What To Wear To A Wedding

Fashion etiquette for when you're not the star of the show, but still want to look like one

by Maddie Eisenhart, Chief Revenue Officer

wear to wedding

Before I became a wedding photographer, I was an occasional wedding guest. As I’m sure you can imagine (and probably relate to), I spent the majority of my time leading up to each wedding worried about what I was going to wear. Would I be overdressed? Underdressed? Not… on theme… enough? And I was convinced if I got it wrong that everyone was going to notice. Then I started shooting weddings professionally. And after nearly a hundred weddings, what I’ve learned is this: no one is paying attention to what the guests are wearing. (In hindsight it’s very obvious. Because you’re paying attention to the couple. Duh.)

Well, actually, allow me to revise that statement. No one is paying attention to what the guests are wearing, unless:

  • You are wearing a white or ivory dress
  • You are not wearing enough clothing or are suffering from a wardrobe malfunction
  • Your outfit is on point. (And then people are only paying attention because you’re stylish and they need something to occupy themselves with while they wait for the ceremony to begin. Sit back and enjoy the compliments.)

Instead of motivating me to care less about my wedding outfits, realizing that no one is watching did the exact opposite. As Michael and I enter the second wave of friend’s weddings, instead of freaking out, now I just wear the most awesome thing, occasionally using the weeks leading up to a wedding as a convenient excuse to populate my wardrobe with fancy clothes I don’t exactly need (and/or to rediscover items of clothing I forgot I had), and prepping Michael for lots of selfies.

In the spirit of this discovery, today’s roundup is all about those times you get to go to other people’s weddings. Because beyond all of the important emotional stuff that happens at weddings, the secondary function of a wedding is a party. And half the fun of going to a party is the getting dressed part. So here are my best tips for putting together a wedding outfit that’ll make you the coolest kid at the party (and hopefully not the brokest. I intentionally chose mix-and-match pieces because, let’s be honest, we’re all throwing this stuff together from shit that’s already in our closets):

1. Phoenix Wing Ear Cuffs from BaubleBar ($38) 2. Teal Faux Pearl Embellished Crop Top from River Island ($44) 3. Topshop Gold Foil Midi Skirt from Nordstrom ($75) 4. RSVP Sutton Heels in Burgundy from Zappos ($79) 5. Fiorelli Cleo Clutch Bag from Asos ($85.69)

That which twirls, wins: First things first: your outfit should be fun to wear (seems obvious, but my drawer full of Spanx tells me I’ve made the mistake of ignoring my own advice). Nowadays, I refuse to step into anything I can’t wear a normal bra with. But the real secret sauce is finding an outfit that’s fun to dance in. Which for me means things that twirl. If you opt for a high-waisted skirt like the one above, just make sure to keep the proportions of your top in balance (crop tops should just skim the top of your waist band). A sliver of midriff is totally appropriate for a wedding, but you don’t want to have to worry about underboob when you raise your hands for the chorus of “Shout.”

1. Premium Oxblood Suit from Topshop ($200) 2. Third Eye Ear Jackets from BaubleBar ($28) 3. Hops and Lollipops Flats from ModCloth ($35) 4. Sequin Tassle Zip Top Clutch from Asos ($66.65)

It doesn’t have to be a dress: Or heels for that matter. Unlike some trends in fashion (I’m looking at you neon), burgundy comes back around basically every fall, so even though this suit is a wee on the expensive side for guest attire, you can easily rotate the pieces into your day-to-day wardrobe. Plus the more classic cut will still be relevant next year. A pair of interesting shoes keep this outfit from looking like you’re going on a job interview. (Though can someone buy the pair I really wanted to include with this roundup? I can’t, in good conscience, tell you to buy $185 Jeffrey Campbell shoes for every outfit in this roundup. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.)

