What You Should Never Wear to a Wedding—and Some Cute Looks to Try Instead (2024)

Weddings these days have fewer and fewer fashion rules than in decades past, which can be great, but also makes things a tad more complicated. Many of today's brides are passing on traditional gowns in favor of elegant pants or jumpsuits, the occasional groom skips the typical black tux for a pastel suit, and even bridesmaids are ditching the cookie-cutter dresses for something they can wear over and over again. This means guests *also* have just as much freedom with their styles.

But before you whip out any outfit and call it a day, there are a few things to remember while getting dressed in order to still be respectful of the ceremony and the people getting married. Some of the rules are pretty straightforward and easy to follow (e.g., what colors to avoid), while others require a little more outfit planning—like figuring out what the heck "beach-formal attire" means.

To make sure you really nail it on the big day (well, not *your* big day, but you know what I mean), we tapped Elaine Swann, lifestyle and etiquette expert and founder of The Swann School of Protocol, to give us the low-down on some spoken and unspoken fashion rules.

Keep reading for her advice about about what not to wear to a wedding, plus some stylish ideas about what you should wear instead. After this, you'll be ready to handle any dress code request that's thrown your way. Promise. Also, we've got you covered with more wedding guest dresses and jumpsuits here and here!

1. Don't wear white.

…or off-white, or really, really pale blue. Swann says that lighter colors tend to photograph white, and knowing how your look will photograph is just a general thing to be aware of, BTW. Avoiding white should be a no-brainer, but it still bears saying—unless the bride has specifically requested that guests wear it.

Want to wear something close to white? Try a neutral!

Jamila Corset Dress

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2. Try to avoid wearing the bridal party's colors.

Swann recommends that you stay away from colors that match the wedding (unless otherwise stated) so you don't look like you're part of the bridal party. How can you determine this? "You can tell what the color scheme for the wedding is from the invitation or the wedding website, which gives an idea of what direction the couple might be going." If you're still unsure, you can always ask the bride or a bridesmaid!

Wearing something printed can help avoid matching the bridal party, since, traditionally, most bridesmaids wear solid colors. (...Though some brides are opting for patterned bridesmaid dresses so it really depends!)

Unreal Awe Burgundy Floral Burnout Velvet One-Shoulder Dress

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3. Consider the season.

If it's a winter wedding, go for a slinky gown or maybe even a velvety material. If it's spring, it's time to embrace the florals and any fun print you can think of. For the summer-time, avoid the sweat stains and think lightweight fabrics! Truly, chiffon, cotton, and linen will be your best friend. And for fall, you have to bring out the jewel-tones, ya know? Autumnal colors (like copper, golds, greens, and browns) work very well, too.

What You Should Never Wear to a Wedding—and Some Cute Looks to Try Instead (3)

Rebdolls Jenny Velvet Tie Belt Maxi Shift Dress

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What You Should Never Wear to a Wedding—and Some Cute Looks to Try Instead (4)

Club L London Phantasy Orange Smoke Print Asymmetric Neckline Cowl Maxi

What You Should Never Wear to a Wedding—and Some Cute Looks to Try Instead (5)

Hanifa Lola Gown

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4. Don't go *too* casual.

Even if the wedding has a more low-key dress code, I promise you: It is not that casual. Meaning no sweats, shorts, jeans, T-shirts—you get my point. "If you have to choose between being underdressed or overdressed, it's always better to be overdressed," Swann explains.

But she also insists that if you are truly baffled by the dress code and have no idea what to wear, you should absolutely reach out for help. "I encourage people to embrace that awkward moment and ask for an example from someone in the wedding party, whether it's the bride, the groom, or the bridal party."

If you are looking for something that skews more casual but is still fit for a wedding, go for any of the simple yet stylish outfits below which can easily be dressed up or down.

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Norma Kamali Kamali Kulture Shirred Waist Jumpsuit

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MERLETTE Aster Dress

What You Should Never Wear to a Wedding—and Some Cute Looks to Try Instead (9)

Rebecca Taylor Puff-Sleeve Tiered Dress

What You Should Never Wear to a Wedding—and Some Cute Looks to Try Instead (10)

Lulu's Mauve Pink Bodycon Dress

5. Dress up your pants.

So you wanna wear pants? Totally fine! Just make sure they're dressy enough for the nuptials. Start with tailored trousers and a polished blouse, or make things easy for yourself by grabbing a matching blazer. Pant suits are a great way to go, or you can coordinate the color of your pants with your top and have a monochrome moment.

Chloe Kristyn Laylene Blouse

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6. Cover your shoulders when applicable.

Is the ceremony taking place in a church or in an institution with a more modest dress code? Swann says, above all, it's important to remember that weddings are a sacred occasion. Be respectful of where the vows are being exchanged, and you can always bring a shawl or sweater to cover yourself.

This simple ribbed cardi would do the trick.

