Dresses for Wedding Guests: The Ultimate Guide

If you’ve been lucky enough to be invited to the wedding of a friend or family member this year, then chances are you’ve already started to think about your outfit choice, even if the big day is still a good few months away. You want to look your best on the day but there’s a fine line between being the best dressed guest and stealing the bride’s show. Read our top tips on wedding guest dress etiquette to make sure your outfit is memorable for all the right reasons…

wedding guest dresses guide

Wedding guest dress etiquette

As we mentioned above, the last thing you want to do on the bride’s big day is make it all about you. While choosing the right dress to wear to a wedding is completely down to your own personal preference, there are a few key points to bear in mind. We’ve got plenty of dresses for weddings to choose from, so you’ll have no problem picking one that ticks all the wedding etiquette boxes.

What is appropriate to wear to a wedding?

If a dress code hasn’t been specified, don’t panic. Scope out the venue the wedding is taking place at and work your outfit around that. With various styles of occasion dresses available, choosing one that suits both your own personal style and the backdrop of the wedding can be a tricky task.

Classic country house? A floral dress or A-line style would work perfectly, especially if the big day is set for spring or summer months.

Chic hotel? Opt for a sleek shift dress or fashion-forward jumpsuit in elegant monochrome or a bold block colour.

Beach wedding? A floaty maxi dress or linen shift dress is a safe bet if you’re attending a ceremony with sun, sea and sand.

Wedding guest shoes?

Style your footwear to match your dress or outfit, but think about how much walking you’re likely to do on the day so you can decide on the correct comfort level. Heels are always a popular choice for formal occasions and there will be no issues lasting the distance in these if your wedding is taking place in a small venue with minimal stairs.

But if the wedding is a multi-venue affair with lengthy walks between the settings for the ceremony and reception, then stacked wedges, platform soles or low block heel sandals would be a better option. Flat sandals also work well with maxi dresses, especially if you’re attending a beach wedding and will be walking on the sand.

If you’ve not been invited to the daytime ceremony and instead have received an invitation for the evening reception, then you can be slightly more informal with your outfit and shoe choice becomes a bit easier. As you won’t be standing around for hours during the day, you can wear your highest heels without fear of sore feet.

Wedding guest accessories

Opt for accessories that complement your outfit, in matching colours or fabrics. Think about your handbag choice if you’re an all-day guest – having enough space for some makeup essentials is a good idea if you think you’ll need to touch up later on.

When it comes to headwear, a fascinator or hat is a popular choice, but big isn’t always better for the guests sitting behind you at the ceremony! A smaller fascinator or jewelled hairclip is a better option if you want something you can keep on for the duration of the wedding, including the dinner and evening reception.

What not to wear to a wedding

Modern weddings tend to be more informal than traditional ceremonies, so the rules around dressing for the occasion have become a bit more relaxed in recent years. Large hats are usually reserved for the mother of the bride and ladies tend to avoid white and ivory for fear of clashing with the bride, but some modern brides don’t have any issues with this. Although weddings have become a bit more informal, trainers and sportswear are generally considered a no-go for wedding guests.

What colours are you not supposed to wear to a wedding?

It’s often said that wearing white to a wedding when you’re not the bride is one of the biggest taboos in wedding attire and, while many brides may still agree with this tradition, some may have no issues with this. If you’re thinking of wearing white, cream or ivory, it’s usually best to consult with the leading lady before the big day to make sure she’s comfortable with your choice. Wedding dresses are now available in a multitude of colours, so wearing white may not be quite the faux pas you expected it to be!

If you’re close to the bride or her family, it’s also a good idea to ask what colour the bridesmaids and mother of the bride will be wearing. This way, you can avoid wearing the same or a similar colour that’ll make you look like a member of the bridal party.

Is it rude to wear red to a wedding?

Of course not. Unless the bride has specifically asked for wedding guests to turn up in certain colours or there’s a strict dress code on the invitations, then colour should not be an issue.

Outdated wedding etiquette dictated that wearing a bright red outfit indicated that a guest was trying to outdo the bride, but most modern brides are more than happy to let their guests wear whatever colour they feel comfortable in. If you’re still unsure, speak to friends, family or even the bride herself in the run up to the wedding to see what they think about your colour choice.

Can you wear black to a wedding?

Absolutely. Black is a modern option for occasionwear and can look elegant as part of a monochrome outfit or paired with bold coloured accessories.

Wearing black to a wedding is a popular choice and is ideal if you want to avoid light colours. You can even wear black to a summer wedding, teamed with colourful or metallic jewellery and accessories.

black wedding guest dress

Weddings through the seasons

Though wedding season here in the UK is traditionally thought of as running from late-May to September, it’s becoming more popular for weddings to be an all-season occasion. The rise of autumn, winter and early spring weddings adds a different dynamic to wedding guest dressing, where weather inevitably plays its part in outfit choice.

What to wear to a spring wedding

As the daffodils bloom and spring takes hold, pastel colours work particularly well. A softer, muted colour palette and floral prints suit the spring sunshine and, if there’s still a chill in the air, a light cover-up will work perfectly with your outfit. Prepare for spring showers with a parasol or umbrella, tucked in a matching handbag during the ceremony.

What to wear to a summer wedding

The most popular season for weddings presents multiple options for outfit choices. From floaty hanky hem dresses and maxi styles to shorter shift dresses, there’s plenty of summer wedding guest dresses to choose from. Bright colours, bold florals and light fabrics are ideal for hot summer days and nights, perfect for pairing with some chic sunglasses if you’re attending an outdoor ceremony.

What to wear to an autumn wedding

With cooler days, and less expensive rates for venue hire, autumn weddings are on the increase. Coinciding with natural colour changes and less sunlight, autumn weddings provide the perfect backdrop for autumnal hues of burnt orange, forest green and ochre.

Elegant gowns and floor-length dresses look sophisticated, especially when paired with tasteful accessories like small clutch bags and understated jewellery. Short dresses and sleeveless styles still work in autumn, though the evenings are noticeably chillier at this time of the year. If you do opt for a sleeveless dress, a matching shrug or wrap will keep your shoulders and arms warm.

What to wear to a winter wedding

Effortlessly romantic, winter weddings are a great option for those who love the colder months here in the UK. With the possibility of snow, this time of year can be a magical one for fans of Christmas and is proving to be increasingly popular with couples wanting to get hitched in their own winter wonderland.

Your winter wedding outfit should be suitable for when the festivities move outdoors, especially if there is a dusting of snow on the ground. Occasion maxi dresses or midi skirts are ideal for keeping your legs covered, while a chic trouser suit or jumpsuit would be a modern alternative to a dress. A luxurious faux fur jacket or coat is the perfect addition to any winter look, ideal for keeping you warm during the nuptials.

When it comes to colour, darker options work well in winter with rich navy blue, opulent purple, deep red and, of course, black lending themselves very well to the season. Silver accessories are reminiscent of snow and ice and work beautifully with navy and black. If the wedding is close to Christmas then a bit of sparkle won’t look out of place, so opt for a sequin dress or a touch of glamorous gold to add opulence to the occasion.

And that completes our guide to wedding guest dresses and wedding attire through the seasons – we hope you’re ready to RSVP in style! Visit our selection of wedding guest outfits for women for even more ideas on dressing for the occasion this season, and don’t forget to share your style on social #MyMandco.