In this installment of Dress Code, we're going to address the biggest sartorial challenge of the warm-weather months: wedding season! Cuz, among many other stresses, that mean dress codes. Festive, formal, semi-formal, black-tie-optional...we'll sort it out together.
First of all, don't panic. You know your friends. If you wear something slightly too glitzy or a bit too casual, are you going to get kicked out? No. I have been to daytime weddings where half the church was for some reason wearing satin ballgowns and the other half was in garden-party frocks and really, it did not effect anyone's good time - certainly not the wedded couple's.
That said: yes, this is one of the few remaining occasions where we are given a "dress code," and so the pressure's on to meet it. And let's face it: weddings mean interacting with a lot of people. Sometimes it's all your partner's friends. Sometimes exes are there. Or someone's parents. In general, there's a lot of scope for stress. So let's, at least, sort out our terminology. For practicality's sake, we've organized specific types of weddings — beach, evening, etc. — according to what we feel would be their dress code if said dress codes weren't explicitly stated on the invite. And if they were, this guide will be even easier for you to sift through. If you're not sure what you're dealing with in terms of the scene, keep in mind the time of the wedding, the venue, and, if you can, the personalities of the happy couple and the kind of crowd with whom you'll be cavorting. There's a plenty of nuance to go around!
As always, these are just suggestions; keep in mind that there are, as always, regional variations: the south, for instance, is a little more traditional. When in doubt, don't wear black — but in, say, New York, black's usually not going to be a problem. That said, wherever you are, I do think the no-white (unless you're the bride) rule is always safe to follow. I tried to give a range of ideas, but just use these formality notions as loose guidelines and go to town: after all, rules are made to be broken and shoes to dance in.
The uber-formal rarity! You won't, honestly, have to go to that many white-tie weddings. Unless you're the sort of person who does, in which case you probably have a lot of gowns already.White-tie is Oscars. It's balls. It's can't-be-overdressed. Wear a long gown, or a tux with white tie, or maybe even a tail-coat. Once I went to a white-tie event that had a "hunt" theme but I ignored that and it was really not a problem.
This just means "formalwear." A long dress or a short, fancy dress. Heels. A tux. Evening pants and a jazzy top. Think, "too fancy for most of my life," keeping in mind that dudes need to wear tuxes. This could be a fancy evening wedding at a hotel, for instance - but if they want you to dress up this much, they'll say so. Formal means the same thing. Occasionally, one runs across "Texas Black Tie" or some other such abomination. This means same as above...with a stetson. Or a tartan sporran. You get the idea.
This is where things get dicey/sadistic. What does this even mean? What it means for those of us who have to do it is, very similar to normal black tie, but maybe involving more color. Or a wacky tie. Or a fetching fascinator! Think whimsy! Formal whimsy. This is the sort of unspoken code that will, like I mentioned above, have much to do with the wedding location, etc.
Black Tie Optional: This, I guess, is designed to let those guys who don't own tuxes off the hook. For women, it basically means the same as the above: formalwear.
Whereas "black tie" can mean a long dress, cocktail is shorter. It's dressy, but not formal.
Dress up, but avoid "evening" touches like sequins. When in doubt, just don't wear all-black and you'll feel more daytime. Or do color, but avoid casual fabrics like cotton. You can also generally get away with a snazzy pattern!
Really, all bets are off here: poll your friends, ask the bride or look up the venue online. But all this really means is "party clothes" - dress, skirt, pants, whatever, as long as they're smart and you're making an effort. I have seen variations on all of the following fall under this heading.
This one's all about dressing for the occasion. Beach wedding? Linen's nice! Rustic cabin? Low heels should be just fine. Make an effort, because it's nice, but obviously this couple's not standing on ceremony.
For all of our handy Dress Code guides, go here.