Figuring out what to wear to a fall wedding can be tricky—the strapless gowns and backless dresses that wowed in the summer can leave you shivering in the fall, and the soft pastels that were the perfect color in the spring turn gauche as the leaves change. With a new season comes a new style, and we’ve got your guide for what to wear.
For a classic fall look, choose a rich jewel tone like fuchsia, sapphire, or emerald. You can also take color inspiration from the changing color of the leaves and go with an autumn orange, mustard yellow, or deep maroon. For a more muted look, you can choose a charcoal or caramel gown. You can never go wrong with sophisticated black (that's right—you can wear black to a wedding).
No matter the dress code, experts Pia Arrobio, Lisa Grotts, Anita Patrickson, and Elaine Swann weigh in on what to wear to every type of wedding. Get ready to take notes as you read ahead.
Meet the Expert
- Pia Arrobio is the designer behind LPA, the women's clothing label known for its street-ready style with a hint of edge.
- Lisa Grotts, known as The Golden Rules Gal, is an etiquette expert with over 20 years of industry experience.
- Anita Patrickson is a Los Angeles-based fashion stylist and the Founder & CEO of Amanu Studio.
- Elaine Swann is a wedding etiquette expert and the founder of The Swann School of Protocol.
To a Formal or Black Tie Fall Wedding
No matter the season, formal is formal. When a fall wedding invitation says “black tie,” that means you’re wearing a formal gown or your fanciest cocktail dress. According to Lisa Grotts, an etiquette expert, you absolutely need to dress the part. "A formal fall wedding requires a man to wear a tuxedo and a woman to wear a formal gown. Women have wiggle room because a short, traditional cocktail dress can also work, or even a dressy pantsuit," she explains.
Try to stick with fabrics like silk and tulle for an elegant look. Also, be mindful of the shoes you pair with your formal attire—it makes all the difference. Opt for a sleek stiletto heel or a chic pair of slingback heels.
To a Black Tie Optional Fall Wedding
One way to stand out in the sea of formal gowns and cocktail dresses is to incorporate a dramatic accent like feathers. "Feathers are a fun trend I like to pair with classic Manolo Blahnik heels," advises designer Pia Arrobio. Though they can be a bold embellishment, we love them on the hem of a timeless little black dress—for example, the way they're accenting this Alberta Ferretti sheath. This will definitely let your Manolos get some shine. And you can wear your hair down or in an updo as the focal point is all about your curves and legs.
“When it comes to weddings, I usually like to stay on the side of making more of an effort rather than less. It feels a little more courteous to the couple, and the extra energy you are putting in goes a long way to show how special and important you acknowledge the day to be,” explains fashion stylist Anita Pattrickson. According to Patrickson, short dresses are discouraged, and you should stick with at least a midi-length dress.
Grotts also suggests cocktail attire for a black-tie optional wedding. “Cocktail attire works for women, and a dark suit works for men,” she says. Grotts further explains that black-tie optional is not always clearly defined, but if you read between the lines, it generally means that the host will be wearing a tux, and they hope that their guests will as well, but it is not a requirement.
To a Semiformal Fall Wedding
Semi-formal wedding attire is more relaxed than a black-tie wedding. For women, dresses and gowns don't need to be floor length, and for men, a tux isn't required. Patrickson explains to choose dresses from midi up to mini in design. “I love brands like Joanna Ortiz and Zimmerman for day or destination wedding. And, something more streamlined like Khaite and Alessandra Rich for a city affair,” she notes.
This is also where you can pair flats and more casual heels with your outfit—think chunky heels and heeled sandals.
If you get cold easily (especially in the fall weather), you can even sneak a pair of footless tights or leggings under your maxi dress for extra warmth—only, of course, if there's no slit in your maxi and it's floor-length.
To a Casual Fall Wedding
Casual weddings (think beach and outdoor venues) call for outfits that show off your personality within reason. As for fabrics? Grotts recommends anything chiffon, colorful solids, or floral fall prints with matching handbags and strappy sandals or pumps. “Remember, the hemline should not be too short,” she says.
According to Patrickson, casual wedding attire means gorgeous dresses from brands like Carolina K and Reformation, chic separates, and beautiful strappy flats. “Opt for simple strappy gladiator sandals that can elevate your look. I recommend the Style 10 from Amanu where you can also custom sandals to match your outfit perfectly,” she says.
Accessorizing for a Fall Wedding
Arrobio says dressing for a wedding (whatever the season) is all about blending personal signatures with some fun trends. "I hate feeling like I have to sacrifice personal style at weddings," she said. "Obviously you want to remain classy and respectful, but feel like yourself." Here are some of the ways Arrobio, whose style is based on vintage inspiration, of-the-moment accents, and elegance, suggests making a personal statement with your fall wedding wear.
If you plan to wear accessories, stick with pieces that show off your personality, like statement earrings or a bracelet that holds special meaning. You can even have fun with your shoe selection which is always a safe way to accessorize at any wedding.
Grotts says to take note that less is always more when it comes to accessories—especially if your dress is a print. For some ideas, Grotts suggests a strand of pearls which is excellent for all occasions and weddings because they are simple and timeless. “A good rule of thumb is to wear a chandelier earring or a necklace, but not both together. They will each stand out on their own,” she says.
Go for the drama with statement-making earrings.
Even the simplest ensemble can be uplifted with conversation-starting earrings. Throw on a pair with a simple shift dress and let your accouterments do all the work.
Opt for glitz and glamour with a metallic bag.
Fall and holiday are all about metallics, aren't they? A silver or gold dress might be a bit too much if you're not a daredevil, so Arrobio suggests a bag in a glittering shade.
Toughen up a soft look with a black leather jacket.
We love the balance between soft and tough elements and nothing aids in that mix better than a tried-and-true black leather jacket.
Throw a fur chubby over your shoulders.
With fall comes plummeting temperatures and thus, the need to stay warm. But what do you do when you want your look to get some shine without freezing as a result? That's where a cute, cropped jacket comes into play. It's just the thing to keep the autumnal chill at bay while letting your ensemble play center stage.
Cover your shoulders with a capelet.
Chic and delicate, you'll feel beautiful in a beaded or lacy capelet. Capelets pair nicely with floor-length gowns and add a touch of vintage glamour to any ensemble. Unlike a full-on cape, a cropped and close-fitting capelet can be worn for the duration of the ceremony and reception.
How Not to Dress For a Fall Wedding
Being mindful of the type of venue and the dress code is vital, but making sure that your outfit is season-appropriate is just as important. Stay away from dresses that have no coverage for late fall weddings. If a wedding is outside and you're wearing a thin dress, you will be uncomfortable and most likely cold the entire time.
You should also choose appropriate clothing and not wear anything too revealing, even if it’s an adult-only wedding. “A wedding isn’t a chance to show off your body. Instead, “remember that a wedding is a sacred ceremony and reflect that in your outfit selection,” Swann previously told Brides.
One last reminder before you start adding selections to your cart: “take into account the location and time of day the wedding is at. And, never wear white to upstage the bride!” Patrickson emphasizes.