Wedding attire can be a complicated matter, and not just for the wedding party. If you've been invited to a wedding, you may be feeling a bit intimidated about making the right fashion choice -- especially if the invitation indicates the "dress" for the wedding. Don't be nervous. This stuff is actually quite simple, and the bottom line is, everyone's going to be watching what the bride, groom and wedding party are wearing, not you.
Here are some basic guidelines to help you be a well-dressed guest. Keep in mind that different regions of the country have slightly different dressing conventions, so if you're attending a wedding out of your area, you might want to double check with a local to see if you're attire selection is on target. If no dress is indicated, your attire is determined to a large degree by the time of day.
Think "special clothes". Depending on the season, your attire is likely to be lighter colored and a bit more casual that you might wear for an evening wedding. Men should still plan to wear a suit or nice sports coat and slacks, and a tie. Women can wear a nice dress, skirt or suit, and might opt for something comparatively colorful, or floral.
Dress essentially as you would for a Morning Wedding.
Evening Wedding/No Dress Indicated
Dress as you would for a nice dinner out. Men should wear suits, women should choose dresses, skirts or elegant suits. Select darker, more sophisticated colors and fabrics than you would choose for a morning or afternoon wedding. Jewelry can be more elaborate, and women would probably choose to carry a small evening bag rather than a purse.
Although it would be rare to see this indicated on an invitation, it is sometimes used when the hosts wish to let you know that the circumstances of the wedding are such that you really should not be too dressed up. Leave the high heels or a double-breasted suit at home. This might be the case if the wedding is being held outdoors -- at the beach, in a park, etc. -- and is more common for second weddings. Other variations on this level of dress might be expressed as "Garden Party Attire", etc. However, don't take casual to the extreme. Women might still opt for a dress or skirt, although a more casual one or a suit with flats. Gentlemen might wear nice slacks and a dress shirt with or without a tie. Casual attire does not mean jeans and tennis shoes.
Dress as you would for a fancy cocktail party or a fancy dinner out on the town. This attire is similar to that indicated above for Evening Weddings, but with an emphasis on sophistication. Women should strive for elegance and chic, rather than sweet or pretty dresses. Men should dress to be their most dashing (although tuxedos are not appropriate).
Black Tie Optional
This dress allows those who wish to go all out and dress in black tie to do so, but provides leeway for those who wish to dress a little less formally. This option is generally well received because it means that men who don't own or want to rent a tuxedo need not feel compelled to do so. Men can opt to wear a dark suit instead of a tuxedo, but a black, dark navy, or dark Grey suit would be the best choice. Men should dress as formally as they can, short of actually wearing a tuxedo. Women can dress as formally as black tie, but can also get away with a shorter, cocktail style dress.
This is the most formal attire. Men should plan to wear a tuxedo, and women dress in formal dresses, usually floor length. If you are in doubt as to how fancy to dress, ask a few friends who are also attending the wedding what they plan to wear to help direct your choice. When in doubt, err in the direction of over dressing a little (with the exception of wearing a tuxedo to anything but a black tie or black tie optional event) rather than showing up dressed too casually.
Other attire essentials:
Wearing black: The long-standing tradition of ladies not wearing black to a wedding has been overturned. Today, even the bridesmaids might be outfitted in black. Just make sure you don't look like you're attending a funeral. Consider accessorizing that little black dress with a brightly colored scarf or blazer.
Wearing white: Since the popularization of the white wedding dress in the mid-19th century, women have avoided wearing white to a wedding, so that the bride might uniquely shine in her white wedding gown. While this rule, like the "no black dresses" rule, has since been rejected, a female guest should select carefully if she opts to wear white. Be careful to not select anything that might cause anyone to mistake you for the bride. Since current bridal fashions are sleeker than ever, and many older and second time brides dress in wedding suits, you might embarrass yourself (and the bride) in a white outfit. If you plan to wear white, choose carefully, and accessorize with color.
*dress pictured are samples ; similar styles are available in store*