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What to Wear to a Wedding: 9 Tips When There’s No Dress Code

by Tina Boomerina (Christina Gregoire)

You’ve gotten an invite to a wedding and it doesn’t tell you the dress code. If the bride is your old pal from college, you can call her or one of the bridesmaids. If you don’t know the family, you’re scratching your head wondering what to wear to the wedding and reception.

Well, I am here to tell you not to embarrass me by being too inappropriate or by being too boring. In a world where everyone is sloshing around in mom jeans and sweats, it’s up to you to go the extra mile and set the bar a little higher. So, wear something fabulous.

Of course, if you really want to be “appropriate”, you will wear a pastel dress that comes to mid-calf and looks mousey. If your husband’s career hinges upon your mousiness, you should wear that… with small pearls… and no hint of cleavage. Don’t drink. Don’t dance. Don’t have fun.

As for the rest of you… let’s party.

Beach Formal

Beach Formal

3 Main Rules for Women Wedding Guests

In case you’ve never been to a wedding before, I’ll give you the three most important dress rules:

1. Don’t look like a bride. (Don’t wear white unless informed to do so… on the invitation.)

2. Don’t look like you’re going to a funeral. (Don’t wear black from head to toe unless it includes lots of festive sparkles… and the wedding is at night. This rule includes mothers and grandmothers who actually feel like the bride is going to her own funeral.)

3. Don’t look like you’re trying to sleep with the groom or his father. (Don’t wear anything too short and too tight and too low.)

Wedding Casual

Wedding Casual

What Length Dress? What About Pants?

Should you wear a long dress or a short dress? Can you wear your favorite gray pantsuit? Well, it depends on the time of day, which coast you’re on, and the level of formality of the wedding. If you’re lucky, the invitation will give you some hints about the dress code. If not, here are my thoughts:

4. Do you know the bride or the family? If you know the bride, you will know if she is casual (informal… probably) or a stickler for rules (formal).

5. East Coast or West Coast? If the wedding is on the East Coast or in the Midwest, I would err on the side of formality. If it’s on the West Coast, you can take more chances and wear almost anything that's fun and festive.

6. Can you wear pants? I know that some of you hate dresses. In my opinion… if you must… you can almost always wear pants to a wedding. If you’re older and the wedding is informal or during the day, wear a nice, dressy pantsuit with good jewelry. If the wedding is in the evening, wear something appropriate for formal night on a cruise ship, such as black pants and a matching beaded top. If you’re younger, I think you can get away with a shorts suit, a romper with a jacket, or a jumpsuit… but the outfit must have the proper level of formality and not be too tight in the booty. As for destination weddings, anyone of any age can wear a tunic top and loose, white, drawstring pants to most beach weddings.

7. Length of Bridesmaids' Dresses? If you are close enough to the family that you might be in photos, try to wear something that’s approximately the same length as the bridesmaids’ dresses… but don’t look like a bridesmaid. Actually, any woman can use bridesmaid dresses as a clue. Short bridesmaid dresses usually mean the wedding will be less formal… and vice versa… but these days, who knows.

8. Maxi Dresses? When other articles talk about long dresses, they often forget to remind you that some long maxi dresses are perfect for casual daytime weddings, beach weddings, and destination weddings. The style and fabric of a dress are as important as its length.

Evening Formal Wedding

Evening Formal Wedding

9. What's the Venue? When all else fails, look at the venue, as well as the time of day. If the wedding reception is at the poshest hotel in town (or in the backyard of the toniest neighborhood), you should wear a cocktail dress or a chic suit for day, or you should wear a cocktail dress or long evening gown (or glitzy pants outfit) for night. In general, later times equal more bling and formality.

I want you to get out there and look good… look hot… look current… but I don’t want you to go out of your way to outshine the bride (or her mother) with your outfit. Do that with your personality. And, please don’t wear jeans unless it’s a hippie wedding in someone’s backyard and you know that jeans are expected. As for everything else, people seldom get married anymore. We should encourage the practice by giving lavish presents and dressing up as if we are happy to be included in the celebration.

More Articles for Hip Boomer Women & Friends:

Rules for Mother of Bride: Tea Length Dresses

Rules for Mother of Bride: Short Dresses

Hippie Wedding Dresses for a Casual Bohemian Chic Second Marriage

Wedding Dresses for Older Brides Over 40

What do you think of this article? Leave a comment at the bottom of the page or give us a Google Plus.

Resources: All photos are from prshots.com.

  • Top Photo: Forever Unique formal dress, Asos kimono dress, Asos floral slip dress, Needle & Thread cocktail length dress with floral appliques.
  • Beach Formal: Asos floral dress, East sundress, River Island maxi dress.
  • Wedding Casual: Vesper pencil dress, East short dress with scarf, Glamorous floral jumpsuit.
  • Evening Formal Wedding: Forever Unique embellished maxi dress, Phase Eight floral occasion dress, Phase Eight occasion dress with fringe.

Tina Boomerina (AKA Christina Gregoire) is a Baby Boomer born at the end of 1952. Her mission is to make the internet a kinder and gentler place for Baby Boomer women around the world. Tina's specialty is fashion for women over 50.

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  1. kay kerns

    It shows respect for the people and their special day to make an effort to dress appropriately. I have often wondered what the heck to wear to these things here on the mainland. Hawaii was so much more casual, even for 'formal' events. Thanks for the good advice. I wish we could get together today and share a pot of hot tea or a drink (feeling blue)

    • Tina-Boomerina

      Thanks for the comment. Weddings are easier and more laid back in Hawaii. I definitely want to get together. I was supposed to be in Idaho this week but I got sick and I'm stuck at home. I could use a drink of tea or whatever myself.