AMO Puff Sleeve Cardigan

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7. Be aware of your neckline.

On that same note, I'm always here for a great cleave moment, but weddings are generally a bit more family-friendly!

"Not only will the couple be there, but there may be extended family members, including grandparents," Swann says. "You certainly don't have to wear something that is old fashioned—you can stay on trend—but remember that part of the wedding itself may be a very religious occasion as well, so there is some modesty that could be expected."

Not saying don't do a deep V, just don't be asking "how low can you go?" Here's a plunge that should still work.

Rails Jacinda Dress

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8. Avoid going overboard.

Even if the wedding is a ~dress to impress~ event, the last thing you want to do is outdo the people getting married! Prints and fun colors are definitely okay, but make sure you're not taking over the spotlight.

"There's a difference between wearing a co*cktail dress that's really cute for the club and wearing a co*cktail dress that's meant for a wedding," Swann explains. "The outfit you select should not draw too much attention away from the couple."

A cowl neck midi and lustrous jumpsuit are great choices!

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Lulus Sleek Sophisticate Bronze Satin Striped Backless Cowl Maxi Dress

What You Should Never Wear to a Wedding—and Some Cute Looks to Try Instead (15)

Mango Halter-Neck Velvet Jumpsuit

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9. Rethink the sparkles.

Along those lines, sometimes not outshining the couple can mean skipping something super glitzy—unless it's specified, or if it's a black- or white-tie affair. Of course you wanna win best-dressed guest, but you don't want everyone's eyes to be on you...and off the bride.

Instead of over-the-top sequins, try other textures like ruffles, lace, or plissé for a look that stands out, but doesn't literally shine.

30% OFF ALWAYS FITS PLISSÉ MAXIDRESS

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10. Don’t go against the dress code.

Yes, Swann confirmed that it’s *usually* better to overdress than underdress. But read the room: Don’t wear a tux or a ballgown to a backyard wedding—in that case, it’s better to keep it a little more low-key.

Swann also says the location has a lot to do with what you should wear. "For example, if it's a destination wedding, then you know that you'd be wearing resort-style attire. If it's going to take place at a high-end hotel, then that'll give you an idea of the theme."

The other indicator that helps determine your style is the time of day the ceremony is taking place. "Earlier in the day, you're going to find that the attire is going to be less formal, which means more bright colors and flowy fabrics. Later in the evening is when you'll get to that formal attire where you have black and gold hues, beads, and sparkles." Of course, this is all generally speaking, but these are good guidelines to follow.

If you've got a garden wedding you're attending this spring or summer, here's a cute option!

Arianne Elmy Good Luck Dress

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11. Skip the rips and holes, even intentional ones.

It's usually wisest to save anything super distressed or with frayed edges for other occasions. But if you like the idea of showing a little unexpected skin, consider a stylish cutout. As Swann points out, you don't have to completely forgo trends, either.

This style is the perfect mix of trendy yet appropriate. Plus, the breezy linen material will keep you cool during an outdoor ceremony.

Abercrombie & Fitch The A&F Giselle Pleated Cutout Mini Dress

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12. Be strategic about your choice of shoes.

Comfort is important, especially if you plan on turning up on the dance floor. But wearing flip flops to the ceremony? Probably not the move, unless it's a casual, toes in the sand beach wedding. If you know there is going to be a long walk from one point to another throughout the festivities, Swann says comfy flat shoes (flip flops or otherwise) that you can slip in and out of quickly might be good to bring—but only for those in between moments!

Also, if the nuptials are happening on grass, Swann suggests wearing wedges or heels that have a thicker sole so you won't sink in the ground when you walk. "Get that information in advance, and don't feel as though you're bothering the couple or bothering the party by asking these sorts of questions—they want you to be comfortable," Swann says.

Consider any of the below shoes depending on the location and overall vibe.

to wear to a church ceremony

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Larroude Gio Sandal In Silver

to wear to a beach ceremony

What You Should Never Wear to a Wedding—and Some Cute Looks to Try Instead (20)

TKEES Mia Napa Sandal

What You Should Never Wear to a Wedding—and Some Cute Looks to Try Instead (21)

Steve Madden Alexis Black Satin

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Brother Vellies Fleur Sandal in Raffia

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Tarah-Lynn Saint-Elien

Fashion Editor

Tarah-Lynn Saint-Elien is the fashion editor at Cosmopolitan, writing weighty and witty stories that run the gamut of gushing over Zendaya to convincing you of everything you need in your closet! She began her journey in the industry with a fashion and faith blog and an internship at Elle.com almost 10 years ago. Since then, she's also served as the style editor at The Haitian Times. The Haitian-American pageant queen is a Syracuse Masters graduate and the author of two books, including: Claim Your Crown. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter: @iamtarahlynn.

