Wedding guest dress codes aren’t always easy to parse out. (What exactly does “rodeo chic” or “upscale Coachella cool” even mean, anyway?) Still, no matter the level of formality of the event, there is one golden rule: your attire should never cause you to upstage the marrying couple. Event planner Denise Lillie O’Neal agrees unequivocally: “Proper wedding guest etiquette has always been to avoid outshining or disrespecting a couple on their special day.”
For a long time, this placed the color red right at the top of the “do not wear” list, but the etiquette surrounding this idea has evolved in recent years. “Red is a very vibrant color, and can be celebratory, sexy, and fun,” says bridal fashion stylist Gabrielle Hurwitz. “We also tend to associate the color red with love, so I can understand why it’s tempting to wear it to a celebration of love.”
Meet the Expert
• Denise Lillie O’Neal is the founder of Denise Lillie Engagements. Based in Sunnyvale, California, she specializes in fusion and cultural weddings and is a Brides Best Wedding Planner.
• Based in L.A. and N.Y.C, Gabrielle Hurwitz is the founder of Gabrielle Hurwitz Bridal Styling. She helps brides and grooms curate their wedding wardrobe, and also styles for commercial and editorial clients.
So: In this modern day and age, can you wear red to a wedding? Read on for the definitive answer to when the color is appropriate for wedding guest attire, and, perhaps more importantly, when you should steer clear.
Why was red traditionally inappropriate for wedding guest attire?
“Tradition dictates guests avoid wearing red out of fear that it could take attention away from the happy couple,” explains Hurwitz. “Visually, it’s quite bold. In a photo, your eye is immediately drawn to the color, especially if it’s next to neutrals like white, black, gray, or beige.”
While you might see rumors floating around the web that wearing red to a wedding used to mean you had a fling with the groom, ignore those. There are no hidden meanings to any colors of wedding guest attire.
Is red still considered inappropriate for weddings?
As weddings become more relaxed and less rooted in one-size-fits-all traditions, so do notions surrounding guest behavior. “As couples get more creative with their wedding designs, they’re also getting more creative with their dress codes,” adds Hurwitz. This expansion of our understanding of what a wedding can look like has likewise expanded our choices in wedding guest attire. As a result, it is largely no longer considered a faux pas to wear red to most Western and secular weddings.
When can I wear red to a wedding?
“If the wedding or the couple is less traditional, or the dress code is a little more creative, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wearing red as a wedding guest,” says Hurwitz. Meaning: if the invitation includes a unique dress code, or it’s a Western wedding that is not being held in a conservative religious institution, you should feel free to wear red to the event.
When can’t I wear red to a wedding?
In certain cultures, notably South Asian and East Asian cultures, red is considered lucky and auspicious—and thus has been traditionally incorporated into wedding day attire the same way white dominates wedding attire in Western cultures. If you are attending an Indian, Chinese, or South Asian Muslim Wedding, or any other wedding where the color may have significant cultural meaning, “avoid wearing red because it could be part of the couples’ attire,” says O’Neal. At the same time, O’Neal notes, you may also want to avoid shades of white, as some non-Western cultures associate the hue with death and periods of mourning.
When it comes to Western weddings, if you really want to err on the side of caution—or, as Hurwitz puts it, “avoid stares from the older guests”—it may be best to keep away from wearing red in churches, country clubs, and other more traditional settings.
How can I wear red and still be respectful?
“If you’re planning on wearing red to a wedding but want to be more subtle about it, consider toning down your accessories and beauty look,” suggests Hurwitz. “Avoid statement pieces that will draw even more attention to your outfit and keep your makeup more natural than over-the-top glam.”
What shades of red are best for a cold-weather wedding?
“For a fall or winter wedding, look for moodier shades of red like cranberry, crimson, ruby, or wine,” says Hurwitz. Rich, heavy textures, such as velvet and jacquard, will heighten the luxury of your look—especially for a formal or black-tie wedding.
What shades of red are best for a warm-weather wedding?
“For spring and summer weddings, consider brighter, happier shades of red like cherry, tomato, or orange-red,” Hurwitz suggests. Floral and abstract patterns will bring a hint of whimsy to garden and vineyard settings, while flowy, lightweight fabrics such as chiffon and organza will feel romantic no matter the venue.