It’s a common formality for respectful wedding guests never to wear a black or white dress to a wedding. This is because tradition says that black looks too funereal while white would appear to compete with the bride. However, it is now quite common to see wedding guests wearing a little black dress at ceremonies despite the custom. This begs the question: is wearing white to a wedding now okay for guests?
The answer is that it’s still not okay. Wearing a white dress to a wedding when you are not the bride is still frowned upon. This is because the bride should always be the one to stand out on her wedding day. Of course, one of the ways she does just that is by being the only one in the room wearing white.
My dress isn’t all white.
This is a common one. You might have florals on a white background, a white panel on a colour block dress or a white design on top of a base colour. Take a cautious approach here and put anything with more than 25% white, cream or ivory to one side. There are plenty of dresses in the sea.
I can’t find anything else…
This is possibly the most frustrating scenario. Ok, so you have found a beautiful dress that fits like a dream and costs half your monthly wage, and you must wear it. No, just no, this day is not about you, and there is no dress in existence that makes this argument fly. If it is that beautiful, save it for your own wedding.
The bride is not wearing white.
More and more brides are choosing non-white options for their wedding attire. This should not, however, open the door to wedding guests decked out in white lace. So whether the bride is wearing red, purple or a multi-coloured jumpsuit, don’t try and out-bridal her in white. It’s unkind, distasteful and unnecessary.
The couple asked guests to wear white.
Ok, here is the one scenario where you can absolutely get your white on. If white is part of the wedding theme, then go for it. A white dress, shoes, and accessories can all be worn without any cause for concern!
Can You Wear White to a Wedding?
Can you wear a dress that’s white to a wedding? In short, yes. But can you wear a dress that’s white and bridal to a wedding? Absolutely not! In our eyes, a white dress is OK, but a wedding dress, or anything that could read as a wedding dress, is not. This is a really important distinction to make, which is why we’ve come up with a handy method for determining whether your dress has a bridal look to it.
If you’re wearing white to a wedding, your outfit should also tick at least one of the following boxes, ideally two or three:
- It’s a jumpsuit or playsuit
- It’s short, knee-length or midi-length
- The fabric contains a second colour or multiple colours
- The fabric features a print, even if the pattern is fully white, e.g. polka dot, floral
- The fabric is a bit more casual or fashion-forward than you’d typically find in a wedding dress, e.g. cotton, wool, linen, laser-cut leather.
- The style is particularly fashion-forward or unbridled, e.g. tuxedo-style, button-down, T shirt-style
- It’s not particularly eye-catching, daring or voluminous.
Here, we must stress that it’s not worth taking a chance on a dress you’re unsure about. You should be 100% confident that your outfit isn’t at all bridal. If you’re still unsure after working through the above list, we recommend cutting your losses and looking for a different dress. Believe us, finding a non-white dress that you like will be much easier than worrying about your outfit for weeks on end!
There are two instances when you should feel extra confident wearing white to a wedding, although you should still avoid something white and bridal:
- When you know for sure that the bride isn’t wearing white
- When it’s a same-sex wedding with two grooms (and you know for sure that neither of them is going to wear a white dress!)
- When you’ve been asked by the couple to wear white (which is quite unlikely!)
In these cases, you should still absolutely avoid anything that could take the focus off the couple, as we’ve said above. For example, a really eye-catching outfit, the kind that might go viral if a celebrity wore it, is never appropriate for a wedding guest to wear.
How to Wear White to a Wedding?
Don’t wear floor-length.
The very first thing you should avoid when choosing your white gown is a full-length silhouette. The entire purpose of censoring your outfit is to ensure that the wedding gown is the only one of its kind on the day. That means no floor-length or trailing white maxi dresses that could easily substitute as a bridal double. Wearing a full-length wedding gown is essentially looking for trouble and gaining the wrong kind of attention, with many assuming your main intent is to upstage the bride indeed and steal her thunder. Leave the dramatic skirt lengths to the bride and the rest of the guests in colour. If you’re going to wear white, wear something over the knee or slightly mid-length, with as little resemblance to a wedding gown as possible.
