WHAT TO WEARA Style Guide for Wedding Guests
Written by Madoline Markham with Style Coach, Megan LaRussa
Follow the Dress Code
One of the biggest things I see with clients is they are wondering how dressy they should be for a cocktail or a black tie wedding because things have gotten so much more casual. I know it’s so easy a lot of times to say, “I know it’s black tie, but I already have this dress in my closet that’s not quite black tie.” Our world has become more casual, but stick to the dress code.
Leave White for the Bride
I think the rule not to wear white still applies. I still don’t think it’s ever appropriate unless the bride requests everyone to wear white because it’s her special day to do so. If your dress has white in the print or texture, that’s okay.
Forget the Pantyhose
Hose are dated, and unless you are Kate Middleton, it’s not necessarily your friend. A lot of my clients say, “But my legs are pale or have spider veins,” so I recommend using a sunless tanner or a spray tan if that makes you feel better.
But what do I wear to THIS wedding?
Time of Day
I think a nice church kind of dress is typically appropriate, unless the invitation states otherwise. A great nude pump is always good, or a sleek wedge. I see a lot of women wear a clunky wedge they might wear more casually, and that’s not really appropriate.
(Usually up to 6:30 p.m.) This is typically cocktail attire. You don’t have to go full bedazzled and sequined, but definitely wear a nice cocktail dress and a strappier sandal heel.
(Typically 7 p.m. or later.) I really encourage people to go long. If you aren’t going to wear a long dress for a black tie, that’s fine, but do make sure it’s a really dressy cocktail dress. Maybe it’s tea length to elevate it to be appropriate for what the bride wants.
Barn or Farm
Go with a dress that’s more relaxed looking, maybe it’s a floral or flowy. A block heel sandal or sleek wedge works well because it won’t sink into the ground. Badgley Mischka makes a great wedge every season.
Wear something that’s sleek and chic, fits that vibe and is a nod to the venue. It will help you feel more confident when you get there because you will fit in more.
Country Club or Similar Venue
Do something that suits your personal style. You can think outside the box so it’s not just your same black lace dress. (See tips on something different.)
Try Something Different
Outside the Dress Box
A jumpsuit can be a really fun wedding alternative. This is not the jumpsuit you wear on a casual basis or out to dinner with friends. Maybe it’s sequined or velvet, maybe it’s a thicker silk.
Rent the Runway
I think Rent the Runway, an online fashion rental company, is a great opportunity for experimenting because you can do something you wouldn’t necessarily buy or want to wear one time, and you know it will be on Instagram and Facebook and then you’re done with it. The biggest secret with it is knowing your body type and what brands work well on you and looking at the real people pictures because otherwise it can be a real mess.
Switch Up Accessories
If you are going to do a black gown or cocktail dress or jumpsuit, make sure it’s versatile enough that you can change up the entire look with accessories and dress it up or dress it down. Maybe you can put a great pendant necklace with it, maybe a statement earring and cuff, maybe fun shoe—things that will make it feel fresh so you are not wearing the same thing to every wedding.
essentials for your wardrobe
Keep these dressy staples on hand so even if you wait until the last minute
to pick out a dress, getting dressed for an event is so much easier.
I love to get my clients one evening shoe they can wear with everything, typically a strappy muted metallic because it will really go with every color. If you have basics like a nude pump on hand, when a wedding or special event arises, you aren’t asking, “What shoe am I going to wear?” You already have one.
One of my favorite tricks for colder weather is a black cashmere pashmina. It’s something great to have on hand, and it’s something I get all my clients to have because it’s also good for travel. It can keep you warm inside or outside.
I think it’s important to leave our everyday bags—our work bags, our totes, our cross-body bags—at home, and invest in one clutch or small shoulder bag that you can have on hand. You don’t have to spend a lot on it. It pulls your whole look together and can really elevate the whole look. I recommend something clean and minimal, with no hardware or trendy elements so it can stand the test of time for a while. A black or muted metallic is typically the most versatile as well.
4 FAQ’S that keep us wondering
1. How do I keep from freezing when it’s cold outside?
I think if it’s an afternoon wedding or outdoors, black opaque tights can be totally fine if it’s the right dress of course because that’s a more dressy casual time frame. Pair it with a closed toe shoe that’s black as well to continue that vertical visual line as well so you don’t look choppy.
For cocktail and black tie unless it’s an outdoor wedding, I think it’s best to wear a coat and go from the car to the venue and grin and bear it. You can wear your everyday coat in the afternoon, but once you get to cocktail black tie, it’s really important to do a nicer coat. A lot of my clients have really loved doing a cape, maybe with a fur trim, so you are nice and warm but not shoving your dress into the sleeves of your coat.
2. Can I really shorten my bridesmaid dress and wear it again?
It depends on what kind of bridesmaid dress it is. I had all of my bridesmaids wear real evening gowns in the same color family, and if that’s the case, wear it again. If it’s truly a bridesmaid dress that typically looks very bridesmaid-y, especially after a certain age, it’s not the chic, polished look I think most women desire. I always encourage my clients to donate their bridesmaid dresses to a prom dress drive like the one the YWCA does, it’s nice to know it’s going to someone else who needs it more than we might.
3. Can I re-wear a dress around a similar crowd?
It depends on how long it’s been and how big of an event it is. If it’s a memorable dress and the same group of people a month apart, it’s nice to have two options, or to have one and rent the other. If you are going to a wedding in November and another one in May and it’s an all-season dress, then by all means wear it again.
4. How does the time of year influence things?
I typically say color and material dictate that. If it’s a lighter color that appears more spring/ summer in nature, you really can’t wear it in the fall/winter, unless it’s a fall/winter fabric like a wool, a heavier silk, or velvet. For fall/winter, if it’s a heavier material or a burgundy or a deep forest green, it’s really not appropriate to wear in the spring/summer as well.
How to not break the bank
Pick a Seasonless Color and Material
I have a lot of clients who will go with a black cocktail dress that is a medium/all-season fabric so they can wear it all year round. Or it could be navy or a beautiful fuchsia. Picking a seasonless color and material can give you that one-and-done dress if you don’t go to that many weddings.
Think about Cost per Wear
If you are debating whether to get a certain dress, think about the longevity. Maybe spend a little less on something trendy. If it’s more classic and you might wear it a few years, maybe spend a little more on it.