A few years back, I attended a friend's wedding in a red dress. While standing outside the venue, waiting to toss sprinkles at our newly-wedded friends, I spotted her: a fellow guest who had worn a white, lace dress. Internally, I rolled my eyes. 'What was she thinking?' I thought. 'Doesn't she know proper etiquette?' Weeks later, the wedding photos went up on Facebook. There, in the pictures, it wasn't the white dress that bothered me anymore. It was mine. There, in a sea of white and black and blues, my classic red was more than a bit distracting.
Traditionally, the only off-limits color for wedding guests has been white, for obvious reasons—no one wants to take attention away from the bride. But times are a-changin'. Now, many people simply don't see wearing white as a big deal. Some brides and grooms are totally cool with it. They might even request that their guests dress in white for a monochromatic color palette for the rehearsal dinner or the ceremony—a trend that can be traced back to royal and celebrity weddings alike.
Still, there are mixed opinions on the subject: "White, unless you know the bride and she's asked you to wear it or given you her blessing, is typically out," says Carrie Goldberg, the Digital Travel & Weddings Editor at Harper's Bazaar, "although I see no issue in a white skirt or top paired with something in color."
A good rule of thumb? Steer clear of the shade, just to be safe, unless it's patterned or paired with something else, as Goldberg suggests.
Context Is Key
But white is not the only problematic hue, as I learned. Overly bold colors (like fire engine red, neon green or yellow, hot pink, and garish orange) can be just as bad, for the simple reason that they'll stick out like a sore thumb in wedding photos.
Charlottesville, VA-based wedding photographer Jen Fariello's most-hated hues for wedding guest ensembles? Orange and hot pink. "Especially if you are family or the date of a family member," she says. "I think taking a cue from the invitation is always a great idea."
"If you get a paper suite with a vibrant, multi-colored Mexican theme, go bold," Fariello continues, "but if you get a crisp, classic vibe from the invitation, use that as a cue to go classy and subtle."
Take culture into account as well. It's worth noting that red is an especially risky choice for a Chinese wedding, where it's traditional for brides to wear red.
"White, unless you know the bride and she's asked you to wear it or given you her blessing, is typically out."
Stay Away From Words
Beyond color, it's also considerate to think about patterns and logos. "I don't mind red," says Southern California wedding photographer Rebecca Yale. "I think it's a fun pop of color. I definitely agree with not wearing all white unless you're otherwise instructed to do so. I'm pretty open to any color or pattern. My biggest advice is just nothing with a big logo or words on it. You'd think it wouldn't happen too much at weddings, but I have seen it! Anything with a logo or words is very distracting and draws the eye. Otherwise I don't think there's really any color that's completely off-limits."
Bypass the Blue Jeans
Overall, though, the best rule of thumb is to simply make sure you clean up nice. To Denver, CO, wedding photographer Laura Murray, the biggest wedding fashion faux pas is not a color, but a code: "As a guest, I would avoid looking too casual," she says. "Even if it is a casual wedding, I think having a somewhat elevated sense of attire is a nice gesture. I have found it to be distracting in photos when one guest shows up in jeans, while everyone else is dressed more formally ... As for red, or other bold colors, I think it's great! I personally do not find bold colors distracting in photos."
As for me, I feel much better about that red dress now. I'll still probably refrain from wearing it to future ceremonies, but I also regret ever judging (however quietly) what other guests wore. You never know what's been cleared with the couple beforehand, and anyway, who cares? At the end of the (big) day, it's not about your dress or decorum but rather about celebrating the love of two people.
Say Yes to the (Black) Dress
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Chances are you’ve skipped over that LBD (little black dress) in your closet while dressing for a wedding, thinking it’s too dark, too cocktail, too boring, too funeral. Well, rewind, stop, and reconsider. Black is 100 percent appropriate for an evening ceremony. It’s especially a favorite for a fancier, black-tie affair. These days, the old rules have loosened up a bit, and it’s less about the color of the outfit and more about the style, which as a general rule, should match the spirit of the wedding, from the couple to the invitation to the venue.
The old rules have loosened up...it’s less about the color of the outfit and more about the style.
Some benefits to wearing black: For starters, most everyone already owns something in this color (so cha-ching), and everyone looks good in it. Black is inarguably the most flattering color for all shapes, sizes, skin tones, hair colors, and bonus: It’s a snap to accessorize. A solid black frock in a range of materials leaves jewelry and shoe choices wide open. Gold, silver, rose gold, copper, sparkles, jewel tones, classic pumps, stilettos—they all shine and elevate your look against a simple black dress.
So what about black for a daytime ceremony? You’re likely better off in a more subdued hue, but a pretty pattern on a dark background is something to try. (You can’t go wrong with a floral print for a wedding, right?) Just make sure the design and fabric don’t skew too casual—it is a wedding, after all.
Suit Up with Pants
Although the go-to wedding attire for most women and girls is a dress, females shouldn’t feel hand-cuffed to that rack. If you are emphatically not a dress person, you have options (and really good ones!). The comeback of the oh-so-chic jumpsuit has opened up a whole new type of clothing for wedding-goers. They’re made in a variety of styles and materials, so keep it wedding-appropriate by going for ones with long, flowy pants and dressier materials (think silky, not structured). A jumpsuit is often mistaken for a dress anyway, so everyone wins (especially you—you’ll be the most comfortably dressed guest in attendance!).
Also, never underestimate the chicness of a classic tailored pant suit. With smart heels, a pretty patterned scarf, and the right jewelry choices, a pulled-together pant suit ensemble gets high marks. Want to add a touch of color? Add a camisole in a complementary hue for an unexpected pop of color peeking out from the jacket.