As I make my way through wedding season, I find myself continually faced with the same dilemma: it’s not which blender the happy couple would prefer or when it’s appropriate to ask for a plus one... It’s what to wear. Or, more specifically, how to successfully translate the invitation's dress code to ensure I'm appropriately dressed. For example, "Summer Casual”? What does that even mean? Summer casual to me means a Solid & Striped one-piece with a Lisa Marie Fernandez cover-up. Is this what the betrothed couple intend? I doubt it.
The bottom line is this: the dress codes on wedding invitations rarely offer the sartorial advice you’re looking for (and they’re aimed mostly at men anyways, but that is for another column). A good rule of thumb is to think about how the bride herself dresses: does “casual” to her mean sweatpants, or does the woman in question not even own a pair of them? (If you don’t know the bride, maybe rethink attending said wedding all together.)
Below are a few explanations of common dress codes to help you with the packing conundrum:
GOING TO: AN ENGLISH WEDDING
If the invite says…
First please check it doesn’t say "Mourning Suit" and then proceed.
This generally implies it’s a traditional affair. Translation? Not the time for the Dolce bustier. Instead, opt for a long-sleeved Emilia Wickstead number or something floral from Herrera. Any footwear footnotes in the invitation should be taken seriously. If you are "anti-wedges" as I once was, you will need to get over it. This is England, for God’s sake: it WILL rain, so snap up a pair of Castañer's.
If you’re wearing… WEDGES
You are an English wedding guest pro. This ain’t your first time around the dance floor. While other girls run to the bathroom in search of blister Band-Aids, or, failing that, admit defeat and grab a pair of rubber flip flops from the sad basket next to the old timey photo booth, you’ll be dancing the night away with the confidence that only comes from knowing your suede Aquazzura heels are safe and sound at home.
GOING TO: A TROPICAL DESTINATION
If the invite says… “Beach Formal”
This means the wedding IS formal and it will be HOT. Not always an ideal combination, but unfortunately very common in the wedding world. Your best option is something bright, tropical and breathable. A flowy Zimmermann dress or anything Johanna Ortiz should do the trick. Avoid clutch bags—you will need a spare hand to hold the little paper fan that awaits you at church (cue every girl saying "cuuuuuuute" while furiously fanning themselves in hopes of diminishing their gradually appearing SULA: sweaty-upper-lip-area). Save the other hand for your mobile phone and canapés.
If you’re wearing… LONG SLEEVES
You’re going to regret it. Even if you got the world’s worst sunburn while sipping Rum Dums by the pool a few hours earlier, it’s better to bare the burn than to imprison your arms and add to the overheating possibility. Plus, you need those appendages free as birds for late night dancing and, if you’re doing it right, after hours skinny-dipping.
Black Tie Optional
GOING TO: A CITY WEDDING
If the invite says… “Black Tie Optional”
Do not be fooled! This actually means “Black Tie Mandatory…
But The Groom Has Some Derelict Friends.” The bride wants everyone in black tie—and you don’t want to piss her off—so embrace a red carpet vibe and wear black tie. It’s as simple as that. Important to note that black tie doesn’t necessarily have to mean floor length. For a metropolitan wedding in particular, an ankle length or cocktail length dress can do the trick—just be sure to dress it up with an elegant clutch and real jewelry (this is not the time for costume!).
If you’re wearing… A SKIN-BARING CUSHNIE COCKTAIL DRESS
You’ve got a score to settle with someone on the guest list. Showing midriff at a formal wedding says: "Oh, is my ex-boyfriend here with his new girlfriend? I hadn’t noticed. Been too busy chatting up the groomsmen (all 8 of them)." Unfortunately, it also says: "I’m a bit promiscuous" to most of the old people in attendance. The takeaway? Choose your cutouts carefully.
GOING TO: ANOTHER CITY WEDDING
If the invite says… “Festive Attire”
This is not an excuse to dress like a disco ball (unless, of course, the wedding is on New Year’s Eve). "Festive" is a calligrapher’s word for "fun" and when it comes to wedding dressing, "fun" means nothing more than a pop of color or a jazzy accessory. Don Rebecca de Ravenel’s newest BonBons, a Nanacay pompom bag or kitschy Kayu clutch and then call it a day. If all else fails, remember a killer pair of heels always counts as "fancy" and can dress up even the most basic LBD.
If you’re wearing… AN INDIAN HEADDRESS, a sparkly mini and combat boots
You got it wrong. “Festive” does NOT mean “festival.” Unless very specifically stated, a wedding is not a costume party. This isn’t Burning Man. Put the outfit back in your costume closet and dress like an adult. That's all.