What You Should Never Wear to a Wedding—and Some Cute Looks to Try Instead (2024)

FAQs

What You Should Never Wear to a Wedding—and Some Cute Looks to Try Instead? ›

What shouldn't a guest wear to a wedding? A wedding ceremony is a serious occasion, so you should always dress respectfully: Skip anything too casual (no jeans), too bridal (no formal, white gowns), or too short.

Is there anything you shouldn't wear to a wedding? ›

Avoid sequined ball gowns, sparkly tiaras, sky-high platform heels, or other articles of clothing that will draw attention away from the bride. A wedding isn't the proper time to make a bold fashion statement. If you're at a complete loss for an outfit, Sabatino suggests sticking with a long or short black dress.

What is disrespectful to wear to a wedding? ›

Wearing clothing that shows too much skin or revealing clothing should never be worn to a wedding. This is especially true if you are wearing a wedding dress or other form-fitting clothing that reveals too much cleavage or leg.

What color is inappropriate to wear to a wedding? ›

Traditionally, wearing white or black to someone's wedding is frowned upon as not socially acceptable. Black may be acceptable if the guest is either very old and always wears black as is done in some cultures, or in mourning.

Why can't you wear red to a wedding? ›

Actually, the etiquette code for weddings say no white, no black and no red. Red is a very loud color that tends to take away the attention from anything else around, and you wouldn't want to take away the attention from the bride.

Are there Colours you shouldn't wear to a wedding? ›

Gold and champagne tones are another colour that's smart to avoid as a guest, due to the risk of being also worn by the Bride. With many Brides going against the traditional white wedding gown, tones such as light golds and champagnes are becoming more and more popular.

What does red mean at a wedding? ›

There's an old wives' tale that wearing red to a wedding means you've slept with the groom or at least wanted to. It's a wedding myth that shouldn't prevent you from wearing whatever you want. However, people perceive the red colour as naughty or alluring.

What is an inappropriate dress for a wedding guest? ›

However, unless specifically requested by the bride, there are a few colors that should never be worn by a wedding guest: white, cream, off-white, or ivory. You also shouldn't wear a dress that looks even vaguely bridal. Other no-nos? Neon shades, bright red from head to toe, and anything overly sequined or bedazzled.

Is it rude to be overdressed at a wedding? ›

It's better to be overdressed than underdressed, but find a happy medium that won't have you mistaken for the groom. Don't Match the Bridal Party. As a guest, you don't want to blend in with the wedding party (or even mimic it).

Is it unlucky to wear green to a wedding? ›

Traditionally you shouldn't wear white or cream as those colours are usually used for the wedding gown and wearing green is supposed to be unlucky.

Is it rude to wear black at a wedding? ›

Since nuptials are celebratory occasions, the dark hue was labeled off-limits for attendees in the past. However, in today's modern-day age, wearing black to a wedding is completely acceptable, and in many cases, it's even encouraged.

Is yellow a bad color to wear to a wedding? ›

Yes, you can wear yellow to a wedding. Yellow is a fun and lively color that shows joy. It's great for weddings in hot places. Yet, not all yellows are the same. Light and bright yellows work well for spring or summer weddings.

Is it rude to wear the same color as the wedding party? ›

If you had never talked to the bride or if you were a guest who didn't know what the bridesmaids were wearing, which is most guests, you'd be wearing it. So just wear it and don't overthink it. No. It's of no consequence, any more than if you at table 14 wore the same color dress as someone at table 8.

What does black mean at a wedding? ›

Account for Tradition. In some cultures, black is less common for weddings. "Certain cultures, such as Indian and Chinese cultures, tend to stay away from black because it represents being in mourning. You want to take an extra thought if you are attending a more traditional wedding to be respectful," says Avrumson.

Does red mean you slept with the groom? ›

Turns out, wearing red to a wedding means to some that “you've slept with the groom.” “Old Wives' Tale, but yeah,” Mitchell explained. However, both wedding planners agreed on a more modern reason for not wearing red: It could be seen as a way to grab the attention away from the bride.

Is it rude to wear bright red to a wedding? ›

"Tradition dictates guests avoid wearing red out of fear that it could take attention away from the happy couple,” explains Hurwitz. “Visually, it's quite bold.

Do weddings have dress codes? ›

Simply put, women should wear a formal, floor-length evening gown—no exceptions—with jewelry, heels, and an elegant clutch. Men are required to wear a tuxedo with tails, a formal white shirt, a vest, a bow tie, white or gray gloves, and formal footwear, such as derby shoes or oxfords.

Can you be too dressy for a wedding? ›

What is the standard dress code for a wedding? "If no dress code is provided, I don't think you can go wrong with a semiformal or co*cktail-attire appropriate outfit. After all, it's better to be overdressed than underdressed, especially at an event like a wedding," says Hurwitz.

Is it improper to wear black to a wedding? ›

Since nuptials are celebratory occasions, the dark hue was labeled off-limits for attendees in the past. However, in today's modern-day age, wearing black to a wedding is completely acceptable, and in many cases, it's even encouraged.

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