1. Lime Belted Jumpsuit from River Island ($96) 2. Dark Teal Leather Biker Jacket from River Island ($260) 3. Jeffrey Campbell Metcalf Block Boot from NastyGal ($198) 4. Leopard Ponyskin Clutch from Asos ($57.13)

Go For The Transitional Trendy Piece: It’s worth noting that you probably look better in a jumpsuit than you think you do. I normally advise against buying any very trendy clothing that costs more than $50, because very trendy things tend to have very short shelf lives. So if you’re going to spend more, I recommend wearing something that can transition seasons. This neon/chartreuse jumpsuit can be paired with jewel tones in the fall, or brights in the spring and summer. Since sleeveless is probably too cold for most fall weddings outside of California or some areas in the South, I’d pair it with a leather jacket worn over the shoulders, cape-style (because you know how I feel about capes). Bonus: when you wear the jumpsuit and the leather jacket together, you can finally live out your fantasy of looking like Sandy from the final scene in Grease, and that seems worth it to me. (For plus size jumpsuits, I’m digging this one from Asos Curve and this one from Michael Kors.)

1. Claire Richards Plus Size Sequin Dress from SimplyBe ($165; available in sizes 8–28) 2. Jeffrey Campbell All Bat and More Heel from ModCloth ($180) 3. Wing and a Prayer Tunnel Earrings from NastyGal ($18) 4. Sondra Roberts Croc Embossed Clutch from Nordstrom ($68)

Teach an Old Dog New Tricks: While I wish it were true, I know it’s not reasonable to buy a new outfit for every wedding. (This is part of my ongoing acceptance of the fact that I am not, it turns out, a celebrity. Repeat outfits are allowed.) If you want to update a fancy outfit you already own (like that sequin dress you just had to buy last year), head to your local Target, or shop places like Asos, ModCloth, NastyGal, TopShop, H&M, and River Island for cheap(ish) accessories that have a lot of personality. My best trick is to keep a few ridiculous statement accessories in my closet (like these bat shoes. Why? How? I don’t know, but I need them) and then pull them out whenever I want to make something I’ve worn a million times seem cooler.

Maddie Eisenhart

Maddie is APW’s Chief Revenue Officer. She’s been writing stories about boys, crushes, and relationships since she was old enough to form shapes into words, but received her formal training (and a BS) from NYU in Entertainment and Mass Media in 2008. She now spends a significant amount of time thinking about trends on the internet and whether flower crowns will be out next year. A Maine native, Maddie currently lives on a pony farm in the Bay Area with her husband, Michael and their mastiff puppy. Current hair color: Purple(ish).

[Read comment policy before commenting]

  • Jenny

    How did I never realize bat shoes were missing from my wardrobe!!!

  • Lauren from NH

    Can I just point everyone to this dress for $70 ! Just like the one from the last outfit in the round up. Oh I wish I had some where to wear this dress!


    • Maddie Eisenhart

      Impeccable find.

    • totally love it! what is it with me and sequins?

      • Heather

        OMG me too.

    • J Wiley

      I’m currently imagining situations in which this is a dress I could justify for work, as “everyday” wear. I picked up this fabulous sky-blue fringe-covered number from H&M ages and ages ago on the $10 clearance rack and it’s been one of those things that I *just never know* when it’ll come in handy. :)

      • Lauren from NH

        Haha I’ve done that. For $10 it will eventually put itself to good use! Maybe the sequin dress would work for a holiday party? or a classy wearable take on the little mermaid for Halloween? Find a seashell clutch and that could be the bomb!

    • Jess

      Dammit I found that like 20 minutes ago and wanted it then. Now I want it more, not least because H&M’s stuff is one of the FEW that always fits me perfectly.

      That would make it the second sequined dress I own, the first being the gold version of a holiday dress from Rachel’s round up last Christmas. I wore it for New Years and now do not know when I will wear it again (perennial NYE dress? I think yes). Although Maddie says I can wear it to other people’s weddings. So I should do that. And buy this one so I can wear it all the time too.

      • Lauren from NH

        Yeah I am perpetually overdressed. I have gotten a little better, but mostly I just roll with it. Getting dolled up is fun! It makes me a little sad to see the fancier clothes in my closet that haven’t gotten a night out on the town for a while.

  • Kelsey

    That first outfit just SLAYS me

  • BB

    ALL OF THESE CLUTCHES!! soooo good.

  • Laura C

    Does anyone else keep careful track of which weddings you’ve worn which dress to, so that you can be sure not to wear the same dress to weddings attended by the same people? I have one I’ve worn to at least five weddings but I think there was zero crossover between any of them. I’m pretty sure that one’s retired from wedding-going now, but it’ll definitely make appearances at parties going forward.

