“But what, what, should I wear to the wedding?”
Is someone you know getting married? Your brother or your husband’s college roommate? Your cousin, colleague, acquaintance, nanny? Always, people ask, what should they wear? Weddings are the Forest Of Fog And Terrors in the Land Of What To Wear. Like Candyland, if you will.
What are the High WASP feelings about wedding dress? Do we care most about, for example, what time white tie kicks in? No. That’s 6pm. And all other matters of formal tradition are answered here. But few resources will tell you you the most important rule. Here goes.
You should wear whatever your social ecosystem says to wear.
Otherwise known, heretoforth, as your “micro-culture.” Anyone with a better term I welcome you to the front of the room. Please write it on our white board. Thank you.
How so? What do we mean?
1. Determine what the bride, groom, and families want and comply to the best of your ability. What matters more than supporting the families taking this big step, after all? Voicing a contrary opinion, adhering to rules outside their personal system, is bad manners. No matter the ‘official’ code.
– Example: I’ve received two queries from readers puzzled by invitations requesting long dresses be worn at an afternoon wedding. It is an odd concept, but not scandalous, after all. The vision may be bourgeois, even declassé, but so are many long, happy marriages.
– Example: I attended a wedding where the groom wore a black suit, his bride a white smoking, and we all cabin-camped in fog so thick it dripped. The dress code was noted as something like Anarchic. These visions may be outré, but so are many long, happy marriages.
– Example: Groom in navy suit with lavender tie, groom in navy suit with green tie, dress code strictly Emily Post for 4pm at the yacht club. Divergent from last century’s traditions, but so are many long, happy, well, you say it. Contrary to popular belief, High WASPs believe more in respect for families, any families, than in a particular codification of behavior.
2. If the microculture doesn’t provide clear direction, i.e. bride is a tatooed printmaker living in Raleigh, Durham, her family are Southern Baptists, the groom’s family New York eclectic, choose the low-offense alternative. That may mean dressing to the standard code. It may not. So ask for guidance. This is not a time for renegade fashion unless your invitation source requests. Above all, support whoever invites you, or be prepared to deal with a long reparation process.
– Example: If you are friend of the tatooed bride – does she want you to reinforce her rebellious rockabilly aesthetic? Or bow your head to tradition and put on some pearls? If you have any doubt, just ask. If you come from an indirect culture, have the indirect conversation.
3. This What To Wear burden ought not to be borne by guests alone. If you are the bride or the groom, do what you can to give people the right clues. Weddings are about two people, and probably two families, merging cultures and traditions, in the context of a whole coterie of social and economic and aesthetic considerations. You cannot assume that everyone knows what Black Tie, Elegant Hoedown, or Stick It To The Man dress codes mean. In this context, setting an aesthetic that’s consistent across your Save the Dates (if you do them), your invitations (if you do them), and your wedding style itself, is actually a favor to the attendees.
I do not need to say, but I will, that we assume you won’t press your advantage. That those of us who are not Beyonce ought most likely to stop short of insisting all our guests wear white, and allow for personal expression. But establishing a predictable environment is not a bad idea.
– Example: My wedding was black tie. But I wrote in the invitation to one friend, “Dress For Fun!” As it turned out, he was the one man who wore a suit and came up to me in some distress and asked me why I had sent that signal. He was right. I should have been more explicit. Do I remember anyone’s polyester peach taffeta from that night? Outfits that at other times, in other places, might have raised my eyebrow? No. I remember only that those who loved me wanted to belong to and support whatever I was creating. The same will be true in your community, of your loved ones. Help them out.
These High WASP rules aren’t as straightforward to follow as a 12-point matrix of colors, materials, timing, lengths, and venues would be. This is not binary code, rather, an unspoken navigation of the mix and match that families, and society, ask of us. As is marriage. Which doesn’t come with a simple how-to either.
Most of all, do not use ‘etiquette’ as a way to make people feel uncomfortable. Not you, the guest, not you, the bride, not you, the groom, and not you, you over there, the bride’s mother. Why would one ever use a wedding, one of the most joyous events in the human canon, to make other people feel badly?