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Welcome to wedding season: where the hangovers are real, the dress codes are confusing, and we’re all sweating. As if the uptick in vaguely specific dress code attire hasn’t made finding a wedding guest outfit hard enough, summer weddings also require finding something that’s dress code appropriate while also seasonally appropriate. There’s a lot of “vibe interpreting” required for all these confusing wedding dress codes that, frankly, most of us just aren’t cut out for. So to help guide you on your seemingly treacherous wedding guest outfit search, here are some options based on the different dress codes.
Clearly I need to reevaluate my entire circle of friends because I’ve never attended nor have I even been invited to a white-tie wedding. White-tie dress code is the most formal of them all, requiring floor-length gowns, no exceptions. Your gown should be paired with your most elegant clutch and accessories and, if I were you, I’d take full advantage of the occasion and even add some trendy elbow-length gloves. You can make your gown more seasonally appropriate by choosing summery colors and fabrics.
Personally, this is my favorite wedding dress code out of the ones I’ve attended because I love an excuse to dress up. Black-tie dress code means you can wear a formal gown or elevated jumpsuit, either of which paired back to elegant accessories. Basically, think prom-adjacent attire minus the over-the-top tackiness and vodka-filled water bottles. Similarly as with white-tie, you can make your black-tie ensemble more summer- appropriate with light and bright colors, airy fabrics, and more breathable silhouettes.
Formal or Black-Tie Optional
This dress code can be confusing and definitely requires some of that “vibe interpreting” that I mentioned earlier. Black-tie optional is pretty much equivalent to formal and just means slightly less formal than black-tie. The biggest difference for women’s attire is that a full-length gown isn’t required, but something of the same dressiness “vibe” is still recommended. Basically, if you want to get wild and show your ankles then you have permission to do so but I’d avoid going above the knee for your hemline. Add a summer-feel to your formal look with vibrant summer colors or a lightweight mesh fabric.
Cocktail attire means that women can wear shorter hemlines but still need to look dressy. Long story short, it would be inappropriate to wear a gown but also inappropriate to wear a sundress. I realize that leaves quite a large gamut, but basically just think a specialty mini dress, elevated midi dress, or eloquent jumpsuit. Overall, this dress code does imply a bit more of a flirty and playful vibe, so have fun with it but still look classy. Keep it summer appropriate with shorter hemlines, seasonal colors, or even an elevated floral print.
Semi-Formal or Dressy Casual
Semi-formal or dressy casual might be the most vague of all the dress codes because there are no “hard lines” beyond no sweatpants. Rather, you really have to feel into the vibe of the wedding, so maybe just grab a crystal and the invitation and mediate on it? On second thought, maybe just text a fellow wedding attendee to see what they’re wearing and go from there. At the end of the day, err on the side of being over-dressed rather than under-dressed. Remember, it’s about special event elegance without crossing the line of “fancy.” Vague, I know, so best of luck.
As someone who recently attended a beach formal wedding, my biggest piece of advice is DO NOT underestimate the heat. As someone who also attended said wedding in a long sleeve bridesmaid dress, I’m going to suggest you steer clear of sleeves and any material that could potentially show sweat. Instead, opt for lightweight summery fabrics like linen or gauze. And, if you’re really someone who sweats easily, go for an airy printed maxi to help disguise any possible sweat stains. Oh, and bring a handheld fan, you’ll thank me later.
Daytime or Casual
Covid has made the backyard wedding quite a trend, and given how expensive weddings can get, I definitely see the appeal. Backyard or daytime weddings are usually more casual which means they’re perfect for a breezy sundress, pretty mini dress, or sophisticated set. The only “don’t” here is going too casual or too dressy. Just avoid dressier fabrics, overly casual fabrics, stiletto heels, sneakers…and you should be good to go from there.
As we’re forced to face facts that coronavirus isn’t going away any time soon and brides and grooms start scaling down their weddings to elopements, minimonies, and microweddings, it’s clear that some changes need to be made. What might work for a standard 200-person affair probably isn’t the right course of action for a socially distant wedding. In addition to the obvious areas that are being reimagined (big bands are a no-go and buffets may become a thing of the past), some brides are finding that the big, poofy wedding gown of their dreams no longer fits with their scaled-down 2020 plans.
