What to wear to a wedding in 2022 – fashion experts’ tips for women and men on the best attire
- We cover every type of nuptial: casual, semi-formal, cocktail, formal, black-tie optional, black tie, white tie, themed, beach and non-Western
- Most important, make sure you don’t commit the ultimate wedding faux pas
Celebrating your loved ones getting married is often a blast, but that excitement can easily be derailed by the eternal question: what outfit?
Many of us know the unique challenge of decoding the appropriate attire as a wedding guest.
We spoke to fashion experts about appropriate attire for different types of nuptials. Here are their tips.
First things first, do some research on the wedding venue
The dress code listed on an invitation or the wedding website is your best indicator for what you should wear to a wedding.
Beyond that, wedding fashion experts Samantha Brown, a celebrity stylist, and Julie Sabatino, the founder of wedding styling company The Stylish Bride, recommend taking a sneak peek at the wedding venue before you pick an outfit. It’s as simple as googling the website for pictures of the property.
“It’s always important to look at the venue because dress codes and venues should be somewhat in alignment,” Brown says. “Let’s say it’s a barn wedding that’s black tie. That’s probably not your New York City hotel black tie because maybe you’ll be on grass and maybe you’ll be somewhere a more country.”
That goes for casual attire, too. It could imply two totally different visions based on where the wedding location is.
“If it says ‘casual’ for the Thursday night clambake and you’re on the beach, you can certainly show up in khaki shorts and a button down or a polo,” Sabatino says. “But if it says ‘casual’ and you are in New York City at a restaurant, then the dress is different.”
Jeans aren’t appropriate at a casual wedding
If you are invited to a casual wedding, appropriate attire includes dresses, jumpsuits, khakis and lightweight jackets, according to Brown and Sabatino. Not included? Denim jeans.
“Regardless if a wedding is casual or formal, it’s respectful to dress nicely for your hosts,” Brown says. “I would not wear something that you’re going to hang out in on Saturday afternoon.”
Brown suggests a sundress or other look that feels breezy. The trick is to style it more elevated than day-to-day casualwear.
“Something in a floral would be really lovely, especially in spring and summer,” Brown says. “You could also go for a linen suit or a lightweight tropical jacket. It’s something you could style with a T-shirt underneath, instead of doing the button down or tie. You can loosen it up and even pair it with a sneaker.”
It’s a broad range, but comes with a stipulation: Sabatino recommends avoiding everyday fabrics like denim to show respect to the couple.
There’s little difference between cocktail attire and a semi-formal dress code
Although they have different titles, semi-formal and cocktail weddings basically call for the same type of outfit, Brown and Sabatino say. It means dressy and stylish.
“That’s when you can go a little bit more glitzy,” Brown says. “Instead of a cotton sundress, you can look for more luxurious fabrics or fun jewellery to take it up from casual attire.”
Sabatino agrees, recommending guests wear “a nicer dress or a nicer pant ensemble” to a cocktail or semi-formal wedding, though a dress wouldn’t need to be floor-length.
“There are a lot of cute jumpsuits out there these days, so I don’t want to rule out the pants entirely,” she adds.
Men can don a button-down shirt with a suit. You don’t need a tie, Brown says, but it could be accessorised with a pocket square or trendy loafers.
Formal and black-tie optional weddings call for similar attire
Like cocktail and semi-formal, formal and black-tie optional weddings imply similar levels of dress, according to Brown and Sabatino.
“Black-tie optional means that you can wear a tux or a gown, but you won’t be underdressed if you wear a formal cocktail dress or a suit,” Brown says. “But definitely, it means suit and tie, if not a tuxedo.”
Sabatino also says tea-length dresses are appropriate for a black-tie optional wedding.
“I wouldn’t go super short, but ankle length or tea length are more appropriate today than they have been in the past,” Sabatino says.
Also welcome? Costume jewellery, glam make-up, and pocket squares.
The dress code at a black-tie wedding is strict
Black tie means black tie, and you risk being a fashion faux pas if you don’t stick to the dress code.
“Traditionally, black tie means a gown and a tux,” Brown said of the attire for women and men.
