Weddings are one of the few events we frequently attend where guests are told explicitly what to wear by way of a dress code included on the invitation. And by way of that same dress code, we’re also told what not to wear to a wedding. And while we usually maintain that breaking fashion rules can often lead to some pretty fabulous outfits, the rules of wedding guest attire are meant to be adhered to every single time with only one exception: if the couple asks you to wear something specific. That’s it. But don’t worry, there are only a few pieces of advice you need to remember when planning your look. Here are the six hard and fast rules of what not to wear to a wedding (plus one we think is totally fine to break).
What Not to Wear to a Wedding So You Don’t Accidentally Upstage the Happy Couple
1. Don’t Wear White
This is definitely the most obvious wedding dress code violation and, honestly, the absolutely easiest one to follow. It doesn’t matter if your dress is short or casual or a pantsuit, just don’t wear white. And for the love of cauliflower do not wear a white gown or even a white floor-length dress. It’s also best to avoid colors that are white adjacent like light gray or super pale pastels. You never know what those shades will look like in the lighting of the venue so it’s better to play it safe and pick a more saturated hue.
2. Don’t Wear Anything Too Sexy
Remember when Kendall Jenner posted photos of herself in a barely-there Mônot dress at a friend’s wedding and the internet collectively came together to rage against her? Yeah, don’t be the Kendall of your cousin’s wedding. The model later explained that she’d asked permission from the bride, who said yes, which is an option if you feel comfortable doing so, but really the best thing is to just save that sexy little frock for another time and opt for something with more coverage instead. (A good rule of thumb for deciding if a dress is too much is to pick just one sexy feature—form-fitting, low-cut or short.)
3. Don’t Ignore The Dress Code
There is a reason the couple included that information on the invitation, so don’t ignore the words “black tie” just because you have a cute new cocktail dress you’re dying to wear. This goes both ways, actually—don’t go too casual if the dress code specifically requests formal attire, and don’t go too over-the-top if the couple opts for cocktail or dressy casual. Generally we’d say it’s better to err on the side of overdressed rather than underdressed, but if you’re unsure what to wear just do a quick Google search. There are tons of resources out there outlining exactly what every single wedding dress code means so you don’t have to be left wondering.
4. Don’t Wear Jeans Or Leggings
Maybe the wedding is at a dude ranch or maybe the dress code is “dressy casual” or even just “casual.” None of those things make it OK to wear denim, leggings or anything resembling athleisure to the nuptials. If you really love pants, opt for a true pair of trousers or a suit instead. We promise there are tons of chic pants out there that are just as comfy as your beloved skinny jeans, but dressy enough for a wedding.
5. Don’t Wear A Ballgown Or Tiara
On the flip side, wearing pieces that resemble something a bride might wear, even in a different color, are also a no. You don’t want to accidentally upstage the bride with a voluminous ballgown or glittering diamonds. Instead try a slimmer silhouette or a fancy headband that still fits within the formal dress code.
6. Don’t Ignore Cultural Traditions
White is the most traditional color for brides in Western cultures, but that’s not true everywhere else. In China brides tend to wear red and in Morocco they opt for yellow or green. And while most American couples probably won’t mind a guest wearing an LBD, in some European countries it’s considered insulting to wear black to a wedding, as that color is reserved for mourning. If you know the couple plan to incorporate non-Western traditions into their ceremony or it’s taking place somewhere outside the U.S., do some research ahead of time to make sure you’re not accidentally wearing something offensive.
7. One Rule You Can Ignore: Don’t Match The Bridal Party
You may hear folks advising against wearing the same color as the bridal party so you don’t get mistaken for a bridesmaid, but we think this is one rule you can ignore. There’s no need to stress yourself out trying to figure out the wedding colors and then trying to avoid them, and the happy couple definitely have more important things on their minds and doesn’t want to be bombarded with texts or calls asking for wedding guest attire advice. If you plan on wearing an old bridesmaid dress and would feel really awkward should it turn out to be the same one, try asking a member of the bridal party. Otherwise we say add a colorful belt or contrasting pashmina over the top and go have fun.