Style + Happy Hour

An Ask the Editor Happy Hour: A Wedding Dress for a Casual Ceremony

For several years, my wedding plans included 12 people at a Taco Bell.  But, like most women, when presented with the opportunity to put all of our friends and loved ones into one place, I took it.  I wish we’d done something smaller.  So I was so glad to see this comment from a bride looking for a simple, easy wedding for her and her partner.

Dear Belle,

My partner and I have been engaged for three years.  We haven’t tied the knot because neither of us wants to plan and pay for a wedding.  Last week, we decided not to let our parents dictate our wishes and reserved a restaurant’s patio for a late-May wedding.  That means I need a dress and I’m hoping you could help me choose one since I hate to shop.  

My budget is $500, maybe $750 for the RIGHT dress.  I want something lovely but not overly formal.  No sequins.  No tea length or floor length.  No spaghetti straps, preferably with sleeves but sleeveless is an option.  My partner is going to wear a white suit, so no blazer dresses or jumpsuits.  I would also like to wear white.  However, I would not be opposed to a soft pink or a soft pastel.  

Love your blog.  Thanks for the help.  ~Spencer

Hold on a moment, let me stretch.  This is an important exercise, and I want it to have my full attention.  Alright.  Let’s go.

This Sami Dress is the best pick for a modern bride who wants a dress that feels more cocktail than bridal.  If you want more chest coverage, you can add a mesh modesty panel in a similar white hue or line the sides with a mesh fabric to lessen the depth of the v-neck.  If you like this look, but want a slightly more traditional gown, Tadashi Shoji makes a wonderful alternative.

As for styling, I love how the dress is styled in this photo.  I might shorten it a bit to be just under the knee, but the double strap sandal  opens up the leg line in a way an ankle strap shoe wouldn’t.  I would choose a modern, pearl hoop earring.

This Badgley Mischka dress is so feminine and sleek at the same time.  The pleated bodice and the puffy sleeve give it something extra, while the pearl appliqués bring in a classic bridal touch.  If you hem this, stay below the knee.  If you take it all the way up to a mini-dress, it’ll likely throw off the proportions of the sleeve and look top heavy.

Because the dress is so much, I would choose a pearl stud earring with a little more oomph.  I would also grab a simpler shoe and a sleek clutch.

This Milly halter dress has a very cool, modern lace pattern.  The neckline is also a little bit dramatic and fun.  It would make a great dress for a casual ceremony or a rehearsal dinner.  If you like the style, but not the lace at the throat, try this simple satin charmeuse dress.

I like the metallic shoe with this, but would probably skip the ankle strap.  This d’Orsay style peep toe is more my speed.  I would also wear my hair up to really give the neckline its due.  This slightly braided style is nice, as is this very full, tousled ponytail.  If you want extra length for your ponytail, ask your stylist to order a remy hair extension specifically made for ponytails or a clip in hair set that can be dyed to match.

It should come as no surprise that a woman who wore a pink dress to her own wedding loves a pink dress.  So I scoured the Internet for a pink, short dress, and all I found was disappointment.  My fear with a short pink dress is that you will look like a bridesmaid, not the bride.  So if you’re going to go pink, may I recommend a floor length dress?

This Amanda Uprichard gown gives you a dash of pale pink, but it’s so simple that it won’t be too much for a casual wedding.  Want something more formal?  I have been trying to find a reason to buy this tulle gown for like six months.  I may throw an elaborate 41st birthday party just so I can wear it. Actually that’s a great idea.  I’m definitely doing that.

The other great thing about this dress is that you can dress it up or down as much as you like.  You can do a birdcage veil.  You can wear dramatic earrings.  You can wear a stack of bangles six inches tall.  It is a blank canvas in the best possible way.

Want a fun, refreshing cocktail for your wedding reception?  This a Starboard Spritz, a take on the Aperol Spritz.  It has strawberry and herbal notes, so it isn’t too sweet.  It’s fizzy and fun to drink at a cocktail hour, but more substantial than something served in a flute glass.

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  1. Sarah says:

    My husband and I didn’t want to spend money on a wedding, didn’t want to plan a wedding, and didn’t want to spend a weekend with a lot of people (we are both super introverts). Instead we did an immediate family only brunch at a restaurant for our wedding/reception. Total cost: $400. We have been married for 8 years and neither one of us wishes we had done anything else. Were there friends who I would have liked to have at my wedding? Yes, but our approach was the only way we could figure out to keep the event very small and not hurt feelings.
    I hope you also look back and think your small, intimate event was perfect for you! Congratulations

    March 10, 2023/Reply
  2. EMM says:

    tangentially related – any advice on what to do with heaps of old bridesmaid dresses? is it worth it to list into the ether of poshmark and pray for someone looking for *exactly* the color/size/style in another wedding party? donate? where? help!

    March 10, 2023/Reply
    • Belle says:

      I donated a few that took in dresses for prom for girls who struggle to afford formal wear. I only donated the ones that looked a bit younger, the others I just took to goodwill.

      March 10, 2023/Reply
      • EMM says:


        March 10, 2023/Reply
    • Amanda says:

      I bought and sold a bridesmaid dress on Poshmark, it’s totally possible!

      March 11, 2023/Reply
  3. Ag says:

    Here are some other ideas:

    March 10, 2023/Reply
  4. kate says:

    These are all wonderful suggestions! Good luck

    March 10, 2023/Reply
  5. Pam says:

    The Tadashi and the Ralph Lauren are TO DIE FOR!!

    March 10, 2023/Reply
    • Jill says:

      Agree! Love all the options but those spoke to me as well. So chic.

      March 12, 2023/Reply
  6. Emma says:

    I recommend French wedding brands for this – they usually have a “civil ceremony” collection because in France it’s mandatory to get married in city hall before getting any kind of ceremony, and they are usually knee-length and more casual, or you can even find bridal jumpsuits or two-piece sets. Lorafolk and Laure de Sagazan are the best known (Laure de Sagazan has a NY location), but there are a lot of other brands. I got mine online – the Baptiste dress from Atelier Camille. Not sure if they ship to the US but it’s well within budget and super cute!

    March 12, 2023/Reply
  7. Elizabeth says:

    Another beautiful option would be this tea length dress:

    It sells out all the time but they restock regularly.

    March 13, 2023/Reply
  8. Jules says:

    Recommend you check out BHLDN (Anthropologie) Little White Dresses and bridal gowns. They have lots in the ~$500 range.

    March 13, 2023/Reply