7 things you should wear to a wedding and 7 things you shouldn’t

We all hit that age in our mid-to-late 20s when all of a sudden it seems like every person we know is getting married. For some, that may even include their own wedding. I am not yet married, but many of my friends are. Now, at 30 years old, I’m in my craziest year of weddings to date.

It may seem like wedding attire should be fairly straightforward, but you may be surprised to find out it can be a bit more intricate and, regardless of how long it’s been since you last attended a wedding, we could all use a little review on what is acceptable to wear to a wedding and what should stay at home in our closets. I spoke to the experts and here’s what they said you should — and shouldn’t — wear to a wedding. 

You should opt for solid colors or simple patterns

While this may not be your wedding day, you know there will be cameras taking pictures left and right, so just like the bridal party and family, you want to look and feel your best. In order to do this, Event Planner Brea Carillo suggests that “most solid colors and patterns are probably fine.” She went on to add that navy is her favorite go to option in this scenario.

With that said, for years we have been lead to believe that we are best to avoid horizontal stripes and opt for vertical if we want to give off a tall, lean physique, which is safe to say is the general goal when we know we’ll be in some pictures. Turns out, the truth is actually the opposite, as studies have shown a narrower perceived width with horizontal stripes as compared to vertical. If you were planning on simple pinstripes for this wedding, switch and opt for horizontal.

Do make sure your skirt is at least finger-tip length

While not all weddings will take place in a church, Carillo told me “the best rule of thumb is, if you can wear it to church, you can probably wear it to a wedding.” While we agree you look hot in that mini dress you recently picked up, a wedding isn’t the place to show it off, so leave it at home and opt for something a little longer and more appropriate.

“Dresses and skirts should be finger tip length long as you will be doing a lot of sitting and it’s not fun having to constantly pull down your dress,” Carillo added.

Choose something with the venue in mind

If you know where the wedding is taking place, you can get a lot of cues from what may or may not be appropriate to wear. If you’re outside sitting in the sun for a wedding in the middle of the summer, you can and should dress a lot different than a wedding inside of a church.

“Whether a Southern Baptist church, mosque, or a beach there are fundamental cues gained when the venue is known,” said Dawn Stafford, a wedding and event expert. “The religious event may require your hair or arms being covered or a sundress would be appropriate for a beach event.”

Follow the guidelines outlined on the RSVP

The good news is that even if you don’t know much about the venue you’re attending or are still feeling unsure what is appropriate, most invitations and RSVPs provide additional information and guidelines that may be useful when determining what to wear.

“Consider the setting and time of the wedding to decide how to dress,” said Sharon Schweitzer, an international etiquette expert. “If the invitation dictates it is in the evening, then you know you have to dress up. If the invitation states the wedding is in the afternoon, then it can be more casual and informal.”

These days most invitations will also specify “formal attire requested” or any other additional requests the bride and groom may have for their special day. Appropriate attire often falls into a few categories, including white tie, black tie, dressy casual, or casual. White tie is at the top in terms of formal attire and would indicate to break out a beautiful floor-length evening gown; black tie indicates a fancy floor-length gown or a short, yet still dressy cocktail dress; for dressy causal a cocktail dress will suffice; and for casual a simple summer sun dress is acceptable. If you follow these guidelines, then you know you’re in the clear.

You can’t go wrong with a little black dress

It is common to hear that every woman needs to have their go to LBD, or little black dress, hanging in their closet for a variety of occasions like cocktail parties, happy hours, and date night, but is the LBD acceptable in a wedding scenario? As it turns out, it is!

“The little black dress is a go to for every occasion,” said Stafford, “and weddings are no exception any longer.” If you don’t have a LBD hanging in your closet, then consider this the perfect opportunity to head to the mall and find your new go to, you know you’ll wear it plenty!

Do opt for comfortable shoes

While it should be fairly common knowledge, I’m not talking about wearing your bright pink running shoes to a wedding. Rather, nice dress shoes that you can comfortably wear for a few hours. Alyce Head, wedding manager for Hamilton Place at Pursell Farms, suggests, “Choose shoes that are wearable for four hours.”

While we would all probably leave our shoes under the table and head back out to the dance floor during our high school proms, we should know better these days. “This tip combines etiquette and style,” she added. “It’s just not good form to be barefoot and carry shoes, or create a pile of discarded shoes in the corner of the reception space.”

While it may be tempting to buy those extra cute heels to wear just for the occasion, before throwing down your credit card, I highly encourage you to walk around the store and see if you could be comfortable wearing them for hours. If the answer is no, then either reconsider the purchase or pack a pair of flats you can change into between the wedding and reception and leave the extra in the car!