Choose a distinctive shape.
Again, this principle is based on the same reasoning behind avoiding a full-length skirt – not ending up with a dress that looks anything remotely like the brides. For this reason, it’s also advisable to steer clear of what’s known as the more bridal type of fabrics and silhouettes, like chiffon or A-line skirts and cinched waists. Instead, try choosing a dress that has a distinctive shape and structure. If you decide on a dress with asymmetrical lines and edging, then that will have you steering clear of looking like a stand-in bride. You want to make your dress as edgy and modern as possible to look sleek and individual, not soft and bridal.
Decide on a print
Use white as a base for your dress, rather than an all-encompassing singular colour. This will get you off the hook when it comes to an all-white colour gown and gives you the excuse to inject some vibrancy without looking too cluttered. It works wonders for both ends of the spectrum in terms of your attitude to wearing white. If you’re too afraid to bear an all-white gown boldly, then choosing a dress with a pattern and decoration will still give you that pristine effect but with that added security of a flattering pattern. Alternatively, if it’s the perfect floral pattern for that summer wedding that you’re after but are too worried about looking cluttered and overcrowded, a white base is perfect. White colour will serve as the perfect base for any floral or bright prints you may be too afraid to wear as a whole. It will provide a pleasant break amidst a sea of pattern and print and will be discreet enough not to have red flashing in any bride’s eyes.
Inject a bit of colour
A pop of colour will break an entire white dress and will also brighten up the outfit. While the white dress itself will provide the main focal point, a slight adornment of coloured patterns or lace will lend that party feel to what would otherwise be a very ceremonious gown. The good thing about choosing white is that it literally goes with any other colour, so the possibilities are endless. From light lace to glittering sequins, it’s a straightforward yet rewarding process if you chose to adorn your white dress. In doing so, you are guaranteed a night of contention in your chosen dress while making sure that the bride is happy in seeing another white dress safely and non-threateningly encased in colour.
However, if bright colours aren’t exactly your thing, you can also break up a white dress by choosing the trend that is always considered a monochrome classic. Monochrome opens up a whole range of patterns and prints that can be explored in a very safe zone, which is always guaranteed to look chic regardless. You still get your white dress fix, but do so with the safety and assurance of an accompanying black pattern or colour block. The pair are best when they’re put together in striking asymmetric patterns or stacked together to flatter the silhouette and create a sense of elegance. Black and white will always provide a sense of style and formality, while most importantly, in this scenario, not stealing any attention away from the bride herself.
This is one of the bigger loopholes around wearing any form of white clothing to a wedding and comes back to our most basic and important rule of wedding guest fashion: not upstaging the bride. Referring to one of our previous guidelines about the skirt length and ensuring it doesn’t resemble a wedding dress, wearing either a jumpsuit or a playsuit will eliminate that threat. Jumpsuits and playsuits have the luxury of appearing both stylish and ceremonious, with that added edge and slightly casual vibe, which is guaranteed never to trump the bride’s dress. They are the perfect go-to outfit if your heart is set on wearing white, but you don’t want to steal any (well, ok, most) of the attention away from the bride.
Load up on accessories
If you do bravely opt for a simple yet stylish short white dress, then you should consider loading up on accessories to brighten up your overall ensemble and downplay the starkness of an all-white dress. Throw in as much colour and vibrancy here as possible, which will work great with white and show that you are not afraid of stylish statement jewellery. From bright blue and red to shimmering gold, you can downplay the bareness of your white dress with striking jewellery that stands out against your gown and tie your entire outfit together. Make your jewellery the focal point of your outfit, and the bride will be happy to see your necklace and earrings first before she sees your white dress.
Indeed, tradition isn’t what it always used to be. Today, not all brides wear a white wedding dress. This is because some brides don’t enjoy the virginal connotations, while others believe it’s not the most flattering or fun colour to wear. Regardless of the reason, you may wonder if it’s alright to wear a white dress to a wedding with one of these exceptions. Sadly, the answer is still no.
