Ask Allie: I’m a Guest at a Wedding, What Should I Wear?

Could you please make some suggestions for appropriate guest attire for a wedding? I have a few this summer and fall and have no idea what to wear. Also, is black appropriate for a wedding? Thanks!

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Each year I buy myself a Little Black Dress (LBD) to have on hand for such events. For the past couple of years, it has been a sleeveless matte jersey dress from Ann Taylor with a seamed waist and surplice neckline. I pair it with long pearls and D’Orsay heels for an evening wedding at a hotel ballroom, with gold heels and chandelier earrings for one at an historic mansion, with pink heeled sandals and a wrist of bangles for a day affair in a garden, with a colorful silk shawl and pumps for a church ceremony, with metallic flat sandals and big hoop earrings for a ceremony on the beach. The key is to find a versatile fabric – silk or a silk blend, matte jersey, crepe, gabardine are all fabrics that can dress up or down with ease. A classic sheath is a great choice, I also like the silhouette of this dress from Lands’ End and this dress from Kate Spade.

Black has become acceptable for MOST weddings, however some are very traditional or religious and find black to still be inappropriate.  If you believe the couple or their family to be traditional or religious, there’s no harm in contacting a member of the wedding party or a close relative to the bride or groom and ask their opinion.

My friend is having a destination wedding in Aruba this fall and I have no clue what to wear. It will be on the beach but she’s having six bridesmaids and is wearing a ballgown with a veil. Do I dress for the location or the dressiness of the bride?

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Both? While the wedding party will be in formal attire, I can bet that there will be a few in too-casual attire. It’s best to find something that hovers nicely in the middle; for such an event, I would suggest a maxi dress. A maxi can look dressier, but it’s also beach-friendly. If you choose a fabric like matte jersey, it will be ready to wear straight from the suitcase, won’t get soggy if your hem touches the surf, won’t have sand cling to it, and you can look as glamorous as the bride but still fit in with everyone else who decided that destination = Hawaiian shirts and shorts. Consider this the NSLBD (Not So Little Black Dress). I have a black matte jersey maxi dress from Calvin Klein I wore when I was Matron of Honor at my best friend’s elegant outdoor wedding. A few months later I wore it with metallic flat sandals and dangly earrings to another friend’s outdoor garden wedding in Charleston. I will be attending a destination wedding in Key West later this year and am seriously considering the same dress for the event.

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Such a dress does not have to be black, but a deeper shade will be more versatile and can pass for being formal more easily than a pastel or bright. This dress from Donna Morgan would be a great choice, as would this one from BCBGMAXAZRIA.

I’m 51 years old and about the same size and shape as you are. I will be attending a casual “country wedding” in early September and have no idea what to wear. I live in California and it’s typically blazing hot at that time of year. I’ve been told the wedding is BBQish with S’mores for dessert instead of cake. Any creative ideas you have would be much appreciated.

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That sounds like such a fun wedding! However, I bet the majority of the guest list will be just as confused on the dress code as you. If I were attending, I would wear a cotton sundress or skirt with a knit top and wedge or flat sandals so I wouldn’t sink into the grass. Since it’s outside and you can’t be sure of the In fact, since it is a theme wedding, feel free to don chambray, tie a western shirt over a sundress, or pair your frock with cowboy boots. This is the type of affair where the classic LBD is surprisingly NOT appropriate.

My coworker is getting married this summer and I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO WEAR! He’s very colorful and flamboyant and his husband to be is just as wild and fun. I know there will be hats and masks for us to wear and a live band and he mentioned he’s spending a lot on lighting for a dancefloor. I have never been to a wedding like this and I don’t think my navy silk dress will be right. What do I wear so I look fun but also look like a respectful wedding guest and still look like myself?

Honestly, you could wear that navy dress if you like – it sounds respectful and like something you feel comfortable in. You could jazz it up with the addition of brighter lipstick, a fun necklace or heels, or you could just go as-is and have a blast on that well-lit dance floor. I promise you, the couple will not care what you are wearing – as long as it doesn’t upstage them they will be thrilled just for your attendance and well-wishes.

