress code is very formal and/or you have a large role in the wedding party, a tuxedo is probably your best bet. If the wedding is more casual and/or you're more of a wedding guest, then wearing a nice suit is perfectly fine. "Obsess over the small details," Thomas adds. "Since attire for men is more simple, the small details like your tie, accessories, and even the quality of your suit will all be more noticeable. Take extra time to iron your suit, pants, and shirt before attending a wedding."

Outfits Stepparents Should Avoid

Again, there are no hard and fast rules on what to wear, but it is considered respectful to avoid certain looks. And regardless of your relationship with your stepchild, here are a few outfits you shouldn't wear when attending a wedding.

  • Something white: "Unless specified, do not wear white," Thomas warns. "Avoid prints that are white based, ivory colors, and champagne tones. If the couple has indicated that the dress code is white, or you have been asked specifically to dress in a shade of white, that will be the only exception to this rule."
  • A very bold outfit: It's obviously fine to try and look your best, but that said, you don't want to upstage the wed-to-be or other family members. "Avoid anything that is too loud, shows too much skin, or anything that's going to take attention off of the bride," Thomas says.
  • An outfit that is considerably more formal than the mother or father of the bride and/or groom: Depending on your relationship with the couple and the family dynamics, it may or may not be okay to wear something as formal as the mother and father of the bride and groom. "If you are a stepparent that is considered a parent in the family, then you'll want to ensure you are dressed as all other parents have been asked to be dressed," Thomas says. "Have a more strained relationship? In that case, I would abide by the dress code set out for all other attendees of the wedding."

Remember: when in doubt, it's perfectly acceptable to consult the bride or groom on what you should wear. "A stepparent should follow all of the guidelines and rules that have been put in place for the family and bridal party," adds Thomas. This can alleviate stress and help you avoid any misunderstandings.

Related Stories