If what to wear to a wedding is one of the most asked questions of social dressing, what can you, the bride, or you, the bride’s mother, do to help find an answer?
Let us consider. As in any analysis, one most understand the first principle. And the first principle of etiquette is to make people comfortable. People, in this instance, including you, the groom, your family, and the rest of the guests. The difficult part being, you may want everyone to show up dressed a certain way, and they may not have the background or temperament to support, or even understand, your vision.
So how do you get close to what you’d like, without bossing everyone around? Because, in the end, although you might wind up with the wedding that looks the way you dreamed, guests in just the right outfits, you don’t want to get there via rudeness.
In all honesty, this question was too advanced for me. So I went to the Master Of All Things Good Looking And Appropriate. I asked my mother. Here are the Rules Of Wedding Invitation Dress Codes, According To LPC’s Mother.
What You Cannot Say
- You cannot tell people what NOT to wear. No fair saying, No Jeans, or No Polyester, or No Mohawks.
What You Should Think Twice About Saying
- Dress “Phoenix Festive,” or any other culturally bound or ambiguous concept. The only exception here is, given what I’ve seen, you can use Something Or Other Black Tie. Cowboy Black Tie, for example. Creative Black TIe. If you must. The locution is now well understood across enough societal sub-groups that you risk only mild grumbling at the usage. You have to be capable of defining “Creative” as broadly as the human spectrum is wide, however. And, when you use these kinds of codes, please pay attention to the full message your invitation delivers. It’s tough to make sense of a Rock and Roll BBQ in the garden. With straw hats.
What You Should Say
- Use the standard dress code wording, i.e., White Tie, Black Tie, Cocktail Attire, Casual. This should be visible on the lower right hand of the invitation. I don’t care for the terms Formal, or Semi-Formal, as they are both less descriptive and reminiscent of high school dances.
- Augment guests’ understanding of your vision via details of the location. In other words, if you have a reception card, note whether the venue is a garden, a ballroom, a loft, a restaurant. People aren’t dumb. They will triangulate Cocktail Attire and Garden, and arrive in something festive but more floral than were your reception in a Chicago warehouse space converted for making art and drinking whiskey. You can also put venue details on a map, if one is included with the invitation.
- Use your wedding website, if you have such a thing, to further communicate the spirit you’re envisioning. With delicacy.
- Use the design of your invitations to reinforce the aesthetic and resultant dress code, i.e. if you are having a straight-up, classic, formal wedding, send black on cream invites. If you want a more oxymoronic wedding, i.e. a wild rave in black tie, you could bend the formal invite format, classic type font and all, by printing pale blue on oxblood red. The medium is the message, and all that.
I did check with the standard sources, by the way, only to confirm that they had not addressed the question in detail.
The Wedding Channel says,
When you must make a note of dress code, etiquette dictates a few rules. Include the dress code on the reception invitation in the lower right-hand corner (it should not go on an invite with ceremony information). And be simple about it. Just write “black-tie” or “black-tie invited” so there’s no confusion.
Martha Stewart says,
If you want to stress the importance of the style of dress — black tie, for instance, or casual attire — place that information in the lower right corner, or on the reception card.
Since Martha is more permissive as to dress code placement, we’ll go with her. Also, you know, she’s Martha. You can also take a look at The Knot’s advice, or Ask Bronny. I didn’t find anything via search at A Practical Wedding, but you should always feel free to email Meg and Alyssa and Lauren at APW and see what they, and the wonderful community, think there. On Offbeat Bride, there is this story detailing exactly the pitfalls we’re discussing here.
But finally, and most importantly, this snippet of dialogue between my mother and myself.
Me: So, mom, let’s say someone is throwing a wedding, and they don’t want people to come in jeans, they can’t say that, right?
Me: Because that would be rude.
Mom: That would be rude.
Me: But what if they don’t want the wedding to be stuffy either?
Mom: (with alacritude) Then don’t invite stuffy people.
Me: (peals of laughter) Mom, oh, Mom. Mom.
And there you have it.