If family, choose similar colors

We often hear to avoid the wedding colors, if possible, when choosing what to wear to a wedding, but that may not always be the case. “For artfully-styled photos of the bridal party with family, dress in similar shades of the same color palette,” Head noted, adding, “This takes a little planning; the colors should be compatible with, but not the same, as the wedding party. Patterns, prints, and textures in the color palette usually work well.”

Unsure if you should be doing this for an upcoming family wedding? Check with the bride and groom and see if this is something they would like and go from there.

Always avoid white

This may be one of the more obvious clothing choices to avoid as it seems to be relatively common knowledge these days, but it bears clarifying anyway, especially after I recently attended a few weddings and spotted at least one guest wearing a decent amount of white.

“All white dresses and all white suits are never okay to wear to a wedding unless you are specifically asked to do so by the bride and groom,” said Carillo. “Do not wear white, off-white, beige, cream, white lace, or any dress that could resemble a wedding dress,” added Stafford. 

Moral of the story? Keep it simple and drama free; if there’s white, look for an alternative.

Steer clear of excessive sequins

While it may be tempting to see that old gown hanging in your closet that has only been worn once, it’s important to remember that this is not the opportunity to give it a second wear and show it off. “Shy away from all over sequins,” said Carillo. “They reflect a lot of light and can be hard to photograph.” 

An obvious exception to this rule could be a theme the couple has listed on the invite, but these instances are few and far between so err on the side of caution and choose something else. “Being a walking disco ball is great for a club, but not so great for a family gathering,” Carillo added.

Don’t be too revealing

This is the bride and groom’s special day and the attention should be directed their way. Wearing an overly revealing or excessively tight dress is not an acceptable outfit choice as it will take the attention away from the happy couple and divert it elsewhere. “Dresses that are too revealing equate to distraction,” said Stafford.

Weddings are often a family affair and with so many children running around, plunging necklines or sheer dresses are just not acceptable. When in doubt, the best rule of thumb is conceal, don’t reveal!

Be careful not to over accessorize

While it’s nice to find a few pieces of jewelry or other accessories that go with your dress, the best rule of thumb is to keep it simple. Schweitzer suggests avoiding “jewelry that symbolizes your own faith when attending a wedding of another faith or religion.” She went on to add, “Accessories should be a subtle embellishment. Overly large, bright, or colorful accessories can be a distraction from the ceremony.”

Looking for an excuse to buy a large feathered hat? A wedding is not the time or place.

Watch out for the pantsuit

When it comes to wearing a pantsuit to a wedding, it isn’t necessarily something you need to completely avoid, but there is a relatively fine line with what is wedding formal and what is going to come across as business casual. If you’re going the route of a pantsuit, Stafford suggests keeping fit, fabric, color, and accessories in mind.

“Proper fit is a must and a wide leg that is flowy for pants will come across more formal,” she said. “Black, gray, and navy will certainly seem business. Choose a color other than white or ivory.” She suggested wearing a lace blouse under the jacket and choosing some nice accessories to enhance the overall formal look.

Don’t break out your old prom dress

Whether they have sequins (which we’ve already established are a big don’t) or not, prom dresses are a no-go for weddings. While it may be a shame that I have two beautiful prom dresses hanging in my closet that will likely never see the light of day again, it’s better to keep them there than break them out to wear to a wedding. 

“Often there is a correlation between colors, fabrics in bridesmaid and prom dresses,” said Stafford. “Remember prom was a time when you wanted to shine, so chances are it would be an attention grabber at the wedding where all attention belongs to the bride.” Be safe, don’t reach for your “Night Under the Stars” attire.

Don’t bring a large purse or bag

As women, we are used to having everything we need at our fingertips and in our purses. Pain medications, tampons, chapstick, sunglasses, and our wallets are just a few of the many things we’re constantly toting around. While this may be okay for the day to day, ensuring we have everything we need for a long day at the office or while on a trip, you can likely leave most of that stuff at home or in the car when attending a wedding. 

“Opt for smaller handbags and clutches over large purses,” said Schweitzer. “It’s a good idea to be touch-up ready, but refrain from lugging around heavy and unnecessary items.”

For my best friend’s wedding a few weeks ago, I opted for a small clutch. I made sure I had my ID, some cash for tipping at the bar, chapstick, my phone, tissues, and a few other small “emergency” items that the bride may have needed as we ran around all morning.

There may be exceptions

There will obviously be exceptions to many of these rules. If the bride and groom request a certain attire or mention a specific theme, some of these tips may fly out the window, but for the majority of weddings you may attend, these rules are tried and true to follow. 

For me, this means having that one dress hanging in my closet that I know is always a safe and acceptable option for nearly any and every wedding I attend. When in doubt, if you find yourself stressing and texting your friends about whether or not your outfit is appropriate, chances are it may not be and you’re better off picking something that fits within these safe guidelines.