Are you standing in front of a pile of discarded dresses, sweaters, and accessories? Are you wondering if you can get away with wearing your only suit to the black tie wedding you've been invited to? Here are some pointers on what to wear to any wedding reception.
The first place to look for clues about what to wear to the wedding reception lies in the invitation. Is the invitation on embossed linen with fancy script instructing you to "join us for a formal reception"? Does the invitation invite you to "come party with us because we're finally legal"? A fancy, formal invitation instructs you to wear fancy, formal clothing. Laid-back wording and eclectic colors or papers may signify an informal or casual dress code for the reception. Look for wording on the invitation itself. You may find the words casual, informal, semi-formal, formal, black tie optional, or black tie. These are definite clues to the dress code required.
Also consider where the reception is being held. There will most likely be dancing, so you'll want to wear shoes that can withstand it and clothes that are loose enough to allow for it. You may want to keep carried accessories to a minimum to keep from misplacing them. Consider the practical necessities of having a reception on a beach, in a backyard, in a museum, or on a farm. Each venue will give you clues as to what to wear.
Once you've figured out the formality level of the dress code, you'll need to know what clothing goes along with each of these codes.
For a daytime wedding,
For her: wear a short, billowing, or floral dress, a skirt and sweater set, or a light-colored suit. Keep the accessories to a minimum.
For him: In summer, a light-colored suit, especially linen. In winter, wear a wool suit. Slacks, a dress shirt, and a tie are passable for this dress code. Pairing them with a blazer is better. If it is a formal wedding, you may wear a dark suit. Tuxedos, however, are traditionally inappropriate before 6pm.
For an evening wedding:
For her: wear a cocktail dress or a dressy suit in darker colors. Avoid sequins except for black tie.
For him: a dark suit is the only option unless it is a casual wedding. For casual, see daytime wedding attire.
For black tie-optional:
For her: wear a cocktail dress, possibly floor-length.
For him: wear a dark suit or a tuxedo.
For black tie:
For her: wear a formal, floor length gown, the classiest you have that won't upstage the bride. Bring out that expensive jewelry that you never get to wear.
For him: wear a tuxedo.
Here are some things not to wear to any wedding:
Don't wear white, black to a daytime wedding, jeans, anything revealing or overly sexy, don't wear anything sleeveless to a religious ceremony, don't wear anything torn or dirty, and never wear anything that will upstage the bride.
If you can't find any clues as to what to wear in the invitation, it is okay to ask the mother of the bride or anyone in the wedding party what they are wearing. You can also ask the bridal couple what their wishes are.