With Spring on its way, wedding season is fast approaching!
This year Mike and I are so happy to be invited to five family and friends’ weddings, which is a light year for us. The last three years we have averaged 7 to 8 weddings per season, including our own!
Being a wedding guest brings about the inevitable question of ‘what to wear’? After attending 15 or so weddings in the last couple of years, many of them in the UK, I have pulled together a bit of a guide on what to wear to a British wedding. This will hopefully give you a few ideas of what to wear if you are feeling uncertain about British etiquette as a wedding guest, like I first did when I moved to the UK.
The first clue on what to wear is usually found on the invitation itself. Although the language can sometimes be a bit tricky to interpret, there are a few rules of thumb that help you navigate this somewhat arcane vocabulary. Just remember, it is always better to be over dressed than under dressed!
The most common dress codes in the UK are:
- Black Tie: This is a very formal wedding dress code, normally associated with evening weddings. Men should wear a tuxedo, a black dinner/tuxedo jacket, a formal white shirt, bow tie and black formal shoes. Ladies can wear a floor-length gown or a dressy cocktail dress of midi or knee-length. Ladies can go bold in their accessories and really dress up! If you are not sure if you should go for a long or short dress, to be on the safe side I would recommend wearing a long dress.
- Morning suit: You will normally see this formal dress code on an invite to a very traditional church wedding. Men should wear a black or grey morning coat with tails, single or double breasted waistcoat, pinstriped trousers, tie, white collared shirt and formal black shoes. Ladies should wear a formal or semi-formal dress. Often a jacket is worn as well to cover any bare shoulders for the church.
- Lounge suit: A ‘lounge suit’ simply is a fancy way of saying a suit. Men typically wear a dark colour like navy or charcoal and it is worn with a collared shirt and nice tie. For the ladies, a cocktail dress at knee-length is perfect for this type of dress code, although long is fine too provided you do not go too over the top.
There is only one rule of colour for a wedding, which is don’t wear white! I know this is not a hard and fast rule as I have seen wedding guests before wear shorter all white numbers, however, I think to be on the safe side white should be out. You don’t want to upset the bride. That being said, a white dress with a colourful pattern is totally acceptable.
Choose your dress colour using cues from the time of year and the time of day the wedding is taking place. Evening weddings and winter weddings lend themselves better to dark, jewelled tones, while weddings during the day and in the summer lend themselves better to lighter tones.
Although traditionally black has been considered an inappropriate colour to wear to weddings, this is no longer the case. I have seen many wedding guests wear black, so feel free to get your LBD out for the occasion.
As mismatched bridesmaids (where the bridesmaids wear different dresses in the same colour shade) is becoming an increasingly popular trend, I also think it is nice to ask the bride in advance what the bridesmaids might be wearing to avoid wearing a similar hue and being confused as a bridesmaid.
Consider the venue and time of the wedding. Will you really be dancing the night away at a wedding that starts at 1pm, in 4 inch stiletto heels, in a field?
Wedges, block heels and even nice flats are a great option for weddings that have an outdoor element, plus they are super comfortable! While, those killer stilettos might be a better option for an indoor wedding.
If I am wearing heels I will also bring a pair of flats in my bag for later in the evening. I am not fan of walking around with bare feet, so it is great to be able slip out of my heels and into some comfy flats to continue dancing into the late hours.
Fascinators and Hats
As a foreigner going to a British wedding, I was quite excited to find out that wearing a hat isn’t just a thing they do in films here, but they are often worn by ladies at weddings!
However, hats and fascinators (a type of headwear less substantial than a hat) are not worn to all weddings in the UK and not worn by all women even at weddings where they are worn. Typically the more traditional the wedding – such as with a ‘Morning Dress’ dress code or with a church ceremony – the more common it is to find that the ladies will be wearing hats or fascinators. I find it best to ask around beforehand, such as to the bride, wedding party and friends, to see if hats might be appropriate to wear.
If you do decide to wear a hat or fascinator, chose one that sits comfortably on your head and one that complements the rest of your outfit.
Hats can be surprisingly expensive for something that doesn’t get worn very often, so it’s also great idea to borrow from friends and family in order to avoid the expense. I’ve lent mine to friends plenty of times, so make sure to ask around before you purchase.
According to tradition, ladies should keep their hats on until the Mother of the Bride removes hers, which will normally be when the formal part of the wedding breakfast is completed.
Hopefully this gives you a bit of an idea of what to wear to your next British wedding! Just remember not to over think things. You are ultimately there to have fun and celebrate the couple! Wear something that makes you feel good and that you are comfortable in. The bride and groom will really be getting all the attention, so you are unlikely to be standing out in a bad way.