The Six Rules for Wedding Guest Dresses

Apr 12, 2017

As the invitations begin to arrive, we must prepare for a summer filled with weddings.  And while it’s nice to buy a new dress for a special occasion, there are a few rules you must follow to get the most bang for your buck.

Rule One. Don’t shop at the last minute.  Waiting until the last moment is a recipe for regret.  Maybe you won’t find anything, or you’ll find a dress that takes up permanent residency in the back of your closet.

Rule Two. Set a realistic budget and use search filters to keep you within it.  If you want to spend less than $200, scrolling absentmindedly will only lead to finding something you love that’s outside your price range.

Rule Three. Learn what the bridesmaids are wearing.  Several years ago, a friend showed up to her cousin’s wedding in a lavender cocktail dress.  Little did she know, the bridesmaids were wearing the same lavender dress.

Rule Four. Think about the photos. These snaps will live on social media for eons, so consider how the dress will look in pictures. Pale colors often look white post flash.  A print that’s too bold might draw all the attention.

Rule Five. Consider your comfort.  This rule has two parts.  First, you could be wearing this dress for 12+ hours, so don’t choose itchy fabrics or dresses that are too snug.  Also, if the wedding is outside, choose a fabric that breathes.  Secondly, if you’re not comfortable showing or accentuating parts of your body, don’t choose a

Secondly, if you’re not comfortable showing or accentuating parts of your body, don’t choose a dress that makes you feel uncomfortable just because it’s awesome.  I once wore a backless dress to a wedding despite being totally self-conscious about some minor bacne.  I ended up wearing a shawl all night.  Not awesome.

Rule Six. Before you head to the register, ask yourself one question: Would I buy this dress (and be excited to own it) if I didn’t have this wedding to go to?  Never buy something new just because you think you need something new for a special occasion.  Choose a dress only if you love it enough to wear it again.  Otherwise, just buy new accessories for a dress you already love.

Here are a few dresses under-$150 that caught my eye for the forthcoming wedding season.  If you shop early, you won’t have to worry about finding your size, or finding something you love.

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Adelyn Rae Illusion Yoke Dress ($108)

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City Chic Mystery Woman Plus-size Dress ($84)

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Vince Camuto Floral A-Line ($96)

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Adelyn Rae Halter Sheath Dress ($88)

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Elliatt Liberty One Shoulder ($147)

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Aqua Lace Bodycon Dress ($98)

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Eliza J Sparkle Knit Sheath ($124)

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Adrianna Papell Flutter Sleeve Dress ($140)

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LOFT Eyelet One Shoulder Dress ($98)

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  1. Mel says:

    I suggest one additional rule: Don’t wear white or a color that is incredibly pale and nearly white.

  2. SarahT says:

    That Elliatt dress is stunning!

  3. Cait says:

    What’s the rule about wearing black to a wedding? I’ve heard some people insist that you should never wear black and others say it’s only ok if it’s an evening wedding or if you’re above a “certain age.”

    • Anna says:

      I think that rule has pretty much gone out the window. As long as you don’t look like you’re going to a funeral, I’d say you’re fine.

      • kashat says:

        Definitely regional. At a recent evening wedding in NYC, I’d say 30+% of the female guests were wearing black or very dark navy. However, it was “festive” black with serious accessories (highly embellished cocktail dresses, real or faux sparkly jewelry, shiny or bright shoes, etc.)

        • Belle says:

          Black is very common on the East Coast. But I only wear it to winter weddings, I just find it a bit harsh for spring and summer.

          • Valerie says:

            Ditto to all of these comments. You’re fine wearing black to most East Coast weddings, especially if they’re in the evening and indoors. And if they’re black-tie, it’s completely acceptable to wear a black cocktail or long dress.

            I’d mainly recommend skipping black if the wedding is daytime and/or outdoors, because it can seem a bit somber, not to mention that if you’re sitting in direct sunlight black fabric might not be very comfortable. Of course if you find a gorgeous black dress that just works for you, by all means wear it. Just make sure it’s culturally appropriate- traditional Chinese wedding guests avoid black because of the “funeral” implication, and I can imagine more than a few old-school southern matrons who’d find black dresses strange at a southern summer wedding.