    • I do this! I’ve made 3 dresses last through about 3 years/10 weddings this way!

    • I wore the same dress to my friend’s wedding and her sister’s wedding. But, they were three years apart so I figured, eh. It’s one of my favorite dresses!

    • Sarah

      I wore the same dress to three weddings this year and only my fiance saw me wearing the same one, haha.

    • I don’t, because IDGAF if someone sees me wearing it more than once. ;-)

      • ElisabethJoanne

        When I was a poor student, I had 1 “wedding” skirt with sparkles, to which I could add appropriate tops depending on the season.

    • J Wiley

      I don’t, because I have one dress that I love so much that I want to wear it every time I have any kind of reasonable excuse to dress up, which means that it’s the only dress I ever wear to weddings. ;)

      • Laura C

        You know, I feel like I would either need to do like I do now, or go all the way over to having just one or two dresses that I wore to every single wedding. I guess I just don’t want to be haphazard about it?

        • J Wiley

          Haphazard dress wearing is definitely a dangerous activity. ;) I used to be much more mindful about the dresses in the rotation, as you’ve described, but as they’ve gone out of style and the wedding invites have turned into baby shower invites, there’s one gem remaining!

    • Meg Keene

      MAN. I wish I had friends that got married often enough that I even had that problem. That sounds like a nice problem to have! Also half our weddings are like little bashes after elopements or things like that, that are not dressy. (I also have a ton of friends that are married by the time I meet them, aka my whole staff, because they meet me after reading the site for AWHILE. So a weird hazard of the job is less weddings ;)


      • Laura C

        I’m hoping the big wedding years are nearly done (my husband has tons of friends who have Weddings. and he’s younger than me, so his friends are at that age). We have one in Dublin on January 2, and are missing one in Delhi/Shanghai around the same time. But after that it’s hard to think of anyone else close to getting married who’d definitely invite us. Which…after spending most of our travel money and time on weddings the last few years, is a relief, as much as I wouldn’t have missed the ones we did go to.

        • Sarah E

          Are you looking for a proxy to travel to Delhi and Shanghai in your stead? I’m available, and my rates are reasonable :-)

    • Not Sarah

      I don’t really. A friend told me I am not allowed to wear the dress I wore to her bridal shower and another wedding to hers. I will wear a different one, but I was a bit weirded out by that. I’ll just stash it and wear it to weddings again in another couple years.

    • laddibugg

      If it’s a FANCY super unusual dress, yeah, otherwise, no, and if you’re looking at me that hard you have issues :-p

    • Kayjayoh

      I can’t remember what anyone else wore to most weddings, so I doubt they will remember what I wore.

  • DanEllie

    Does anyone have a suggestion about shopping/dressing for a wedding you will be attending 6+ months pregnant?

    • Try asos http://us.asos.com/Women-Maternity . I haven’t ordered anything yet, but they have some really cute stuff. I need to order some stuff because now that I have an office job, I have nothing to wear!

    • stella

      I just picked up an awesome ruched black bodycon dress for $10 my pregnant friend at target. They always have gorgeous and inexpensive stuff in the maternity section and often good stretchy stuff. I’d recommend just getting something like that that you can wear many times, and just dress it up for the wedding with jewellery and a jacket/wrap or something. ASOS is a great source too. Look at their bodycon stuff as well as maternity.

    • Sparkles

      See my response to sera above about the infinity dress. People sell maternity ones specifically on etsy, but I’m positive my pre-pregnancy one would fit over my 7 month bump.

    • Kara E

      The LBD is always your friend, pregnant or not. Cool accessories don’t care what size you are. Motherhood Maternity/Pea in the Pod, Macy’s, and yes, target all have appropriate dresses. I’d just wait to shop until you’re closer to the date though. Yes, Motherhood has those stupid pillows to tell you how big your tummy will likely be, but (a) I carried high all the way through, and (b) my boobs were ENORMOUS by the end of the second trimester (ummm, starting point was a DDD), and most of the stuff with v-necks that I thought would have worked was pretty obscene.

