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A rehearsal dinner is like the party before the actual party. It usually takes place the night before the wedding, after the wedding party has rehearsed for the big day. The actual dinner is typically a small, intimate affair, with just the wedding party and the couple’s close family in attendance.
In addition to plenty of food and wine, you can expect to share a lot of laughter and maybe a few tears amongst the couple and their loved ones. But aside from what’s on the menu, the first question you may ask yourself when you’ve been invited to a rehearsal dinner is: What do I wear? Rehearsal dinners are not as formal as the wedding, of course, but it is still an important event that should be taken seriously.
So, to guide you through the process of getting dressed for this significant event, we spoke with fashion and wedding stylist Sharon Warten in order to provide recommendations for what to wear to a rehearsal dinner, based on the season, venue, and wedding theme.
Meet the Expert
Sharon Warten is a personal stylist at Wishi, an online styling service founded by acclaimed celebrity stylist Karla Welch. Wishi connects you with the world's top stylists to help you shop online while incorporating what's already in your wardrobe.
How to Decide What to Wear
To start, take a look at the invitation. It’ll have all the important details for the evening, such as the venue name and any information on the proper attire. “Knowing the venue or location beforehand will be the first step in helping you decide what to wear,” says Warten. “If it’s a more formal location, your best bet is to wear cocktail attire or that dress you’ve been holding onto in your closet for an exceptional occasion.”
Warten suggests picking fabrics, colors, and prints based on the season and dinner location. “In the summer months, choose lighter and brighter colors. In the fall and winter go with jewel tones or darker colors! Soft, quiet subdued prints can show off your personality without stealing the bride’s thunder,” she says.
When in doubt, a black cocktail dress works in all four seasons.
A great rule of thumb is to remember that the rehearsal dinner will typically never be more formal or fancy than the wedding itself. Use that as a measuring stick to help guide your outfit selection. “Rehearsal dinners tend to be a more relaxed version of the actual wedding, but it’s still a fun time to show off your personal style,” says Warten.
And as with all events, you should avoid wearing anything that will make you uncomfortable. You don’t want to be pulling and tugging on your outfit, especially if you’re standing up to give a speech. “Pick an outfit formula that is true to your style and silhouette which will make you look and feel confident,” says Warten.
Rehearsal Dinner Attire For Men and Women
Once you’ve got a good idea of the dress code based on the invitation, it’s time to start shopping. In Warten’s expert opinion, classic styles and cuts will be the best choice. “I like classic and elegant fabrics such as silk, satins, chiffon, lace, or embroidery,” she explains. “These fabrics and textures are another perfect way of displaying your personal style.”
Depending on how formal the rehearsal dinner is, men might want to wear either a button-down and chinos or a suit. Men shouldn’t be afraid to accessorize with custom cufflinks, patterned socks, or a trendy tie or pocket square.
While women certainly can’t go wrong with a classic cocktail dress, there are plenty of other options you can wear that show off your own personal style. “Not everyone feels comfortable wearing dresses, so I’m thrilled to see more options when it comes to jumpers and elegant suits,” says Warten. “In more recent years, a silk suit and trouser set have become more of a norm.”
If you’re part of the wedding party, chances are you didn’t get to pick your bridesmaid dress. The rehearsal dinner is a great opportunity to have fun with semi-formal attire, but you don’t want to go overboard. If your dress or outfit is the statement, pair it with nude heels and simple studs. Or, upgrade a little black dress with a chandelier or drop earring and an embellished clutch. When it comes to style, it’s all about balance.
Finally, don’t forget about the finishing touches. Your hair, makeup, shoes, and accessories can take your ensemble to the next level. Make sure to incorporate all these little details as you’re planning your final look to create something truly special. “Accessories should never be an afterthought,” says Warten. “Having the right accessories can complete the outfit and give it that wow factor.”
Rehearsal Dinner Outfit Etiquette
“Rehearsal dinner dress code etiquette will have the same vibe as the wedding,” says Warten. “If the rehearsal dinner is later in the evening it will be more formal. When unsure, you can always ask someone from the bridal party.”
Avoid asking the bride what you should wear to the rehearsal dinner and adding another thing to their overflowing task list.
The first rule of any wedding-related event is to never upstage the bride, and that certainly applies to the rehearsal dinner. If you’re worried your outfit is too flashy or distracting, it probably is.
“Wearing loud prints, sequins, or something overly sexy is another no-no,” says Warten. “Once again, this takes attention off the bride, and no one wants to outshine the bride during any of her pre-wedding celebrations." And it should go without saying, but wearing white is also out of the question unless otherwise stated or requested by the bride or groom.
Occasionally, the couple may have a theme to their rehearsal dinner, which would be noted on the invitation. If that’s the case, don’t be afraid to lean into the theme and really get into character! Whether it’s Wild West-inspired or Roaring 20’s-themed, the couple wants to see everyone dressed up to the nine’s, so put on your best cowboy boots and your flapper dresses.
Statement accessories are also made for rehearsal dinners. Where else can you wear a set of stunning floral earrings paired with embellished heels? While it may be fun playing dress-up, don’t go overboard with accessories. Stick to one statement, whether that’s a dress or a necklace, and let the rest of your outfit speak softly.
What dress styles can you wear to a rehearsal dinner?
Cocktail dresses are the obvious pick, but you can also wear something a little more fashion-forward like a jumpsuit, silk suit, or a flowing maxi dress. Skip the sundresses, unless it’s a daytime event.
Is it OK to wear black to a rehearsal dinner?
Yes! Unless explicitly stated otherwise, black is a go-to color for rehearsal dinner attire.
What does dressy casual mean for a rehearsal dinner?
Dressy casual is a step above casual but before cocktail and semi-formal. To nail this look, try pairing pieces of slightly different formality levels—like wearing a pair of heels to dress up more casual pants or a skirt, or wearing a blazer over nice, black jeans. Jumpsuits can also skew dressy casual depending on the accessories.
Is it OK to wear jeans to a rehearsal dinner?
Unless the invite specifies casual, avoid wearing jeans to a rehearsal dinner. The rehearsal dinner is one of the most special events leading up to the wedding, so dress appropriately for the celebration!