Black tie or semi-formal? Can you wear white? De-coding a wedding invitation can take some serious etiquette knowledge. There are so many rules to sort out. Don’t be the guest who arrives at your friend’s wedding ceremony completely clueless. We turned to Lizzie Post, the great-great-granddaughter of legendary manners expert Emily Post of the seminal book Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics, and at Home, to help us stop wedding faux pas from forming. Besides being the co-author of countless books including Emily Post’s Etiquette, Post is president of The Emily Post Institute and co-host of the Awesome Etiquette podcast.
With Post’s help, we break down what bridal guests can or cannot wear to the wedding.
When the invite calls for black tie, Post states that the men are to wear a black tuxedo while the female wedding guests are to wear formal gowns. The dresses should be floor length evening gowns but there are exceptions. “It’s not uncommon for women to be seen wearing knee-length dresses,” Post says. “But make sure that the dress is formal-looking and not a jersey knit material that might appear too casual for the event.”
BLACK TIE OPTIONAL
Wedding guests can opt out of wearing tuxedos but this isn’t a call to dress casually. Post recommends wearing a sophisticated cocktail dress or evening gown while men can be seen in tuxedo or a dark suit with a white dress shirt and conservative tie.
CREATIVE BLACK TIE
“Guests have more latitude,” says Post. “The hosts are really inviting you to wear what you want.” For example, men’s cumberbund can be worn in a bright loud color. If the wedding is at the beach, this can be your opportunity to wear sandals instead of heels. But Post warns to follow the lead of the bride and groom. Be attentive to any particular theme they want guests to follow.
There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to semi-formal. “You are most likely going to look at wearing a cocktail dress or little black dress,” she says. “Although the invitation may state semi-formal, I would choose a dress in a solid color or an elegant pattern.”
If the wedding is tied to a holiday, keep that in mind as well. Post suggests wearing cocktail dresses, dressier separates, and for men to wear season sport coats or blazers with slacks. Open collar shirts are fine options.
“I try to avoid casual in general since it doesn’t give anyone a clear definition on what to wear,” says Post. She suggest not showing up in jeans but perhaps wear a cute sundress. “You want to still honor the occasion so don’t dress down for the event,” she adds.
The age-old question, should a wedding guest wear white, or any shade of white? Post is very clear on this: Guest should not wear white to a wedding and she takes it one step further. Guests shouldn’t wear an outfit that will attract too much attention. “You don’t want to wear something completely backless or slits up to the hip,” she says. “Instead wear a beautiful elegant gown that doesn’t take away from the bride. It is their day.”
Bonus Bridal Guest Tips:
When attending the wedding, Post suggest double checking on the bride or groom in regards to bringing a wedding gift to the ceremony. “They might not want to deal with transporting these gifts,” Post says. She also insists that if the invitation states no kids, then that means you cannot show up with little ones. And finally, follow the seating arrangements since they were set up for a reason. “You could have been seated at a certain table because you are a great conversationalist,” Post says. “You don’t know. You should avoid being a nuisance and keep in mind why you are there to celebrate the nuptials.”
Lizzie Post, is the great-great-granddaughter of Emily Post and co-author of Emily Post’s Etiquette 18th edition as well as Emily Post’s Wedding Etiquette 6th edition and The Etiquette Advantage in Business 3rd edition. Lizzie does speaking engagements across the country sharing advice about entertaining, weddings, dating, dining etiquette, tech-etiquette, finance and lifestyle. She has worked as a spokesperson for companies including Bank of America, American Express, AirBnB, and Genentech. She is a columnist with Women’s Running magazine, Good Housekeeping magazine, and Houzz.com. She is the co-host of the Awesome Etiquettepodcast on American Public Media’s podcast network Infinite Guest. She is a regular guest on American Public Media’s The Dinner Party. Lizzie offers a fresh perspective with an engaging and modern voice. She delights in tackling etiquette’s taboo topics with the media, making her a popular source. Her interviews include NBC’s The Today Show, Katie, Fox & Friends, Live with Kelly and Michael, The Gayle King Show, The Wendy Williams Show, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Chicago Tribune, Harper’s Bazaar, Travel & Leisure, Glamour, Redbook, The Huffington Post and more.