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Wedding Attire for Wedding Guests

Updated on November 5, 2009
You don't want to be that one wedding guest that sticks out so follow wedding attire etiquette carefully
You don't want to be that one wedding guest that sticks out so follow wedding attire etiquette carefully

Knowing what to wear to a wedding can be a tricky thing these days. Fashion and etiquette trends are often changing, and each couple seems to have a different set of clothing preferences.

If you're attending a wedding as a guest, you need to know that wedding attire etiquette rules should be followed. If not, you risk insulting the couple, embarrassing yourself or even drawing attention away from the focal point- the newlyweds.

In this article, I'll outline some general guidelines that will help you determine what to wear to a wedding and how to dress appropriately for specific types of weddings without going against the current wedding trends.

Guest Wedding Attire- General Guidelines

If you've been invited to attend the wedding of a friend or family member and you're not going to be in the wedding party, there are a number of general guidelines to be mindful of when you're picking out your wedding outfit. Here they are:

  1. Pick an outfit that will work well for both the ceremony and reception. Don't pick something that's so formal that you can't dance in it (unless you want to use that as an excuse!) and don't pick an outfit that's perfect for dancing but is not really formal.
  2. If you're in doubt about how much your dress reveals, don't wear it- better safe than sorry.
  3. Ladies, don't wear a white outfit! Guys, when possible try not to dress like the guy's in the wedding party, especially the groom! Both of these actions break guideline #4 which is...
  4. Don't take attention away from the bride and groom with your outfit. The goal isn't to stand out, it's to look sharp and yet not take away from the bride and groom. Remember: the newlyweds should be the best dressed couple at their celebration.
  5. When in doubt, ask the couple or their family. Chances are they've got a good idea of what they want their guests to wear. They might even have a particular theme they'd like you to stick with, so in case they didn't write instructions on their wedding invitations, check with them before choosing your outfit.
  6. Be sensitive to the type of wedding the couple is having as well as the location of the event.

How to Dress Appropriately for Specific Types of Weddings

You'll want to tailor your outfit to the type and style of wedding, but each wedding is different. Some weddings take place in a field, others on the beach. Some weddings are in the morning, others are in the evening.

Weddings might also have a specific theme such as tropical or medieval. I've seen all kinds of weddings such as Star Wars, superheroes and cartoon. Below are some brief notes on wedding attire for guests of different popular types of weddings.

Bride on the beach
Bride on the beach

Guest Attire for a Beach Wedding (as well as most Destination Weddings)

Beach and destination weddings are quite different from most standard weddings. Couples typically understand that weddings in these settings are hot, sunny and sometimes wet. Because of this, your clothing options change completely.

Men: Dress socks and shoes aren't required for destination/beach weddings. Feel free to wear (a nice pair of) sandals and even a pair of dress shorts as long as they are tasteful. Even though it will probably be sunny, a hat isn't recommended; try wearing a pair of sunglasses instead.

Women: You are allowed to wear shorter dresses or a shorter skirt/top combo. Your top could be spaghetti strap as well, just don't make it too revealing. You want to make sure other guests are focused on the beautiful new couple, not your revealed chest or legs. Like the men, you can also wear sandals since high heels would be impossible in the sand.

Lake-side wedding photo
Lake-side wedding photo
Fun outdoor wedding reception
Fun outdoor wedding reception

Guest Attire for an Outdoor Wedding

Outdoor weddings come in many shapes and sizes. Possible settings for outdoor weddings include, but are not limited to:

  • Gardens
  • Lakeside or riverside property
  • Mountaintop
  • Backyard
  • Church property
  • Golf course

Things to keep in mind about outdoor wedding attire:

  • Check the weather to see if it will be unusually hot, rainy, overcast, etc.
  • Often the couple will include attire details with their invitations, so check that first.
  • If not in the invitations, check with family of the bride or groom to get attire suggestions.
  • It's usually someone's personal property, so be respectful of that.
  • Is the area private or public- viewable by cars on a nearby highway, boats on a nearby body of water, etc.?

Men: You are typically expected to wear slacks, suit and tie as well as dress socks and shoes. However, wedding etiquette is becoming a bit more relaxed these days and it's becoming more acceptable to wear nice dress shorts instead of slacks.

Women: Just like the men, your attire should typically match that of an indoor wedding with the possible exception of your shoes. Depending on the location, high heels might not be plausible, so use your discernment there. However, wedding etiquette is becoming more relaxed these days and it is somewhat more acceptable these days to wear something more airy and loose, especially if it is hot and humid weather.

Condensed Outdoor Wedding Video

Medieval weddings (and other themed weddings) aren't as hard to dress for as you might think
Medieval weddings (and other themed weddings) aren't as hard to dress for as you might think

Morning, Evening and Themed Wedding Attire for Guests

You might still be asking, "what is correct attire for a morning (or evening) wedding?" If you're invited to a wedding that will take place in a church or indoors, that doesn't necessarily mean you can wear a standard wedding outfit.

Here's the difference between morning and evening weddings: Morning weddings tend to be less formal and evening weddings tend to be more formal. This is a good rule of thumb, but again, when in doubt you should refer to friends and family of the bride or groom.

Themed weddings also create an interesting challenge for wedding attire. Although it is impossible to cover every type of wedding theme, some of the more common are:

  • Fairy tale
  • Superhero
  • Medieval
  • Celtic
  • Fantasy

The good news about choosing what to wear to a wedding like this? The couple always tells you what the theme is! From that point forward it's up to your imagination; just keep the aforementioned rules in mind (don't detract from the focal point of the wedding, dress modestly, etc.).

Weddings in different cultures provide unique attire challenges
Weddings in different cultures provide unique attire challenges

One final note on wedding attire for guests: Be sensitive to the couple's desires and needs. This is especially true of the "standard" weddings (indoors, weekend wedding) because let's face it- the "standard wedding" is changing constantly.

In an effort to be more and more unique, brides and grooms are switching their weddings up, so the etiquette trends are always being rewritten. Follow the guidelines above and you will please the couple, feel good about yourself and not stick out awkwardly.

Good luck!

Oh and if you want more wedding tips, tricks and advice, follow me on twitter.


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    • PaperNotes profile image


      8 years ago

      Thank you for the great tips. I've always wondered what was the most appropriate attire I should wear and this is very helpful. Great hub!

    • WeddingConsultant profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from DC Metro Area

      You're welcome...and welcome to hubpages Katia and Luke!

    • Katia And Luke profile image

      Katia And Luke 

      8 years ago

      Thank you for writing this and also for including all the extra pictures. Nice article.


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