|By Invitation - Decoding The Dress Code|
|Written by Sacha Miller-Mcdonald|
Nobody can dispute that words have different connotations for different people! Here's how to decode the wedding dress code.
I love weddings with a passion – the clothes, the vows, the celebration, the atmosphere – all of it. The only thing I don’t always like about receiving a wedding invitation, is having to decipher the dress code.
Weddings, like all formal and traditional occasions, have a few traditional formalities that need to be observed. Of course, nobody can force you to observe these little fashion etiquette rules, but you’ll probably feel more comfortable if you do. I like to think of it as the 'Spring Racing Carnival' theory – nobody can stop you from wearing an evening dress with a wide-brimmed straw hat and without hosiery, but you won’t be winning any 'Fashions In The Field' commendations if you do!
The basic, traditional rules of dressing for weddings are as follows:
But what about the old-fashioned dress code in the modern context? Formal, semi-formal, informal, lounge suit, black tie, white tie – what does it all mean?
In order to decode the dress code, we need to take a few other factors into consideration. What time of day is the wedding? Whereabouts are the wedding and reception to be held? What relationship do you have with the bride and groom? What does the invitation look like?
As a general rule, very few modern weddings are white tie. Those that are require evening wear for ladies, and tails and a white bow-tie and cummerbund for gents.
Black tie signals a tuxedo and black bow-tie for gentlemen, and a formal cocktail frock for ladies. If a black tie wedding takes place after 5pm, ladies may wear a floor length gown. 'Black tie' and 'formal' usually mean the same thing, though, depending of the time and location of the weddings, 'formal' can also mean a dark suit, collared shirt and tie for the gents, formal daywear for the ladies.
Informal, semi-formal and lounge suit also generally mean the same thing – lounge suit and nice tie for the men, and an elegantly pretty 'Sunday best' dress or suit for the ladies.
So how can we decode the modern dress code?
'Informal' can be the first stumbling block. Unless the wedding is to be very, very casual, 'informal' still means a nice shirt with collar and perhaps a tie for the men, and a stylish day dress or similar for the female guests. Very rarely 'informal' mean shorts, jeans or anything else made of denim.
If you are unsure about 'informal', check with the bride and groom. Many a guest has been caught out by this particular dress code, and it’s easy to do! Remember, just because a wedding takes place on the beach, in a backyard or a local park, doesn't mean it isn't a special occasion, worthy or taking time and trouble over. It's also easy to fall into the trap (most especially, I’ve noticed, for the family and friends of the groom) of thinking that the couple are generally pretty easygoing, so there's no real reason to dress up. Most couples, no matter how much they may shun tradition and formality in their day-to-day lives, tend to like a bit of fuss for their weddings.
If in any doubt, it's always best to err on the side of more rather than less formal. Male guests can always remove a tie and loosen a collar, female guests can let their hair down and replace a shawl with a cardigan if they feel overdressed – but there's very little room for movement if you’ve dressed too casually in the first place.
Invitations with an 'informal' dress code require the most thought, as there are different types of 'informal'. This is where your decoding skills will be handiest. If the wedding is in the evening, the reception is to be held at a specialist reception venue, restaurant, or even somebody's home, 'informal' means trousers and shirt, with or without collar for the men, and something pretty but understated the ladies. 'Informal' on an invitation to a daytime wedding, with a reception to be held on the beach, in a backyard, or in a local park can have a wider interpretation. Light coloured pants and open collared shirt for the chaps, and elegant daywear for the female guests.
And a note for the 'informal' male wedding guest – shy away from those shirts that have graffiti, slogans or any text emblazoned on them. I don’t care how well ironed they may be, they are absolutely not wedding wear!'
'Semi-formal' and 'lounge suit' codes are generally the easiest. Pretty, floaty dresses or stylish shifts for the female guests, and a simple suit, shirt and tie for the men. Style tip for male guests – avoid 'character' ties. Save Bart Simpson, Wallace and Gromit, and the dad from Family Guy for the office Christmas party.
'Formal' means a (preferably black) suit and (preferably bow) tie for the men and a cocktail frock for the ladies. Once again, male guest should avoid loud ties and those horrendous white 'formal' shirts that have sleeves made from some lurid coloured print, generally worn with matching bow-tie. Yuck.
Female 'formal' wedding guests should carefully interpret the 'cocktail frock' advice. 'Cocktail frock' doesn’t mean 'cocktail bar', so no micro-mini dresses, plunging, navel length necklines, dresses that need double sided tape to stop your breasts from making a guest appearance, or anything else that is aggressively sexy. 'Formal' is a chance to stand out because of your panache and elegance, and not because your breasts came loose and started joining in the fun on the dance floor! So leave the club wear at home.
Other wedding dress code tips are as follows:
2. Keep checking the invite
3. Check the invite again
4. Informal means smart casual
5. Assume formal if at at a reception centre
6. Consider how well you know the Bride & Groom
Similarly, if you aren’t a huge fan of the bride for any reason, avoid the overwhelming temptation to dress inappropriately. If you’ve been invited to your ex-boyfriend’s wedding, and are feeling the tiniest bit sour-grapey, the prospect of wearing that skimpy number that he always loved you in can be wickedly enticing. But don’t. You’ll
7. No Black or White
8. Weddings from other cultures
As with most fashion tips, there are a few points of etiquette that you should definitely observe in order to maintain your personal savoir faire. After all, style is not just about what you wear, but how you wear it! For example, formal wear often means formal behaviour. If the wedding reception is being held in a very opulent, dignified establishment, try to be a little aware of your surroundings. Mind your accessories too, especially at the ceremony itself. For example, if you happen to be accessorising with a mobile phone, then, unless you are a neurosurgeon on call, then switch it off! Similarly, if you are accessorising with a small child, and they happen to start squawking, wriggling, talking or crying, then take them outside. No exceptions.
The bottom line when it comes to wedding guest-wear, is that if you can find an outfit (and I do believe you can) that is stylish, comfortable and appropriate, you’ll look and feel fantastic.
|"Money has nothing to do with being stylish. It's about being born with that inner eye and having the confidence to convey a sense of yourself outwardly. You can't buy that. It's genetic." Sarah Mower, Fashion Journalist|