  4. Caitlin says:

    That LOFT dress may be toeing a line of “too close to white,” but that ruffle is darling.

    • heatherskib says:

      It’s still fairly regional. even though black is not solely associated with mourning anymore, it still has those undertones.

      • raq says:

        Agree, I love the last two dresses but both I think would photograph pretty white. I’ve made this wedding mistake before with pastels…

    • Belle says:

      It photographs that color (I just bought it). I snapped a few to try it out as I’m planning to wear it to a wedding.

    • Noreen says:

      In Chinese culture white is the color traditionally associated with mourning and death and all things surrounding funeral preparations. Surprised to read the remark above that black is considered funeral in Chinese culture but perhaps that is an evolving view. Older tradition holds that black is strong but neutral – maybe better for work than for celebrations.

      But if you do not need to adhere to any specific cultural traditions black is a very common color for wedding guests on the East Coast (well New York to New England anyway). Used to be reserved for the older widows and widowers but those days are long gone.

  5. Ann says:

    I only have 2 rules for wedding dress shopping. 1. Don’t buy a new dress unless you have nothing that fits that is appropriate for the occasion. 2. Don’t spend more than is necessary to buy something in a department store in one visit (ideally on the way home from work).

    I have been to enough weddings to finally learn that they are not worth spending and fretting over what to wear. Now that my husband and I have kids, we usually don’t even go. Unless it is a wedding of a very close family member or friend it is usually not worth the time, babysitting and travel expenses to us.

  6. Valerie says:

    Oh yes, I definitely violated rule #3 by not checking the color of the bridesmaids’ dresses (cherry red, just like the one I got). Thankfully they were a different style and fabric, and the bride was a very chill friend of mine. But I did get mistaken for a bridesmaid a couple times that evening.

  7. Rachel says:

    I noticed on your social media that you picked up the YYigal crochet-trim dress – I’m considering picking that up for an evening wedding I have in a few months. How’s the fit?

  8. Kate says:

    Can anyone advise on whether this dress would be OK for a June wedding in the South? My cousin, the bride, is from the North and her fiance’s family is Southern, although not especially traditional/formal, from what I can tell. I just bought this on huge sale. It probably is more of a winter dress, but I just loved the style and the way it fit. https://www.adriannapapell.com/adrianna-papell-on-sale-now/clearance-designer-dresses-%26-evening-gowns/orchid-print-midi-dress-with-deep-v-back-797532124341.html?gclid=Cj0KEQjww7zHBRCToPSj_c_WjZIBEiQAj8il5OhHlzIm9yyChn6eZMKnYEeRFke9FxYVgZ4pqaZ9n9IaAh-d8P8HAQ&gclsrc=aw.ds&utm_content=sG060BpKx-dc_pcrid_98920546361_pkw__pmt__AP_Shopping_BrandAll%20Products

  9. Melissa says:

    Also – buy something versatile that doesn’t scream WEDDING, and that coordinates with accessories you already own so you’ll get worthwhile wear out of it. Or try Rent the Runway, or a similar service. .

    • Anna says:

      RTR. Every. Single. Wedding. The few times I have bought dresses and told myself, “this is totally versatile, I’ll definitely wear it again!” I never do.

      • Valerie says:

        LOL me too. And it’s especially tough when you have multiple weddings in one season with the same group of people. This summer I’m going to the weddings of two friends who are siblings…so all the same hometown friends and family members.

  10. Rachael says:

    This was SO helpful! Thank you!!

  11. Rachel says:

    Another rule I would add – be mindful of where the wedding is taking place, particularly if it’s in a place of worship. There are some more conservative Catholic churches or synagogues where a woman baring her shoulders, or sometimes knees, is considered inappropriate. Either ask the couple how conservative the venue is or bring a cardigan, blazer, or shawl, if you plan on wearing a sleeveless dress.

  12. Claire says:

    Ooh I’ve been guilty of wearing a pale dress that photographed white. That was years ago at my cousin’s wedding and I still cringe if I see one of those photos pop up on Facebook. The only thing that makes me feel better about it is that another friend accidentally did the same thing but with a floor length gown so it read REALLY bridal.

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