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What to Wear to a Beach Wedding: 8 Tips for Women Guests

by Tina Boomerina (Christina Gregoire)

Most couples who have planned a destination beach wedding are trying to create something magical, so you should wear an outfit that will look "right at home" in a tropical paradise. However, there are casual beach weddings and there are formal beach weddings, so you don’t want to show up looking totally out of place.

Here are some tips from a chick who used to live in Hawaii.

Maxi Dresses for Beach Weddings

Maxi Dresses for Beach Weddings

1. Maxi Dresses for Destination Weddings

At most beach weddings, your outfit should be more colorful than whatever you would wear to a church wedding in your hometown. My first instinct is to tell you to wear a long, lightweight maxi dress with a bright, floral pattern, but you can opt for a shorter dress, a flowing top and skirt, or a soft tunic with gauzy drawstring pants.

2. Don’t Wear Tailored Clothing

In general, clothing worn in Hawaii looks silly on the mainland… and structured, subdued mainland clothing looks silly in Hawaii. Don’t wear a button-down anything… unless it’s a feminine Aloha shirt.

Hey, I’ve been to weddings in Hawaii, but I’ve never been to weddings in other tropical destinations (although I’ve traveled to those places), and I think you can use Hawaii as your guide for what to wear to beach weddings… I mean you’re probably going to look weird if you wear your average Pittsburg-style dress to a wedding in the Caribbean. Think updated muumuu… but more trendy.

Bright Tropical Prints

Bright Tropical Prints

3. Tropical Prints and Bright Colors

Aloha prints and tropical florals are perfect for weddings in Hawaii. Tribal patterns are fabulous for destinations in the Caribbean. Aztec and Mexicana prints are fun for Mexico. However, your outfit doesn’t have to match the destination. You can mix it up. Wear what you love.

Bright, solid colors and warm-weather patterns… including African tribal or animal prints, South Asian (boho) paisleys, and bold digital prints in cheery colors… are appropriate for all casual beach weddings (and most formal beach weddings).

4. How Formal Is the Wedding?

If you aren’t sure how fancy the wedding and reception will be, take extra necklaces, earrings, shoes, and other accessories to dress your outfit up or down… on the fly.

Casual: If it’s a morning or daytime wedding, your outfit should be similar to whatever you would wear to a casual summer wedding in someone’s backyard… but you should lean more towards pure colors rather than muted pastels. Look for lightweight fabrics made of cotton, linen, silk, rayon, or natural blends.

Formal: If the wedding is at sunset and the reception is at night, you should dress more like you’re going to a formal wedding… especially if the reception is indoors. For a formal beach wedding, you can wear darker colors, like black or navy, especially at night, however I still like bright colors and prints for most beach weddings. They feel more festive.

5. What’s the Weather?

When choosing your outfit, you must remember that there are things Mother Nature could throw into the mix… like sand, wind, hot sun, cold breezes, and possibly rain. Consider bringing sunscreen, a wrap, a pair of sunglasses, and a sunhat with a wide brim. Make sure your dress won’t fly up in the wind, check to see that people can’t see through your skirt, and decide if you want to pull your hair up in a messy chignon or just let it go wild and natural.

6. Should You Wear Heels or Flats?

When choosing shoes, you need to find out whether the wedding will take place on sand or grass or some other hard, solid surface.

  • Barefoot: You can’t wear heels on soft sand, so you might be better off wearing fancy flip-flops or going barefoot. (Note: The sand can be hot and there may be sharp things… like thorns from Hawaiian Kiawe trees… on the ground, so throw some flip-flops in your bag.)
  • Flats or Wedges: If the wedding will be on grass, you can wear wedges or chunky heels… but stilettos will sink into the turf.
  • High Heels: If the wedding will be on cement or a wooden deck (overlooking the sea but not on the beach), you can wear any shoes, however you might want to wear a pair of flats for the ceremony and change into heels later.
Beach Casual Wedding Guests

Beach Casual Wedding Guests

7. Beach Casual Weddings

I know that beach wedding attire means different things to different people, but I would err on the side of “proper guest attire”.

Even if you end up going barefoot during the ceremony and at the drunken limbo party afterwards, I still think shorts with T-shirts are too casual for weddings. Some dressy shorts outfits are okay for younger women, but unless instructed to wear shorts or jeans, you should go more traditional. And, you can never go wrong with a dress.

However… you don’t want to look like the bride, so be cautious about wearing a white or pastel (Holoku-style) Hawaiian wedding dress to a ceremony on Maui… and avoid wearing a white, embroidered, Mexican wedding dress to nuptials in Cabo… just to be safe.

Beach Formal Wedding

Beach Formal Wedding

8. Beach Formal Weddings

It takes a while for those Haole eyes to get used to zany tropical prints, but bland colors really fade away in hot climates. So, if the wedding is beach formal, I would check out colorful cocktail dresses, long evening gowns, or pants outfits in any bright, festive colors (or prints) that aren’t too pale or dull. Black is fine for night.

Almost all tropical destinations are very informal places, so unless the wedding is excruciatingly formal, you can probably go barefoot and wear a beach-style sundress in a cute, colorful print. But, if you’re still not sure, I’d go with a long, maxi dress.

Resources: All photos courtesy of prshots.com.

  • Main Photo: Mirror print maxi from Lipsy. Large floral dress from Phase Eight. Red formal maxi from Phase Eight. Tribal dress from River Island. Ombre formal dress from Phase Eight.
  • Maxi Dresses for Beach Weddings: Tiger print dress from River Island. Plunging formal maxi dress from Forever Unique. Black and White monochrome dress from Phase Eight.
  • Bright Tropical Prints: Pencil dress from Asos. Bright graphic tribal dress from M n Co. Tropical print dress from Lipsy.
  • Beach Casual Wedding Guests: Orange silk dress from Vanessa Bruno. Yellow silk shorts outfit from Love Moschino. Floral maxi dress from Vero Moda.
  • Beach Formal Wedding: Floral cocktail dress from Phase Eight. Formal turquoise evening dress from Lipsy. Red tropical print maxi from M n Co. Black lace formal jumpsuit from Lipsy.

More Articles for Baby Boomer Women & Friends:

Plus Size Wedding Gowns: Advice for 3 Body Types

Big Bold Floral Prints for Spring & Summer

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

Wedding Dresses for Older Brides: Women Over 40

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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. Teri Mercatante

    So happy to find this website. I am a baby boomer too - so you know well that we don't want to ever get old but I don't want to look like I'm trying to be 18....Thank You

  2. Cindy

    Love the coral and also the wine colored dress at top of this page. WHere or how do I find these on line to purchase? Have several weddings coming up this year and I think they would be perfect.

    • Tina-Boomerina


      The photos are from a year ago. I will see if any are still available, but I used photos of what was available when I wrote this article.


  3. Kathie Anderson

    Where can I buy the floral maxi dress pictured?