    • Meg Keene

      Don’t buy till sorta close to the date, so you can figure out what’s gonna be flattering. And that’s far enough that unless you’re one of those (horrible) people (like my mom) who only put on 14 pounds during a pregnancy, you’re probably going to be rocking legit maternity style, not like, a swing dress.

      I LOVED Pea in the Pod for this. Not cheap (like, Banana Republic prices) but had really nice dressy options.

    • guest

      Last time I was pregnant, I rented two dresses as I needed them. Rent the Runway has some that work for maternity and Mine for Nine has some great ones too.
      This pregnancy, I had five weddings to go to, so I bought a great Jessica Simpson maternity dress at Pea in the Pod. It wasn’t cheap but I got a lot of use out of it and I felt fabulous, which is tough with 30 extra pounds! I also share a lot of maternity clothes with friends so maybe ask around.

  • EF


    well the suit

    and by ‘right now’ I mean, when I get paid at the end of the month

    but seriously I love that entire outfit. thank you on behalf of those of us uncomfortable in dresses!

  • THAT GOLD WRAP DRESS! Also, if I wore heels much AT ALL, I would need to make those BAT SHOES mine!

  • I don’t know how you wouldn’t stand out in a lime green jumpsuit. My favorite (as always) is the sequined runner up. It’s a good thing I have no where to go because I haven’t got anything good in maternity clothes.

    • Sparkles

      In case of future events where you might be pregnant and need to go somewhere fancy, I got a fabulous red infinity dress a few years ago that looked amazing on me pre-pregnancy. I always thought if I needed to I could wear it pregnant too, because the only limitation size-wise is the seam under the bust. I’m actually kind of sad I have nowhere to wear it pregnant, because I think it would look hot. Maybe an investment piece-ish (I got mine on sale somewhere for $40).

      • hmmm, I’ll have to look up this infinity dress.
        luckily quite a few things from my regular wardrobe have continued to work. mostly the shirts from anthropologie. who would have known?

    • Meg Keene

      Stand out in awesomeness.

  • Love this roundup. Also want to give a shout out to wearing your old bridesmaid dresses to weddings you attend as a guest, which falls nicely under the “teach an old dog new tricks” category. As long as you’re reasonably certain that you won’t be accidentally matching the bridesmaids, you’re set. It’s event appropriate and you’ve actually found a place to wear that dress again. I’ll be wearing my July bridesmaid dress to a wedding in two weeks :)

    • LisaG

      Definitely make sure you won’t match the bridesmaids. I once planned to wear a bridesmaid’s dress from a previous wedding to a wedding with 0 overlapping guests. At the bachelorette party I was chatting with a bridesmaid and found out that my dress, while not identical, matched the color and style of the bridesmaids’ dresses. I went to the mall the next day to find a new dress for the wedding.

    • Eenie

      I actually wore a similar dress to the bridesmaids in a different color per request of the bride and photobombed a couple pictures. Know your crowd! We found it hilarious.

  • stella

    Brilliant round up Maddie! But half the shoes are over $185, so??? Bat shoes…. Need.

    • Maddie Eisenhart

      Ha, whoops. Fair point. Edited to say what I REALLY meant, which is that I can’t tell you to buy $185 Jeffrey Campbell shoes for every outfit. Even though I really want to. It’s my dream to own a closet full of nothing but Jeffrey Campbell shoes. :)

  • elysiarenee

    I’ve worn white to a wedding before, white with a huge placement print on the front but white nonetheless since it was a close friend I sent her a photo of the dress to double triple check whether she minded that I wore it. she didn’t give a single fuck and there weren’t even any judge-y aunts staring me down -I felt sure there’d be one or 2. Perhaps it’s one of those know your crowd things.

    • Laura C

      I have an ivory dress with a big purple print that I’ve worn to weddings. I ran it by a few etiquette-conscious friends first and make sure to accessorize in the purple direction, not the ivory direction, and I’ve never noticed any side-eye. I think it really depends on the percentage — do you look like you’re wearing a white/ivory dress, or do you look like you’re wearing a dress that happens to have some white/ivory on it? And, as you say, the crowd.

      • elysiarenee

        Good points; especially about coloured accessories. In my case…. this was the dress so from the back it was 100% white but from the front you really only notice the flowers. I think with something that’s a pretty widely held no-no it’s always good manners to check with your friend or if you’re not close enough friends to check/don’t want to bother them just wear something else.

