Tribune senior correspondent
June 17, 2011
"What are you going to wear?"
"I don't know. What are you wearing?"
This is the conversation that starts just as soon as the wedding invites begin to arrive in the mail.
And why not? It's tough to figure out what's right to wear to today's weddings.
Yes, there are rules. But some of those rules are made to be broken, or at least bent. That's where I come in.
Almost every wedding falls into one of three categories: formal evening; semi formal/cocktail (this can be day or evening) and informal/casual.
Here's a guide I've put together from interviews and resources, including Brides Magazine and "Emily Post's Etiquette," a good guide to mannerly behavior and sticky situations.
If it's a formal evening affair …
Men have it easy: a tuxedo.
For women, a long dress is entirely suitable but not required. Julie Raimondi, editor in chief of Brides.com and Brides Local Magazines says, "Anything you would see on the red carpet would be appropriate." Well, not quite everything.
It is bad form for guests to draw attention away from the bride, so a low-cut, skin-tight sequined red dress, for instance, would not be a good choice. As a wedding guest, "It's not your job to stand out. That's the bride's job," Raimondi says.
A semiformal/cocktail wedding …
For men, it's a suit and tie. A dark suit is right for evening, but tan or seersucker is fine for day.
For women, pick a short afternoon dress or suit (or a pantsuit) but fancied up with jewelry so you don't look as though you just came from the office. Evening calls for dressier cocktail wear, but a pantsuit is an option. Add some sparkle, sequins or rhinestones to amp your outfit. "Not over-the-top formal but something festive," summarizes Raimondi.
The hardest one to get right.
As a general rule: "Better to be overdressed than underdressed," says Colin Cowie, a celebrity wedding planner.
Men might not want to hear this, but Raimondi says, "I think it would be nice if they wore a tie. … It's a sign of respect for the couple." Khakis or seersucker pants with a contrasting jacket are options. But if it's a theme wedding (Hawaiian? Halloween?), dress accordingly. Dressier leather sandals are a good option for the beach. Overall, take cues from the setting.
For women, even if the wedding is on a beach or in a meadow, Cowie says showing lots of skin is not a good idea. What's right? "You have to infer based on location," says Raimondi. On a beach, "A long flowy skirt is great. You could even wear an embellished tank top." But in another setting, casual means Sunday best. For sure, wear flats or sandals if you're on sand or hiking up a hill. Can't figure it out? It's totally fine to ask.
A word about white: "Emily Post's Etiquette" says, "You may wear white, with caution." But, don't even remotely approximate a wedding-type gown. Some brides will be enraged if you wear white. Others don't care. When in doubt, don't.
What to wear?
Check the couple's wedding website for clues.
Ask members of the bridal party.
Don't dress to stand out — the bride and groom are the stars.
Men can't go wrong with a tie.
Better to overdress than under.
Women should steer clear of tight, skimpy and low-cut.
Black dresses are OK; white is still iffy.