The gown should be floor-length for women, and men should don a tuxedo. It’s what differentiates it from a black-tie optional wedding, Sabatino explains.
But that is changing as guests put their own spin on their fashion choices. Brown notes that weddings have become less formal as a whole.
“Nowadays the interpretation has become looser,” she says. “You see people wearing shorter hemlines or wearing dressier suits that aren’t tuxedos.” As long as it’s hinting at glamorous and luxurious, you should be in the clear.
White-tie weddings are the most formal nuptials
White tie is the most formal attire possible for a wedding, but it’s a rare choice today.
“It means you’re supposed to wear tails,” Sabatino says. If you’re wearing a gown, you’ll be expected to wear white gloves with it, she adds.
Both Brown and Sabatino say white-tie weddings are very uncommon, in part because it puts stress on your guests.
“It’s tricky, because in the States you can’t really rent white tie,” Sabatino says. “What that means is that you would have to buy the jacket with the tails, the white vest and a white tie. It makes it hard on your guests because they don’t really have access to that kind of thing.”
You should defer to the engaged couple if you are invited to a themed wedding
If you are invited to a themed wedding, Sabatino recommends turning to the engaged couple for advice on what to wear.
“If you are going to do that as the host, you need to be specific in what you’re expecting people to wear,” she says.
But as a general rule, Brown recommends against attending in full costume. “You never want to show up to a wedding, even if it’s a theme wedding, feeling like you’re in a costume.”
She suggests embracing the theme through accessories rather than a full ensemble.
“I had a bride who wanted to do a country Western rehearsal dinner because she and her fiancé had met in Santa Fe,” Brown says. “So we accessorised a very cute dress with white boots, a cowboy hat and turquoise jewellery.”
At a beach wedding, be mindful of your shoes
Beach weddings typically have a relaxed dress code because they take place outside – and in sand.
Brown advises light fabrics like cotton or linen, and you can wear a suit, sun dress or even shorts if the wedding is during the day.
“You want to be mindful of the fabrics that you choose because you’re going to be in the sun,” Brown says. “Beach weather is unpredictable in terms of the moisture and the humidity.”
Plus, keep in mind your shoes. You’ll be standing in sand, so some footwear is just impractical (ahem, stilettos).
If you’re invited to a non-Western wedding, talk to the couple about outfit expectations
Rules for attire and customary clothing for many non-Western weddings is different from Western weddings. For instance, you might be expected to wear a lehanga to an Indian wedding, while it’s inappropriate to wear red at a traditional Chinese wedding.
Both Sabatino and Brown say that if a couple expects you to wear clothing that is traditional for their culture, their invitations will likely specify as such.
“If the bride and groom are hoping that their guests will wear traditional clothing, they should add resources on their wedding website for what is specifically requested,” Sabatino says.
If the couple has not specified a dress code on their invitation or wedding website, Brown suggests talking to the couple about what they’re hoping attendees will wear.
“When you’ve been invited to a non-Western wedding and the dress code hasn’t been specified, it’s always best to check in with the bride or groom to inquire about the appropriate attire,” Brown says. “When in doubt, don’t make assumptions. A simple email or text on the preferred dress code for an upcoming event will always provide clarity.”
If you’re unsure where to find customary clothing, Brown recommends asking the couple about that, too. “You can always ask for recommended retailers,” she says.
The ultimate wedding attire faux pas: white
Although attire will vary for different types of weddings, Brown and Sabatino do have one golden rule for all guest attire: you should not wear white at a Western wedding.
“You should never wear white to someone else’s wedding ever, or any of the surrounding events,” Sabatino says.
“It’s the bride’s moment to have that colour for the night,” Brown adds. “I don’t even recommend a white base, even if it has a colourful, floral pattern. Anything that’s in question should be avoided.”
If you have any doubts, Sabatino says, don’t do it.
Similarly, try not to wear a colour similar to the wedding party, if you happen to know the shade.
“Don’t show up in something that looks like you’re a bridesmaid, mostly because it’s difficult for the guest,” she says. “People might ask you questions or approach you thinking that you’re part of the bridal party. That’s uncomfortable.”