What to wear to a wedding reception: the rules, the outfits
Stylistically, weddings are no longer the simple, traditionally formal affairs they once were – when everyone wore their Sunday suits, got a little boozy and that was it. These days, nuptials can be casual, overtly formal, or even themed (thrill) – ranging from the unusual: “dress up Hawaii” to the ultra-specific: “wear pink stripes.”
Perhaps even more confusing is understanding what to wear to a wedding reception. If you only attend half the day, can you do half the effort? Of course not.
The only saving grace here is that because you’re avoiding all the pomp and ceremony, you can afford to have fun with your attire, as befits an upbeat and positive occasion. But, unless you’re also the entertainment, the fun isn’t far-fetched. There must be a certain sobriety in your outfit, even if it is lacking in your behavior at the end of the evening.
Wedding Reception Style Tips
Know the dress code
The invitation is likely to contain the most important information that will help you decide what to wear as a guest at the wedding reception. It can be specific – lounge suit, for example, or, unnecessarily vague – “party wear”.
The latter may require some background research, such as asking someone closer to the groom for a more accurate interpretation. “And if the invitation says a certain dress is ‘optional’, that usually means the bride and groom really want you to wear it,” says Christopher Modoo, evening wear expert and creative director at British couture brand Kit. Blake. So do it, in other words.
Subtle control can spice up an otherwise boring gray suit.
Respect the hosts
A wedding reception is not an occasion for a style rebellion. Not, at least, unless it’s towards conservatism. Of course, if the hosts sport, say, a specific period style, you don’t need to feel pressured to fit in. It’s just the reception after all, which is basically just one big party.
That said, now is not the time to debut your dazzling lime green velor slippers (in hindsight, there’s probably never time for that.) As tempting as it might be to s ‘dress like a peacock Pitti, never look alike’ try to upstage the bride and groom.
Consider the context
If you want to dress up, cream linen stitching can make for a solid wedding reception outfit. That is, if the wedding reception takes place on a beach. In the middle of town? Not really.
Along with the time of year and general dress code, the wedding venue should play a big role in what you choose to wear. If it’s a country estate, don’t hesitate to break out your Prince of Wales check suit and your trusty oxfords. If the hip and happy couple have booked a converted industrial building for their reception, it’s a sign that you can lean more into fashion with a modern approach to tailoring.
Dressing up your couture is fine if the occasion calls for it. costume supply
“When attending a wedding reception, men are tempted to wear ‘fancy’ clothes that they wouldn’t normally wear,” says Modoo. “You see men in loud, busy shirts, for example. And there’s always a guy in an electric blue suit. It’s a look that’s more like a suburban realtor than a fancy wedding guest. Dress up, of course. But it’s not Harry and Meghan’s big day – keep it subdued, unless the invite says morning suits.
An understated, well-cut suit will always trump flashy in terms of elegance. You’re not there to distract the groom. And by the way, if the wedding is quite casual, you can do something individual by ditching the tie and wearing a shirt with an open or grandad collar.
What to wear to a wedding reception – three looks
A vest is a good option and will ensure you are smart without the jacket.
Let’s start by saying that it can be acceptable to wear your work suit to a wedding reception, if fitted correctly. A well-tailored suit can serve you well for a wide range of social occasions, especially if it comes in versatile navy or gray.
Where you can make a difference is with everything else. Wear a subtly striped shirt; a not too formal knitted tie; a smart wristwatch and fancy Derby shoes. Make sure your tie knot is on point – with a little dimple – and put some effort into your grooming. If you want to brighten up your “usual” costume, it’s the little things that will make the difference.
If the wedding reception is just the excuse you need to buy a new suit, go for something you’ll get to wear a lot. Think of slightly structured, straight and patch pockets, which will allow you to wear the jacket alone, separate from the pants.
Liven up a basic navy suit with an open collar shirt.
Since you won’t have to endure the more formal ceremonies of the day itself, you often won’t have to go all out and wear a dress shirt and tie in the evening. So while you can always choose to wear a suit, you can opt for a more casual top half – a knitted polo shirt or a grandad collar shirt, perhaps.
This will transform the costume and instantly give it a cozier, sleazy edge. It removes any “professional” overtones the costume might otherwise have – which is ideal if you’re not generally comfortable wearing one or don’t want to look too stuffy.
An easy way to nail the dressy suit is to go tonal, i.e. opt for a knit or shirt in a similar hue to the suit. It’s an easy way to wear couture, especially if you skip the pocket square and opt for dark brown or black shoes.
Neutral separates work especially well for summer. Mango Man
One way to look stylish while remaining effortless is to wear separate pieces. That is to say, a suit jacket with mismatched pants. There is of course a trick, but worn well, there is no easier way to look cool at a wedding reception.
Seam dividers allow for a degree of creativity that an ordinary costume does not. You can get fancy with your fabric combinations – pair moleskin with corduroy or brushed cotton with wool. Do the same with colors and patterns, although we’d advise keeping things restrained there. Prince of Wales worn with pinstripes is a no go.
Classic combinations include navy worn with lighter blue or neutrals – think beige and brown. And because it’s a dressier take on couture, separate it nicely with tees and knits, if you want to go the even more casual route.
Wedding Reception Key Pieces
A simple mid-tone suit in light wool will suit most wedding receptions, all year round. It’s both formal enough for the occasion and light enough to handle the heat of the marquee or the dance floor. If necessary, wear a tie, but consider a more interesting, shiny or textured tie – a knitted tie will still work. To give a home suit a more formal effect, try a contrast waistcoat in plain silver grey.
White might look too much like office attire, so go for a warmer, brighter hue without going into more extreme territory: sky blue, cream, or pale pink will enhance your presentation, while also looking stylish. Make sure your shirt has a structured, stiff collar to get the most out of your tie. Avoid shirts with superfluous details like contrasting buttonhole seams or piping.
If the reception is quite casual, you can ditch the traditional collared shirt and wear something more comfortable and individual. A turtleneck is refined with a suit in winter, while an open-necked shirt pairs well with linen blends for summer weddings. Knitted t-shirts and polo shirts are even more casual, but they can suit the right event with the right style.
The rule of thumb for all of these options is to stick to solid neutral colors in tonal tones that ring with the suit.
Unless your suit is very plain, black Oxfords or Derby shoes will suit most occasions, helping to provide the required air of formality. As with the groom, this is not the time to wear new shoes – unless you plan to stay in your place the whole time; overtly casual shoes – boat shoes, driving shoes, even black ones – are also not appropriate.
Although the watchword is “formality”, a wedding reception is also an opportunity for a certain self-expression that is not always offered by work. The happiness of the occasion can be reflected in the pleasure of dressing up: pocket square, tie pin, pocket watch and chain, cufflinks, etc. agree. “It’s an opportunity to wear the kind of accessory you don’t see every day,” says Modoo.
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