Working out what to wear for a wedding is like a riddle wrapped in an enigma inside an episode of Westworld. With standards slipping and definitions getting hazier over time, dress codes often confuse more than they clarify. (It’s no coincidence that they’re called “codes”.) It may seem like you can’t win, but you can. Read our guide to wedding style and you’ll be the toast of the reception.
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What to wear to a city wedding
City ceremonies tend to be on the slicker side. Maybe the invitation says “formal,” “lounge suits,” or “cocktail”. Either way, that translates to a suit—but not the same one you wear for work. “The trick is to not look like you’re going to a business meeting,” says Dan Rookwood, U.S. editor of menswear e-tailer Mr. Porter. “Choose a tie with some pattern and/or color, and a bright pocket square that compliments but doesn’t exactly match your neckwear.” A three-piece suit is a smart choice, says Rookwood. The vest will help you look sharp—not sweaty—when the jackets come off later. “Or if you have a double-breasted suit, go for it,” he says. Peak lapels are sharper, and dark colors are a good bet, especially if the event runs into the evening. Opt for a white dress shirt underneath. “Pastel-colored shirts show up perspiration on the dance floor,” Rookwood says. “White is safer.
Related: The 5 Mistakes Wreck Your Look
What to wear to a country wedding
Generally speaking, moving nuptials to the countryside signals a downshift in formality. “Unless the invitation specifies otherwise, a rural wedding gives you more sartorial license,” says Rookwood. “For example, you could wear separates: a tweed jacket with a pair of cords, perhaps. Or add textures and patterns, such as a knitted tie or a flannel suit.” You can probably also take a step down in formality footwear-wise to brogues or dress boots. While black is usually the best choice for formal events, when you’re in a rural area, you’re safe with brown shoes. “But stop short of it looking too costumey,” warns Rookwood. You don’t want to look like the fifth Mumford & Son.
What to wear to a black tie wedding
This should be the most straightforward dress code—but then there’s that awkward word, “optional”… “If the invitation says ‘black tie optional’, then wear it,” says Rookwood. “The subtext is: The happy couple would like you to wear a tuxedo but don’t want to look like they’re enforcing it.” The point of black tie is to create uniformity. So resist the temptation to express your personality.
“Stick to black or midnight blue,” says Rookwood. “Absolutely no novelty items.” You need: a bow tie, ideally proper (YouTube how to tie it); a white shirt, ideally with cuff links, studs, and some kind of fancy front; and polished oxfords or patent shoes (the latter are really for white tie, but they’re acceptable). You don’t need a cummerbund, as long as your shirt isn’t visible between your jacket buttons and waistband. You also need an actual tux, which has contrast lapels and braiding down the leg. Your Plan B is a black suit—AKA “Hollywood black tie.”
What to wear to a destination wedding
This is the wild card: All bets are off. Odds are, though, that it’ll be somewhere hotter than hell, near a beach, with a sea view. Maybe even on the beach. “Ask ahead to see how formal—or informal—the dress code is,” says Rookwood. (Better still, ask them what they’re wearing, and take your cue accordingly.) “You may be able to get away without a tie, or with leather sandals instead of shoes, for example.” If sandals are a step too far, loafers are a failproof smart-casual summer option—and can easily be slipped off.
Your tailoring will also need to reflect your surroundings. “Go for something slightly looser in the trousers and a completely unlined jacket to allow air to circulate,” says Rookwood. It should be light in more ways than one: “Dark colours absorb sunlight, baking you, whereas lighter colours bounce it back.” (All white everything is for Backstreet Boys, though.) You’ll also want breathable fabrics like cotton and linen.
“But exercise caution before wearing a linen suit—they can crease badly,” says Rookwood. “A seersucker suit will hold its shape better.”