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What You Should Wear to Whatever Wedding You’re Going To

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It’s now June, which means it’s wedding season, which means open bars, hotel pools, annoying high travel expenses and, frequently, wardrobe confusion. Knowing what to wear to what kind of wedding you’re attending can be a tricky question, even beyond “What in the world is ‘black tie optional’?”

Weddings tend to be a big deal, particularly to the two people who’ve been gracious enough to invite you. So you should do your best to follow their wardrobe instructions or, if they haven’t given clear directions, read the clues to figure out what’s expected of you. It’s the least you could do since, after all, you’ll be throwing back free scotch all night, right?

What Are the Clues?

Usually the invitation will clearly state how you’re expected to dress, but if not, there are other ways you can figure it out. If the invitation is formal and a sit-down, plated dinner is planned, you should plan to dress formally. If the wedding is in the evening at a classy place, you should plan to dress formally. An afternoon or tea-time wedding is probably more casual, especially if the invitation seems casual and you aren’t ordering food. A beach wedding usually indicates a more casual style, but remember that it’s still a wedding — you can’t go too casual. For other clues, check the wedding website, ask a mutual friend, and/or do some research on the venue to see how formal it is. If you can (and it’s not the week of the wedding), ask the bride or groom.

Formal Wedding

When it comes to wedding attire, there are different levels of formal. In general, if there’s ever a question in your mind, just go with the dark suit and a conservative tie. This is the way to go if, for example, you’ve been asked to a wedding as a date and have no way of finding out the usual clues.

  • If a wedding is white tie, congratulations, you must have some fabulously wealthy friends. But just in case you happen to sneak an invite, etiquette master Emily Post has very clear instructions: “men should wear a tailcoat, a formal white shirt, white vest and tie, white or gray gloves, and black opera pumps (shoes without laces).” So yeah, have fun with that.
  • Black tie is the next step down the formal ladder. A classic tuxedo is the way to go, but you do have some wiggle room. Just keep it clearly formal.
  • Black tie requested or preferred means you should err on the side of more dressed up; in other words, just wear a tux, unless for whatever reason that is not an option for you.
  • Black tie optional gives you a little more leeway, so you can go with a dark suit and conservative tie.

Afternoon Wedding

Generally, an afternoon affair (that doesn’t include a sit-down dinner) is a less formal event than an evening wedding. You should still plan to wear a suit, but you can go with a lighter color. You can also mix your textures and add a pop of color with your tie. Once again, plan your level of dress according to the type of venue where the wedding will be held. Keep in mind that even if a wedding is in the afternoon, unless it’s referred to as casual, you are expected to be in a suit.

Outdoor Wedding

Outdoor weddings can confuse things a bit. You can still use the formality of the venue and time of day as a guide, but you can also tailor your attire to the locale. If the wedding is in a barn at a farm, you can go with the lighter suit, wear appropriate shoes for clomping around a field, and maybe skip the tie. Outdoor weddings are usually during warmer months, so make sure you wear light layers to reduce the sweat factor. Consider a vest and tie instead of a jacket.

Casual Wedding

If a wedding is going to be casual, the invitation will likely indicate what level of casual the bride and groom are expecting. Rarely — and you’ll know who your friends are — is a casual wedding the kind of casual that you can wear what you wear when you go out with your buddies. For a casual wedding, think shirt, tie and slacks. You can have some fun with color, pattern and style, but keep it on the dressy side of casual. No jeans and no athletic shoes. Especially if you’re hoping to impress a bridesmaid or two. Unless you’re attending a costume wedding or a wedding at a Chuck-E-Cheese, casual is at least business casual with a flair.

Beach Wedding

A beach wedding may seem like a great idea, but figuring out what to wear can suck some of the fun out of it. For sure, you aren’t going to go to this wedding in flip-flops and board shorts (unless the invitations indicate that flip-flops and board shorts are welcome).

Linen and seersucker are great for the beach, but make sure you’re not in light linen, as the groom may be and you don’t want to be mistaken for him. Feel free to wear loafers or deck shoes without socks with your trousers and vest. Like other outdoor weddings, you can be less formal and get creative with your colors, patterns and textures. A light suit with a Hawaiian shirt could make a fun statement. If the invitation mentions casual beachwear, impress everyone with a jacket and classy pair of shorts with dress shoes and no socks. Add a hat and dance the night away with whomever you want.

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