Tying the Knot in a Meaningful and Memorable Way (Without Losing Our Savings or Sanity)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Telling Wedding Guests What to Wear

Honestly, wedding etiquette is something that eludes me. Well, while I'm confessing, I have to admit that etiquette--in general--is something that eludes me. Sometimes "the rules" make sense and sometimes they seem like arbitrary things that have to be codified and passed down through the generations or else no one would be able to remember them because they don't make sense.

So I have no idea what one is supposed to do when it comes to letting guests know what to wear to your wedding. I'm not talking about requiring them to wear a certain thing (like all white or black--ahem, Posh Spice). I'm simply talking about letting them know how formal or informal the event is.

Matt and I decided to be frank with our guests because we didn't want to leave anyone speculating or worrying. Here's what we said on our wedding wedsite:



  • Outdoor summer wedding attire (summer days in Colorado are in the 80s); khakis, collared shirts or button-downs, sun dresses, skirts, dressy capri pants, etc. (Read: Comfortable!)
  • Don’t forget your sunglasses…and your umbrella!
  • Evenings can be chilly in the mountains of Colorado.
  • Bring your bathing suit if you want to go in the hot tub!


We continued to explicitly state the "dress code" by including this on our ceremony programs:

Reception | Sunshine Mountain Lodge

· Located six miles south on the right-hand side of Highway 7.

· Please park on the shoulder of the road.

· Feel free to change into more comfortable clothes or come as you are, and bring your bathing suits if you want to go in the hot tub.

· Dinner will be buffet style. Appetizers (starting immediately): chips and salsa, guacamole, seven-layer dip. Main Course (starting around 6pm): vegetarian/chicken/beef fajitas, tamales, make-your-own quesadillas. Side: black bean corn salad. Dessert (around 8:15): Cake (vanilla berry, cheesecake, tiramisu, carrot). Drinks: beer, wine, frozen strawberry margaritas, soda, juice.

· Have fun with board games, the campfire, dancing on the patio, a walk in the woods, the video of Matt and Sara, etc. Dancing will start around 8:45 p.m.

· Make yourself at home!

As far as I know, we could have committed a major wedding faux pas. Let's see what I can find on the subject:

"I would not bother with any note in regards to how guests should dress—it is poor etiquette."--My Dream Wedding.ca

"So what’s the easiest way to tell guests what to wear? Simple — choose telling wedding invitations."--Manolo for the Brides

Oops. I'm not surprised. That's why I tried not to spend much time in wedding forums when we were planning our wedding!

What are your thoughts on the subject?

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E. said...

I think it being "poor etiquette" is related to the woman who wrote into Modern Bride a few months ago - she wanted to know the best way to communicate to her guests how to wear "boating elegant" attire. (http://weddingfortwo.blogspot.com/2009/03/brides-magazine.html) I think that it is poor etiquette to treat your wedding as a costume party or make people more than they are - but I think if your wedding will be casual, or requires more specific instructions - like wearing sturdy footwear for a forest wedding, bringing a sweater if the temperature drops, it would be poor etiquette not to.

Anonymous said...

we're just adding this very simple sentence to our invities. "attire is casual" people can take that however they mean. if people wear jeans or others wear dress pants thats up to them.

Jessica said...

I think if I were a guest, I would be extremely pleased with being told all kinds of information. If you had just sent an invitation saying you were having a wedding in the woods, half the guests would probably call you and ask what to wear/bring, and about a quarter probably wouldn't have dressed appropriately and been uncomfortable. I think telling them what to expect was the polite thing to do.

MaryAshley said...

I am all about spelling it out. From our website:

"Recommended attire:
Casual, but tasteful. The weather will be very warm outside in the Texas summer evening, so please dress with that in mind. Average temperatures for the area in August are a high of 93 degrees Fahrenheit (roughly 34 degrees Celcius) and a low of 71 degrees F (22 C.) Consider collared shirts and shorts or pants for men; nice shorts, jeans, khakis, or sundresses for ladies. We've heard our desired effect described as "church picnic," but really, it's up to you. Be comfortable."

