WEDDING GUEST OUTFITS: ETIQUETTE, TRADITIONS AND WHAT TO WEAR?



wedding guest outfits black tie and red ballgown
Image by Taylor & Porter for Studio Sorores

Do you ever receive an invite to a wedding and wonder what to wear for the event? Each celebration tends to have a dress code and can sometimes send people into a slight panic, so I thought I would round up a quick guide to make things easier for you.


Smart Casual


Let's start with the hardest shall we?! This is a relatively informal and relaxed wedding dress code. You would still be expected to dress neatly and fairly conservatively, but there would not be a specific type of suit or length of dress to find.


Ladies- a pretty sun dress, or neatly tailored outfit would be best. A bright colour for trousers and blazer, or a silk shirt and skirt could work beautifully too. No flip flops or trainers!


Gentlemen - I would recommend chinos or suit trousers with a long-sleeved shirt. A blazer, sports coat or jacket should be worn, but a tie would be optional however. No denim, no shorts and no trainers! Loafers, boat shoes or brogues all the way.


Cocktail


This is one step up and would be more semi-formal. It's slightly more dressy and so you can expect the wedding setting to match. There really isn't an English tradition for this as it's largely an American import of style.


Ladies - cocktail dresses below the knee are generally advisable, and a tailored outfit is fine as long as it's more dressy for an evening. A short mini dress or ball gown should be avoided however!


Gentlemen - time to get the smart suit out! It should generally be navy or black with a light/white shirt and tie or cravat, and a pocket square if you like to accessorise. Skip trying to wear too many colours/patterns unless it's more of a day time event with a bit more personality (see lounge suit below).


Lounge Suit


Getting confused yet? This is more formal than "smart casual" above but less so than "morning dress" below.


Ladies - more of a day time dress would be best. Something in a brighter colour, floral or softer than a cocktail dress, but absolutely not super short and something suitable for daytime.


Gentlemen - think classic suit, waistcoat, shirt and tie. No chinos, but more likely a day time event so you could opt for softer colours and more personality than you would for a "Cocktail" dress code.



Morning Dress


This dress code is more traditionally worn at formal day time weddings in England, typically a church ceremony. You'll almost always see it being worn at a Royal wedding. You would only expect to see this dress code apply in weddings that start before 6pm.


Ladies - you should wear a very formal daytime dress which isn't too revealing, ideally with a hat. No fascinators ideally, they are actually not permitted at Royal Ascot!


Gentlemen - you should wear a cutaway or morning coat with tails in black, waistcoat in grey or pale pastel colour with co-ordinating (but not matching) light coloured tie, and dark grey with black striped trousers. A turndown shirt collar in white is preferred. A black silk or grey wool top hat can also be worn. Absolutely always wear black oxford shoes (highly polished but not patent) with this dress code, and a tie pin is traditional alongside a silk or linen pocket square.



Black Tie


This dress code is typically and traditionally reserved for evening weddings after 6pm. It is a less formal attire than "evening dress" sometimes known as a dinner suit or jacket.


Ladies - think red carpet ankle length gowns all the way, but there absolutely no restrictions on colour here. You can wear a slightly shorter length above the ankle or below the knee, or even a smart trouser style with silk shirt. Don't go over the top with jewellery, as that is typically reserved for White Tie only.


Gentlemen - you should be looking to wear a dinner jacket in black or midnight blue with black silk facings, and a peak lapel is most traditional. Trousers should also be black or midnight blue, with a single braided or satin stripe on the outside leg. Your shirt should be white with a turn-down collar, with black shirt studs and a black bow tie (although increasingly we are seeing variations in colour here). Patent leather dress shoes should be worn too. A cummerbund can be worn, but not together with a waistcoat,



White Tie


The most formal evening dress code of all, and again reserved for after 6pm traditionally. It is usually only reserved for official state functions, ceremonial occasions, and some formal balls - but increasingly being seen at weddings too.


Ladies - traditionally, white tie attire for women dictates that you wear a ball gown which exposes some decolletage (yes really). Evening length gloves are also traditionally required (taken off only for dinner), and tiaras may be worn by married women only! In a more modern context for weddings, white tie for women usually only requires a ball gown.


Gentlemen - you should wear a black barathea tailcoat and trousers with fishtail back, braces buttons, and two braided stripes down the outside leg. With this you will wear a white shirt, pearl shirt studs, a white bow tie and waistcoat. Patent leather shoes are expected, and you can also have some fun with a top hat, white evening gloves and a walking stick (though much less commonly seen today). Never, ever, wear a white jacket - this is sometimes seen on men with a black tie setting, but rarely in Britain, and usually in warmer climates.


Hopefully that summary will help if you are a guest looking to decide what to wear at a wedding you are invited to attend, or perhaps if you are organising your own wedding and unsure on dress codes and traditions.


To see more images of real weddings with guest outfits please visit our portfolio.


Recent Posts