        • elysiarenee
          • Maddie Eisenhart

            That dress is HOT. I sort of don’t count printed dresses in this rule (though that might be just me.) And if we’re being honest, I actually don’t think a lot of people genuinely care if you wear white. But because it IS such a widely accepted rule, it’s more of a “what were you going for when you chose that?” when I see someone wearing all white. Especially when the dress is, like, a white or ivory maxi dress.

            Patterns though. Eh, I think patterns on white are fine.

          • elysiarenee

            It was just because the print is only on the front rather than all over that I was a bit iffy about it and checked. Allover prints totally don’t count as breaking the white ‘rule’.

          • Meg Keene

            JUST DON’T DRESS LIKE THE BRIDE. Maybe I’m the only one who’s friends wear wedding dresses that look like white regular dresses, but you gotta back up and give a girl a MOMENT, you know?

      • Lauren from NH

        If the bride is wearing a colored dress, I would think this rule would go out the window. Also I have seen some cool looking wedding parties with the bridesmaids in white/ivory.

        • elysiarenee

          This is another great point: I have worn mostly-white/cream to 2 weddings and didn’t wear white for my own!

          • elysiarenee

            and a couple of guests wore white to my wedding and I, predictably, did not care.

          • Lauren from NH

            I think it works well for a summery casual vibe and then it is really easy to do the mix and match bridesmaids which is popular.

    • Ashley

      Dudes, I got married 8/9, and there were no less than four women wearing white sundresses. I did not give the least of a fuck, and I never heard anyone else say anything. I’ll admit I was surprised to see that many, just because I’d heard it was such a no-no. But it really didn’t matter. Maybe if it were a super glamorous white dress it’d be different. I would still be afraid to do it myself, but it really wasn’t a big deal at my wedding.

      • Jess

        I think I would only mind if they were probably going to be in a lot of pictures with me. Non-white can look pretty dingy next to white-white, unless you’re planning on the different being stark for aesthetic.

        Plus my patriarchal extended family is a bit on the judgy side… no need to highlight that.

      • Meg Keene

        Let’s put it this way: lots of my friends wear white sundresses when they get hitched, so yeah. Me also wearing one might be not so cool.

        • Ashley

          Fair point! I think “don’t dress similarly to the bride” is probably a pretty safe rule.

          (But can we talk about how weird it is that this isn’t a rule for grooms and male guests? Isn’t that weird? I mean, I guess traditional men’s formal wear tends to all look pretty similar by default, but still.)

          • Meg Keene

            That’s because all mens suits look the same and have for more than 100 years. I literally was just writing a research driven piece about that. It’s actually the point of menswear, to look the same.

          • Ashley

            A piece for APW, I hope! That sounds super interesting.

    • Meg Keene

      It also has a lot to do with how much you’re going to look like the bride. Lots of my friends wear casual dresses (my last friend wore a anthro dress in white). And even the most laid back of us does want to be the only one wearing our dress on our wedding day, you know?

      Someone at my wedding wore a DEAD RINGER for the dress I almost wore, and I legit would have been really sad to be wearing the exact same thing as a guest, you know?

      • Maria

        Ha – the last wedding I went to, the bride walked down the aisle in the exact dress that I had considered wearing to the wedding (and had worn to the last few I’d been to) – it was knee-length and dark blue! I almost died in embarrassment for my alternate-history self. Thank goodness I had questioned whether it would be too formal for their “casual dress” wedding and wore a sundress instead.

        • Meg Keene

          I think if your friend is wearing a non white dress be like WHAT COLOR? And then don’t wear any of your dresses that color, in cases.

          • Maria

            And sometimes you’re closer friends to the groom than the bride and timelines are short and you never have those “what is your wedding going to be like?” conversations… c’est la vie, it worked out.
            Plus, they are a fairly laid-back couple and probably would not be as mortified as I was even if I had come in a similar dress. But that (plus the fact that it was the breezy coast) made me remember that I should generally bring a jacket to a wedding even if I don’t think I’ll need it!

  • Viv

    Don’t forget about Rent the Runway! I plan on using them for a cousin’s wedding in Vegas! This will actually be a first for me… using them AND I’m planning on wearing sequins…something I NEVER do. But I figure, we’re in Vegas, it’s black tie optional, why the hell not.

