Finding the Perfect Attire for the Wedding Party
You found the guy, got the ring, and picked your ceremony and reception sites. Hooray! Now to choose the attire for everyone on your big day . . . but what should you wear?
Not too long ago, wedding etiquette was very formal and very widely known. Invitations were only printed in black ink on ivory papers, and everyone knew what to wear to a wedding simply by noting the time of the event. Today, invitations come in a dizzying array of colors and styles, and wedding ceremonies and receptions are held in all kinds of places. Brides and grooms want an event that spotlights their personalities and interests, but the place and time of the ceremony and reception largely influences the clothing that should be worn by members of the wedding party.
Time of Day
The first step to determining how formal the wedding party attire should be is to consider the time of day.
Weddings held after 6:00 p.m. are the most formal affairs. Tuxedos and floor length gowns are appropriate. Gentlemen have a choice of standard tuxedos, tails, or dinner jackets in the evening, and bridesmaids can wear floor length gowns in rich satins, even with sweep trains. The bride can wear a gown of satin, peau de sioe, or another rich fabric, and can be beaded and have a dramatic cathedral length train.
Noon weddings are also formal, though the gentlemen should consider a cutaway, stroller, or standard tux, and all the ladies in the wedding party should choose lighter fabrics such as tulle or chiffon.
Weddings held in the afternoon are generally semi-formal. Gentlemen should wear a suit or a standard tuxedo, and ladies can wear either short or long gowns. The bride should avoid the most heavily beaded gowns, and should have a chapel or sweep train.
Morning weddings are the least formal of all. Gentlemen should wear suits, and ladies should wear short dresses in day fabrics. The bride should wear a simpler gown or a suit.
Once you’ve thought about the time of day, the location should be considered.
Wedding party members should dress more formally for ceremonies in a church. The consideration is as much a logistical one as it is a show of respect for the space. Bear in mind that some churches like the shoulders covered, and a shrug or shawl may be a necessary accessory for the ladies in the wedding party.
Ceremonies held in an indoor venue that is not a house of worship should take cues from the space itself. For instance, will you be using a ballroom with gilded moldings and crystal chandeliers, or will it be inside the atrium at the botanical garden? Very formal attire will be at home in the ballroom, while it will likely seem out of place in the atrium.
Lastly, ceremonies held outdoors will most likely be the most casual affairs, with suits and simpler dresses for the wedding party members. You don’t want your cathedral length veil snagging on the grass or cement, and the gentlemen won’t want to stand in the sun in tails.
Most likely, your ceremony space and reception space will be similar in their formality, but if they’re not, take both venues into consideration. If you’re marrying in a church, but will be celebrating under an open air tent to take advantage of beautiful fall foliage, you’ll want to find a balance between the formality of the first and the relaxed setting of the latter. This might be the perfect situation to use suits with colorful ties for the gentlemen, tea length dresses for the ladies, and a ball gown that changes into a short skirt for the bride. If your ceremony is in the garden and the reception in the ballroom, you might do light colored suits, short bridesmaids dresses, and an airy a-line gown with a sweep train for the bride.
Pulling It All Together
When combining the guidelines for time of day with those for the location, remember that it’s possible to dress down the formality, but you generally shouldn’t dress up. For example, a wedding at 7:00 in the evening can be held anywhere, and can be anything from semiformal to very formal. A wedding at 11:00 in the morning or 2:00 in the afternoon, on the other hand, shouldn’t ever be formal or very formal.
The choices are dizzying and frequently confusing. Not only are you choosing the dresses and tuxedos or suits, but you’ll have to decide on hair bows or halos for the flower girls, pocket squares and ties for the groomsmen, shawls and jewelry for the bridesmaids, and coordinating colors for the mothers and grandmothers. Take a few moments to think about all these details, because they can turn average into extraordinary, and make your wedding truly unique.
Remember that most wedding salons have knowledgeable staff members who will provide guidance in your quest, and if you’re using a wedding coordinator, he or she can help you to narrow the field before your shopping trip or go with you if you wish. These professionals are a great source to rely on as you search for not only the appropriate clothing for the location and time of day, but the perfect dress for the bride and the perfect attire for everyone else who will share that special day.
Beth Downs is a certified Etiquette and Leadership Consultant, and has been assisting brides for four years. She provides complete event planning assistance and custom party paper designs, as well as wedding event coordination.
Etiquette & Leadership Consultant