That hasn't stopped the general barrage of friendly questions about picking out new dresses, etc (which we're trying to circumnavigate the need for, but alas) but I thought throwing in some cold hard facts about the sweltering heat might be enough to scare up a pair of shorts or two.

megan said...

i'm not sure about y'all, but i get invites and am always like "well, what the hell do i wear to a wedding whose reception is at a biker bar?" or, "what is the proper attire for a 2pm catholic wedding in May when your date is in the wedding party?" or "a country wedding? do i wear a sundress or boots and jeans?"

i think giving people a heads up is actually helpful. it will take pressure off having to find the perfect outfit. also, when someone says "a semi-formal reception" to follow, that can be helpful. i just put that on our wedding website, then explained what semi-formal entailed: anywhere from suits to their sunday best. comfortable, but not stuffy.

Vanessa said...

I think being vague is bad manners! For special events most people want to look good, and want to make sure they arent completely overdressed/misdressed for the occasion. I had so many people ask me what to wear to my wedding that we just spelled it out in our wedding website under our "What To Bring" page:

In order to make the most of the day be sure to bring the following:
(If you feel so inclined)

fishing equipment
bathing suit
beach towel
change of clothes
comfortable shoes (ladies, leave the heels at home)
your appetite
passport (if you plan on venturing over the border to Canada)
camera (we’ll be setting up an account for you to upload your photos to, so we can see the wedding from YOUR perspective!)

Several people have also inquired about what they should wear. I would say that our wedding is a dressy-casual affair, or "casual chic" if you will. Obviously jeans and ripped t-shirts aren't smiled upon, but your attire is up to you. Essentially wear something that you feel good in. I would encourage summer dresses or capris & blouses for the women and dress shorts or slacks and nice shirts for the men. For those of you that would like to dress up for the ceremony and change afterwards, thats fine too.

Keep in mind that we plan on doing a big group picture with everyone in attendance immediately following the ceremony.

It must have worked because I haven't gotten a single question on attire since!

Anonymous said...

I'm going to spell it out on the invitation. Every time I get invited to a wedding, I'm always wondering if it's formal, semi formal, casual, ect. It's hard to know sometimes, and I just want to know upfront. I also am going to recommend to the parents what colors to wear, just because both have asked me for this.

tatgeer said...

The wording from our website (which, if you know us - especially my fiance - is hopefully funny): Clothing is recommended but not required. The wedding will be outside, on the grass. Minnesota summers can be hot and humid.

But I'm finding that people aren't reading the website and are asking me. It's at a farm, which I hoped would let people know that it's casual. I found that with one person, saying that the bridesmaid dresses came from Patagonia seemed to be helpful information.

Mrs. Praz said...

I think that is is fine to advise guest what to expect and to wear. We are having a beach wedding in the evening. and it is in Texas during the month of May. IT WILL BE HOT! plus I want our friends and family to be comfy. I like getting ideas when I get an invitations to a wedding because like others sometimes I have no clue on what to wear!

Marina said...

I always panic about what to wear when I get a wedding invitation! And I think that's not at all uncommon... we put a whole long paragraph on our wedsite about environmental factors that may influence what people want to wear (it might be boiling hot, it might be raining, we're not sure) and my cousin still emailed me all freaked out over what to wear. Makes you want to only own one nice outfit and avoid decisions entirely! ;)

Marina said...

PS--some people do have costume parties at their weddings. Renaissance-style weddings and Halloween weddings come to mind. Unless it's poor etiquette to have a wedding that doesn't fit our cultural mental image of Wedding (which, um, I don't think it is) I have no problem with costume party weddings.

Annie said...

We struggled with this also. On the one hand I didn't want to tell people what to wear, on the other, a lot of our guests wanted some direction. I really didn't want to dictate uniforms and make anyone purchase a new outfit, or worry about what they owned.

In the end we decided on "cocktail attire--seersucker preferred" to add a little whimsy.

mismikado said...

I created a FAQ page on our website and the top question is "How should we dress?" I answered as follows: A. Well it is Texas, and it will be the middle of summer, and the reception is outdoors... so dress for the heat. Hidalgo gets to be in the high 90's by that time, but be sure to check out the weather tab on this site to make sure. The Old Pumphouse is right on the Rio Grande River so it will be quite windy so be prepared for that. The museum will be available for seating for the elderly and those who cannot experience long exposure to the sun. And ladies, keep in mind you will be walking through the grass so you might consider leaving the stilettos at home :)

Half of our guests are coming from out of town... I thinks it is completely necessary to clue them in on what to pack... and expect...

mjs said...

