For some reason, weddings make me overthink my outfits. I think it's the feeling of someone else's judgmental aunt sizing me up in front of the shrimp platter that leads to self-doubt and paranoia over dress code references on invitations. It shouldn't be that way, but it's part of the wedding tradition, right up there with picking China patterns and listening to the maid of honor talk about the couple-in-question as if no one in the room has ever experienced love before.
Over the past several years, I've been to enough weddings to realize that there are some basic formulas to hitting the dress code expectations while still being true to your own style. I've also realized there are really only three types of wedding dress codes, or three "levels" of dressiness with the most stringent being black tie, then formal, and finally cocktail which I designate as "anywhere you would have a cocktail" which could include anything from a boat to a tailgate.
Here are the formulas that I've employed in dressing for each of those levels of wedding dressiness this year using things already in my closet.
#1 What to wear to a black tie wedding
The above photo is what I wore to my friend Alyssa's black tie wedding in NYC. It's a simple black ballgown skirt with a silk / cotton blend blouse and nude heels, a combination that I landed on by considering the question "What would Jenna Lyons wear?" while perusing my closet.
Jenna would not wear Rent the Runway. Instead, she would wear something undeniably fancy, with an unexpectedly understated piece, in simple colors. Black tie doesn't necessitate a gown or a full-length skirt, but it does require a key element of your outfit to be fancy enough to not be upstaged by your date's cumber bun. What, might you ask, are pieces that compete with cumber buns? Think ball gown skirts, feathered dresses, beaded blouses, tailored tuxedo pants, and anything taffeta. If you've got that key piece, the other elements can be simple and even unexpected to keep the look true to your style.
#2 What to wear to a formal wedding
This is my favorite type of wedding dress code, because it still requires you to be fancy but with less stringent guidelines than black tie. Meaning, it's more fun! With a formal dress code, I can find ways to make my cage heels appropriate such as pairing them with a vintage red silk dress I picked up for $10 at my local Logan Square thrift store (there used to be a gold metal seashell sewn on the bodice, and chopping it off with a pair of nail scissors was the only "tailoring" necessary).
When dressing for a formal wedding, I think of what fabulous people wear to an art gallery opening and dress accordingly. You want to look classy, with a twist. Look for items that keep your shoulders or knees covered, and add spice with accessories.
#3 What to wear to a cocktail wedding
A cocktail dress code is more casual, and the perfect opportunity to wear a matchy-matchy silk pantsuit like the one below. Or, that amazing embroidered pencil skirt that's been sitting in the back of your closet for four years because you're not sure how to style it. Or, that basic little black dress you've had forever with a pair of bold shoes. Shorter hemlines, bare shoulders, fancy flats and other indicators of comfort fair game. I like to imagine what flappers of West Egg wore to Gatsby's parties and dress accordingly.
I think the most difficult variations on these three levels of wedding attire are seasonal: what to wear to a black tie wedding in winter is a harder question (with the answer always including "add a fur stole"), as are the variations tied to the odd disclaimers added to cocktail attire wedding invitations intended to control weird relatives (such as "no jeans" which should be obvious to all invitees but then seeds doubt in your mind as you imagine your silk pantsuit dancing to Stevie Wonder, completely out of place in a sea of bedazzled Wrangler jeans).
Any thoughts on wedding attire rules that I've missed? And tips on dressing for winter weddings? I'd love to hear your thoughts on what to wear to a wedding while still honoring your personal style.