Wedding Guest Etiquette: Appropriate Attire

white dress hanging on a mirror

The Spruce / Michelle Becker 

It's a common formality for respectful wedding guests to never wear a black or white dress to a wedding. This is because tradition says that black looks too funereal while white would appear to compete with the bride. Despite the custom, it is now quite common to see wedding guests wearing a little black dress at ceremonies. This begs the question: is wearing white to a wedding now okay for guests?

The answer is that it's still not okay. Wearing a white dress to a wedding when you are not the bride is still frowned upon. This is because the bride should always be the one to stand out on her wedding day. Of course, one of the ways she does just that is by being the only one in the room wearing white.

Non-Traditional Brides

Indeed, tradition isn't what it always used to be. Today, not all brides wear a white wedding dress. This is because some brides don't enjoy the virginal connotations, while others simply believe it's not the most flattering or fun color to wear. Regardless of the reason, you may be wondering if it's alright to wear a white dress to a wedding that has one of these exceptions. Sadly, the answer is still no.

Consider a unique situation where the bride wears a red and black wedding dress with flames along the bottom. Although you might imagine that she isn't conventional enough to care about what one of her guests are wearing, it still might not be a good idea. For example, the bride might have valid concerns that guests who don't know her might mistake the white-wearing guest as the bride. Generally speaking, it's best to play it safe and avoid wearing a white dress when going to any type of wedding- even one where the marriage ceremony involves two men.

Possible Exceptions

There is some gray area when it comes to wearing a white dress at a wedding ceremony. Consider the following situations where you can make your judgment call:

  • It's a very non-traditional wedding and you've already spoken to the bride before the big day to make sure she is truly okay with you wearing white.
  • Your dress is only partially white; for example, a white bodice with a colored skirt.
  • The dress has a white background with an all-over print of a different color.
  • The couple requests that their wedding guests all wear white. Believe it or not, it happens. Beyonce and Jay Z made this request in 2008 for their wedding in New York. In scenarios where the couple requests something specific, it's always respectful to follow suit.

What to Wear

Research the type of attire to wear to a wedding depending on the season, couple, and any traditional or religious customs. It is typical for women to wear long emerald, ruby, and blue dresses during the winter and shorter orange, pink, and purple colors in the summer. Men can opt for suits in charcoal, brown, grey, and navy depending on the time of year.