I think you're in the clear. There's a big difference between dictating what your guests wear because you want them to be on theme, and letting your guests know what will make them comfortable - both physically (weather, terrain) and sartorially (so a guest isn't the only one showing up in a tux, for example)

I saw a quote (which I can't find at the moment) by Emily Post, or one of her descendants, that went something like this: Etiquette is being considerate of the comfort of those around you. It struck me as the principle behind a lot of etiquette rules, and when wedding forums offer conflicting or impractical advice, this is the principle I refer to.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with everyone's comments! I didn't give any attire direction at my wedding -- although our wedding was so small & intimate that I knew my guests well enough to know they would all dress "Sunday church style" for a wedding. No one asked any questions. ...That said, for a bigger wedding (or if we'd invited a less-intimate circle of people we didn't know as well) I would have provided more direction. Our church was a restored 1800's style place -- had anyone shown up in jeans, I think they would have felt awkward.

sabrina said...

We posted the info below to our wedding blog and included a link to it in the pre-wedding e-mail we sent to all guests who had RSVPd "yes". We got married nearly three weeks ago and we're still getting comments about the magnetized underwear.

What not to wearWe've gotten a few questions about attire for our little shindig. We just want everyone to be comfortable. This could mean anything from a suit to a shirt or blouse and khakis. It's probably easier to list what not to wear:

* A coat made of buttercream frosting. Someone might mistake you for the wedding cake.
* Magnetized underwear. Unless you'd like to have forks and knives flying at your behind all afternoon.
* Your high school band uniform. While we're sure your trombone solo was amazing, we've already booked an awesome band to play at the reception.
* Really spiky heels. Some of the patio area at the venue has a surface made of stones, so women (or men...hey! we're open-minded) with really spiky heels might have some difficulty maneuvering.

We hope this helps answer your questions, but if you're wondering about anything else (like whether or not it would be appropriate to wear your jogging pants on your head), just leave us a comment and let us know!

The Thirty-Something Bride said...

My brother and his now-wife printed "wear red" around the perimeter of their invites. Everyone did and looked super-cool in photos and at the wedding itself. I was against the idea at first, but then it really was cool. I do think mentioning attire on the wedding site is a good idea. I'm off to update mine!

Surprise Wedding said...

We're such kindreds, Sara. Etiquette in general, and wedding etiquette in particular boggle my mind. So often, what is deemed correct in the eyes of Emily Post et al stands in complete opposition to common sense.

It drives me nuts.

very married said...

i kinda agree with the spirit of some of the above comments. it's bad etiquette if you're trying to get your guests to make your pictures pretty. However, if you're making them aware of weather conditions and such, that's pretty helpful.

it's all about making your guests as comfortable as possible.

Cindy said...

Sara, you are awesome. I've been trying to figure out how to respond to our first question on attire, which I am totally sympathetic to because I *always* struggle with what to wear to weddings. Thanks for this guidance - it's a good primer on how to be helpful without being bossy.

Kate Wells said...

We're hoping that based on the information and style of our invitation that people can figure it out. We've stated that it's a harvest picnic and that it's outdoors. We're also using a quote from Thoreau on our information card and website - "Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes." Hopefully people will realize that it's A. relatively casual and B. we don't want them to spend money on an outfit.

That said, I like Sabrina's idea of humorous "what not to wear" suggestions that also do well at setting the tone.

Shanna said...

I personally agree with most of the comments... it's not bad etiquette to make suggestions or give advice, especially if they are not familiar with the area or the circumstances of the wedding (church, etc.) but the line is drawn at literally saying "don't wear this, please wear this."

I referenced Emily Post's Wedding Etiquette book and it said that it is "incorrect to put 'black tie' or 'white tie' on the invitation to the ceremony. It if seems essential to include this directive, it can be added only to the invitation to the reception and is placed in the lower right hand corner. Avoid writing 'black tie invited' or 'black tie preferred,' as these phrases can be confusing."

Basically, as long as it's not part of the invitation itself and it's clear (and doesn't come off as rude), then you should be golden.

P.S. Love Sabrina's comments about the dress code. It really sets the tone for the wedding.

Kristal said...

I personally think it's POOR etiquette not to let the guests know! I'm still working on how I'm going to word what I put on our wedding website. These days, you can't just let the invitation set the tone. Lots of people know nothing about looking at the invitation for an indication of the formality or lack there of for a wedding. Our wedding is outdoors and it will probably be around 75-80 degrees out. I want our guests to be comfortable. But I also want them in dressy attire. I'm not talking formal here...I'm talking Sunday best. Again, still not sure about my wording. So many people now a days wear jeans and such to church (including myself) so I can't just say church attire. Oh the details...

Manda said...

Kate, I love the Thoreau quote! :)

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