    • Meg Keene

      Yeah, that’s a GREAT option. We’ve been meaning to do that roundup too.

    • celinad6

      I used Rent the Runway for the first time two weeks ago. It was fabulous: People were definitely paying attention to me because my ‘outfit was on point.’ Good luck!

  • vegankitchendiaries

    I knew that freaking fluoro jumpsuit would be from River Island the SECOND I laid eyes on it. WANT.

  • Laura

    shoes in the cover image? i have them in black! now wishing i had them in teal…

  • laurasmash

    I have one dress that I wear to weddings. I’ve been lucky enough to be invited to 3 weddings in the last couple of years, all with totally different sets of guests, yay!
    It is a strapless a-line dress with diagonal black and white stripes. I’m going to a wedding (in Los Angeles) on November 1, and I’m hoping its not too summer-y for that. Looking for a nice cardingan/jacket/wrap to go with it. Also, the bride is totally cool with me wearing a fancy british style wedding hat with it so I’m super excited!

  • LisaG

    There are 3 wedding guests whose clothes I can remember distinctly. In chronological order:
    1) The young woman who wore a strapless, just past the booty zebra print sheath dress to my cousin’s wedding. In a Catholic church. An elderly guest leaned over to my dad and stage-whispered, “Her hair is longer than her dress.”
    2) My friend’s husband who won the award for worst dressed guest at our wedding. It wasn’t super-fancy, but he was wearing schlubby khakis and sneakers with no tie or belt. So of course he’s in the front of the group pictures…
    3) The woman who wore a white lace tea-length dress to my friends’ wedding this year. Many APW brides would have rocked that as their wedding dress.

  • I’m a little late to this but…

    THIS IS PERFECT. I got married on New Year’s Eve and was genuinely disappointed not to see more guests wearing all of the sparkles. (though my bridesmaids did!)

    Real question, small bladder: how do you pee while wearing a jumpsuit? I’ve always wanted to try one, but the lack of…access has always intimidated/bewildered me.

    • Alyssa

      NYE bride as well! What good taste you have. :)
      I recently rocked a jumpsuit to an afterparty and it was the BEST because it felt like pajamas and an amazing fashionista with blue hair told me I looked like Beyonce. (BEST. COMPLIMENT.) It’s really not harder to pee in a jumpsuit than it is in any fancy outfit – I would argue easier than pants/tucked-in shirt combo because you can never get the tuck just right again. Plus if you wear a jumpsuit you don’t have to shave your legs, so…

  • EmilyRose

    You have serious style, this roundup is amazing! And thanks for reminding me that H&M has a website, just ordered a cute boxy cardigan jacket for work (whilst at work, oops, it’s a slow day!)
    My best wedding guest outfit was at the last wedding I went to, I wore a backless chartreuse beaded gown from Topshop with matching chartreuse suede chunky heels, and wore sort of plum smokey eyes. I looked great. And I had great fun teaching everyone the word “chartreuse”.

  • Bella247

    Thanks for this! Love that Asos floral print. Has anyone of not-model sized tried it on?

  • JDrives

    OK, for serious, I LOVE my wedding dress. Love. But if someone showed up to my wedding wearing any of these HOT ASS outfits I’d be like, “Yo can we trade?”

  • AlisonHendryx

    My go-to wedding dress is one I first wore when I was 14 – my boobs came in early and not much has changed since then height-wise, though its getting more and more snug around the hips these last few times. It’s a gorgeous red silk dress, that kind of straight across neckline and little tasteful bows on the shoulder. i LOVE it. I got something on it at the last one, and there’s a faint shadow of an oil stain and I am HEARTBROKEN. I’m going to wear it to a wedding saturday and if anyone notices or if i feel self conscious, I’ll have to finally part ways with it. sigh. I will be in mourning for a while. Such a great dress.

  • I LOVE all of this but can’t figure out where that amazing, colorful necklace in the first picture is from. Help?

  • Stacy {Woodsy Weddings}

    I love all the earrings and the clutches in these outfits! I’d choose them to make a bold statement as a bride or for my bridesmaid’s gifts, too!

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