What to Wear to a Rehearsal Dinner

What to Wear to a Rehearsal Dinner

PHOTO BY LISA POGGI

One of the most intimate events associated with a wedding celebration is the rehearsal dinner. Usually held the night before the big day, the rehearsal dinner is when the couple’s closest friends and family come together to celebrate before the ceremony. The evening is filled with speeches, photos, lots of laughter, and maybe a few tears, and can range from casual to formal.

While most guests are thrilled to receive an invite to the sacred meal, one question tends to come up over and over again: What do I wear? We have the answer, plus etiquette tips and insight from experts Emma Jensen and Carey Austin.

Meet the Expert

  • Emma Jensen is a student of Emily Post's Etiquette, the essential handbook to proper etiquette and social behavior.
  • Carey Austin is a creative executive coordinator for Compass Group, a leading foodservice and support services company.

How to Decide What to Wear

First and foremost, the key to deciding what to wear to the event centers around where and when it takes place. If the invitation (whether verbal or written) doesn’t specify a dress-code, a quick search of the venue should give a good indication. If the dinner takes place in an elegant restaurant, you'll want to dress a bit more formally than if it were taking place in the backyard of someone's home.

One thing you can be sure of: The rehearsal dinner will likely be less formal than the wedding, so you can use that as a jumping-off point. If the dress code for the wedding is semi-formal or cocktail, the rehearsal dinner is unlikely to be more formal than that.

In addition to the setting and the theme, you can also use the time of day to indicate formality. The earlier in the day, the more casual you can expect the event (and therefore the dress code) to be.

“A cocktail dress and flats or heels that are under three inches is a safe bet,” advises Austin. “Make sure you’re not so overly dressed that you upstage the bride. I know we all have that dress in our closets that we bought while telling ourselves we would have plenty of occasions to wear it.” While most of the time it’s better to be more dressed up than less, a rehearsal dinner doesn’t play by the same rules.

So, what’s in between too casual and too dressy? Business casual seems to be the perfect solution. Plan to wear something you’d feel confident at a work event in. “Remember that you are not there to be the center of attention, so don't dress as though you will be,” adds Jensen. Simple, comfortable, and not-too-flashy is the answer.

Rehearsal Dinner Outfit Etiquette

Don’t be afraid to reach out to the mother of the bride or the maid of honor (never the bride—she has enough going on) if you still have questions. They’d rather you feel comfortable and dress appropriately than show up in something not up-to-code. 

In addition to the dress code, sometimes rehearsals are set to a specific theme. Don’t be afraid to lean into it and have fun. Unless stated otherwise, feel free to don your boots at a barn rehearsal or some jeans at a BBQ. The day is about the couple and their closest people, not about what you're wearing.

That said, anything flashy, distracting, short, or revealing is out, no matter the theme. Leave the $2 flip flops, the low v-dress, and the ripped denim at home. It should go without saying but white is also out, as that color belongs to the bride.

Rehearsal Dinner Outfit Ideas for Men and Women

You can't go wrong with a cocktail dress, but that's certainly not the only option. Remember, the dress code relies heavily on the where/when, but consider this your guideline. We've listed some ideas below.

  • Nice sundress
  • Little black dress
  • Dressy jumpsuit
  • Formal romper (as long as it’s not too short!)
  • Casual maxi dress
  • Low heels, wedges, or nice flats
  • Slacks/dress pants
  • Button-down shirt or a nice polo
  • Dress shoes
  • Suit jacket (optional depending on formality)
  • Tie (optional depending on formality)

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