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Or, if you desire (and your budget allows), you can use this opportunity to have a bit of fun with fashion. Kick it up with a festive bright color, a few more baubles, a pair of statement heels. This is the type of affair where you could rock that fascinator that has been collecting dust since Kate & William’s wedding, wear those hot pink sequined pumps from New Year’s Eve, or try out false lashes. You don’t want to upstage the couple or their wedding party, but a bit of color and whimsy would be well appreciated at such an event and wouldn’t be seen as disrespectful.

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Do know that whimsy and flamboyance doesn’t mean sexy or slutty. I never feel it is appropriate, no matter how alternative or creative the wedding, to wear skintight, super low-cut, or super short clothing. A bodycon dress is the equivalent of wearing white to a wedding – it is disrespectful and losing sight of the point of the event – the couple. You are a guest, a person privileged to attend and help celebrate this union and not the main event.

For more wedding attire advice, check out:

All photos from Offbeat Bride – a fabulous site for less-than-traditional weddings

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  • Eleanorjane

    Just for myself, I disagree! I *love* dressing up for weddings and formal events. Since I was a teenager going to school balls (formals, proms) I never wore black or dull dark colours ‘cos I knew everyone else would be.

    The world is *full* of lovely semi-formal dresses and very often you can get them at amazing discounts on sale. I don’t know how many weddings you get asked to, but for me it’s a special occassion and I enjoy getting new accessories or a new dress (not spending heaps of money).

    I had a dark purple silk dress with a crossover bodice and swirly skirt that I wore with different accessories to lots of different events. For a daytime wedding in the country I went a bit 1940’s with a ladylike navy polka dotted dress, pearls and red lips and shoes. I’ve got a cobalt blue dress similarish to the one Catherine Middleton wore to annouce her engagement (but no sleeves) that I wore with gold n black heels and gold hoop earrings to the most recent wedding I went to. 

    I’d say have fun, enjoy colour and don’t stress! As mentioned, the bride n groom will only be pleased that you’re there (unless you make a really major faux pas).

  •  I guess my post does sound as though I am pushing black dresses, but I actually agree with you!  A wedding is a happy occasion and a great opportunity to wear happy colors (exclusing bright red and white) and fun silhouettes.  I suggest the LBD for budget and small closet purposes only, but have been known to wear purple, hot pink, and emerald green to weddings and think it makes the celebration even more joyful 🙂

  • I have so much more trouble with a LBD than anything else! It’s easy to look good in one, but so hard to look standout great! Though I have found that adding a pair of red pumps helps 😉

  • Allie, think this does a great job of summing up how to manage a whole slew of wedding types with just a few pieces – that we all hopefully have some variation of in our closets or can put there for little money. also, love the pics from the weddings! How fun!

  • Mrs.M in MI

    I’m afraid I disagree with you on this, at least personally.  I never wear black to weddings, and I encourage my family and friends not to, either.  I would much rather wear a bright or pastel or jewel tone, depending on the season, and always with fun, festive accessories and styling.   J.Crew bridesmaid dresses on super-clearance and Nordstrom Rack are my go-to places for inexpensive, colorful wedding guest attire.  My mother-in-law likes Dress Barn for simple but pretty sheath dresses that don’t bust her budget.

    Then again, I also believe that you should not match the bridesmaids, you should not wear flowers in your hair or on your person, and you should never bare your shoulders or back in a church.  So I might just be a big ol’ fuddy-duddy.

  • Andie325

    I love that you wrote this post after I tweeted you about my dress drama on friday! LOL BTW, I went to put on the lands end dress and it was too big! Apparently that dress runs big- so for anyone who also likes that lands end silk flare dress- know that it runs really big! (like I usually wear a 14 and I would need a 10 in it) 

    I am about to go to my third wedding of the year and this one is SUPER casual (my SIL) as she is getting married on the front porch of her country house and having the “reception” in the 2000 SF shed/barn at her house. So I’m wearing a cotton dress with flat sandals, as you recommended (i’m glad I selected that BEFORE you posted… that lets me know I am doing something right! LOL)  

    Great post, Allie! 

  • Yes Andie, I loved that dress so much I knew I HAD to feature it! Thank you for the heads up on the sizing, and ladies go check it out – great price and silhouette!