What Not to Wear to a Wedding

Girls shopping for dresses

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No matter what type of wedding you attend, there is always a set of etiquette and dress code rules that accompany it. No matter if you are attending a black-tie, semi-formal, or casual wedding, these rules are in place to guide you in your outfit selections, and most importantly, to keep the bride happy and satisfied on her big day.

Meet the Expert

Lisa Grotts known as The Golden Rules Gal is an etiquette expert with over 20 years of industry experience.

Lindsey Love is the Senior Brand Stylist at BHLDN.

Elaine Swann is a wedding etiquette expert and the founder of The Swann School of Protocol.

According to etiquette expert Lisa Grotts, there's not much a bride can do about what guests wear to a wedding other than state the dress code on the invitation. “If the guests and bride are close friends, they will respect the dress code. However, I have been to more than one wedding where guests were dressed in outrageous outfits or mimicked the bride,” she says. Brides will (and should) provide the guests with clear expectations on their dress code. The invitation will state the venue and how formal the dress code is.

What should you not wear to a wedding? “Rather than saying what not to wear, I like to remember what the day is about. It’s about celebrating the couple and their love, so I would avoid wearing anything that could distract from their special day,” Love says.

Ahead, see wedding guest attire etiquette to help guide you in what you should avoid wearing to a wedding.

What Not to Wear to a Wedding: White

White should already be “off-limits” in your mind when you see a wedding invitation. Under no circumstances should you wear white to a wedding. It’s poor etiquette. Brides typically wear white unless you’re attending a cultural wedding with specific ceremonies and ceremonial dressing. There are many options other than white, so keep your options open. Even dresses that are white with a print overlaid get tricky too. If most of the pattern does not wash the white-out, then don’t wear it.

Also, any white variations, including cream, eggshell white, champagne, etc., are off-limits. “Although these shades have pink undertones that are technically white when the photographer takes a picture, it will read it as white, and the couple will have a record of it in their wedding photos,” Elaine Swann, etiquette expert, tells Brides.

What Not to Wear to a Wedding: Don’t Match The Bridal Party

As a guest, you don’t want to blend in with the wedding party (or even mimic it). Try to get intel ahead of time about what shades and colors the bridal party and the groomsmen will be wearing. From there, select an outfit that blends nicely with the tones or something completely opposite but not too loud. 

Also, “look at the invitation because it’s the first source of information for what colors you should or shouldn't wear to a wedding,” Swann says. “The invitation will contain the color scheme for the wedding,” she adds. Throughout the invitation, there will be a color scheme, and these shades are typically the tones used in the wedding decor and bridal party. So, if you notice a repetitive royal blue or fern green, it’s safe to say those are what the wedding party will wear. So choose colors that aren’t too close to them.

And, if you’re wondering about a classic black dress, it’s a safe and acceptable choice. Although black might indicate sadness, Swann notes that it’s the appropriate attire for a formal black-tie wedding and cocktail attire.

What Not to Wear to a Wedding: Attire That Is Too Revealing

It’s one thing to select an outfit that makes you feel confident, empowered, and adds a touch of sexiness. However, showing up in something too exposed could offend other guests (and children) attending the wedding. Keep your selections mostly modest with little hints and playfulness of sexiness through slits, mesh, and open back dresses. “You’ll want to consider the wedding’s dress code for guidance on how formal or casual your selection should be. From there, choose something that will make you look and feel your best,” Love, senior stylist at BHLDN, notes. 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 says.

What Not to Wear to a Wedding: Anything Too Casual

We get it, especially after spending most of the past year at home. No one wants to quit their coziest clothing like yoga pants, slippers, and jeans. But these have no place at a wedding. Even if a wedding is casual and relaxed, still dress with respect. No flip, flops, shorts, or jeans should be on your list of options to wear. Instead, ladies find a casual dress, and men wear a nice pair of this with a relaxed shirt. 

Men who are attending the wedding: Keep those shirttails tucked in, and wear a belt regardless of how casual the wedding is.

When In Doubt, Just Ask!

After you’ve deciphered the invitation and investigated the wedding website, stalked the venue on their website and all social media channels, and you still don’t know what to wear or to steer clear of, ask. “You can talk to the bride about what she would like people to wear, or connect with one of the attendees to help—that’s what they’re there,” Swann says.

There is that rare occasion where the language on both the invitation and wedding website is vague and unclear with the dress code. When this happens, it leaves you guessing on what to wear. This is why the type of wedding: Formal, semi-formal, or casual, should be discussed. Just check-in to be safe!

Wedding Guest Ideas For Each Wedding Dress Code

Grotts outlines ideas for each wedding dress-code below. When all else fails, take inspiration for this list.

  • Beach Wedding: Choose sundress. For men, Bermuda shorts and linen shirt is the best option.
  • Casual Wedding: Flowy dresses are best with a nice pair of low heels or sandals weather permitting. For the men, khakis and a sports jacket.
  • Semi-Formal Wedding: a maxi dress is a nice and comfortable option. Men opt for a dark suit.
  • Formal Wedding: A long dress that makes a statement and for the gentlemen, a tuxedo without exception.

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