Consider a unique situation where the bride wears a red and black wedding dress with flames along the bottom. Although you might imagine that she isn’t conventional enough to care about what one of her guests are wearing, it still might not be a good idea. For example, the bride might have valid concerns that guests who don’t know her might mistake the white-wearing guest as the bride. Generally speaking, it’s best to play it safe and avoid wearing a white dress when going to any wedding- even one where the marriage ceremony involves two men.
There is some grey area when it comes to wearing a white dress at a wedding ceremony. Consider the following situations where you can make your judgment call:
- It’s a very non-traditional wedding, and you’ve already spoken to the bride before the big day to make sure she is truly okay with you wearing white.
- Your dress is only partially white; for example, a white bodice with a coloured skirt.
- The dress has a white background with an all-over print of a different colour.
- The couple requests that their wedding guests all wear white. Believe it or not, it happens. Beyonce and Jay Z made this request in 2008 for their wedding in New York. In scenarios where the couple requests something specific, it’s always respectful to follow suit.
What to Wear
Research the attire to wear to a wedding depending on the season, couple, and any traditional or religious customs. For example, it is typical for women to wear long emerald, ruby, and blue dresses during the winter and shorter orange, pink, and purple colours during the summer. Men can opt for charcoal, brown, grey, and navy suits, depending on the time of year.
Who Can Wear White to a Wedding?
So, when is wearing white to a wedding acceptable? As previously mentioned, it depends on the dress code, but your role in the wedding may also play a part. We break down everyone who can wear white to a wedding.
Yep, we’re stating the obvious. As the couple, you set the tone. You’re entitled to be the only ones in dazzling white numbers if that’s what you want.
That said, tons of couples embrace the white-clad wedding party look or ask their parents to wear something that coordinates with their outfits. Or, maybe you don’t even care if your guests wear white, especially if you’re not wearing white yourself (we’re obsessed with non-white wedding dresses, by the way). If that sounds like you, give guests a heads-up on your wedding website to say you’re cool with anyone donning frosty hues—it might save someone from needing to buy a new outfit.
The Wedding Party
A wedding party in all white always looks chic and polished. So if you’re a bridesmaid or groomsman and the to-be-weds want you decked in a creamy shade, you’re good to go. You might be allowed to choose your own dress based on a white palette, in which case it’s best to run your first choice picks by the couple before you buy. That way, you won’t have any fashion faux pas on the day of the wedding.
Can You Wear White to a Wedding? An Important Exception
There is one huge exception to this rule, and it’s when the wedding is going to be a reasonably casual affair; a city wedding featuring a registry office ceremony is a perfect example. In this situation, wearing a short white dress is risky because the bride will likely wear a short white dress. Ask yourself how formal the wedding will be (the invitation, the venue and the dress code, if any, should help you figure this out), and if the answer is “not at all”, we recommend avoiding wearing white entirely.
Wearing White to a Wedding: A Note on Styling
If you’re wearing white to a wedding, it’s important not to echo bridal styling with your accessories, so headpieces and veils are out of the question (unless, of course, the dress code requires a headpiece, in which a traditional hat would be best!) A brightly coloured bag and the shoe will help take your look in a less bridal direction, as will colourful jewellery.
Wearing White to a Wedding: What if the Bride Says it’s OK?
We don’t recommend asking the bride about wearing white to her wedding, because if she’s not OK with it, it’s going to be very difficult for her to say so. Of course, this also means that you’ll never feel totally sure that she’s honest with you. The way we see it, if you’re so torn about wearing white that you’re dying to ask the bride’s opinion, the best option is to find an alternative outfit.
If, however, someone goes against your dress code and shows up wearing pure white, try to keep your cool. Hopefully, it wasn’t done to annoy you, so do your best to rise above it. It’ll be nearly impossible to take the spotlight away from the happy couple anyway.