Whether you’re postponing your wedding altogether (but still looking for a way to celebrate your OG date), hosting something small now and delaying the big party to a future point in time, or scaling the whole thing back to just a few members of your inner circle (plus or minus all your would-be guests who you’ve invited to tune in on Zoom), your fashion doesn’t need to be fancy to be wedding-worthy.
We chatted with a number of experts in the wedding arena to talk about wedding gown alternatives. Restyling a dress from your closet archives, buying something that’s much more pared-down than a gown, or considering a couple trend-forward looks for the informal fête at home and the bigger bash to come post-COVID are all viable options for wedding wardrobing these days.
Recycling Something You’ve Worn Before
Repeating an outfit isn’t exactly how every bride imagines the wear for her wedding day, but then again, did anyone imagine that a virus would be getting in the way of people exchanging vows this year? Probs not. If style icons like Kate Middleton and Elaine Welteroth (Project Runway judge and best-selling author) can pull something out of their closet and make it new again, so can you.
Elaine Welteroth and Jonathan Singletary’s May wedding on their Brooklyn stoop quickly went viral, and Welteroth wasn’t shy about where she got her dress. She told Vogue that she chose not to overthink her dress, going with “an old, white, label-less dress from my own closet.” She said, “I hadn’t worn it in over three years. But it was the first idea that came to mind when I envisioned us getting married on my stoop.” Yes, that’s right, this trend maven recycled something for her wedding day, and it’s something that all brides (not just ones who are figuring out their dress details during a pandemic) might want to consider.
Nicole Sheppard, co-founder of the super curated, modern, and inclusive dress destination Wander Atelier, thinks that brides who are over this quarantine and just want to get married can absolutely do it in something they’ve worn before. “If you decide to elope ASAP, there’s nothing wrong with pulling from your own closet and adding a few bride-specific accessories à la Elaine Welteroth,” she says. Elaine’s dress was something old, but she made the look into something new with some custom-made shoes, and also incorporated something borrowed—the veil her mother wore at her wedding, which happened to match her dress.
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Sheppard notes that in addition to the many fun veils to try these days, “capes can also be a great way to layer without having to make the commitment of a veil.” Sheppard also loves “the idea of a headpiece: trade out a flower crown or a more traditional embellished headband for a dried flower piece.”
Opting For Something Simpler For Your Setting
You can also just lean into the comfort of casual if you’ll be having a city hall ceremony or a more intimate one at home. Sheppard says that many of her brides right now are gravitating towards simpler, more casual looks. The samples in her shop that she qualifies as simple are “chic, clean-lined silk gowns that are lightweight and breezy,” while her favorite casual picks include “jumpsuits with a wide leg or more modern, streamlined silhouettes.”
According to Savannah Miller, a designer who helped put elevated bohemian style on the map after spending years working alongside British fashion titans like Alexander McQueen and Matthew Williamson, a bride doesn’t need to sacrifice her bride card if she gets married in a more under-the-radar fashion. In fact, her own wedding day was the epitome of easy, breezy, bride behavior: “My wedding day was a prime example of low-key. We had to get legally married the day before the ceremony for our friends and family, and I was tearing around in a kaftan with a baby on my hip trying to coordinate everything,” Miller recalls. “We ducked out to do the official ceremony and it was the most meaningful part of the whole weekend, because, ultimately, a wedding should be just you and your partner looking into each other’s eyes and promising to love and cherish each other forever. That’s what it’s all about.”
Savannah Miller Lottie Dress
So a little white dress, a jumpsuit, a crop top and skirt, or some seriously trendy separates suit this new (wedding) normal. Many brands stocked in authorized bridal boutiques and shops, like Savannah Miller Bridal, are moving up their timelines and offering a leaner selection of their styles, in limited sizing, for brides getting married this summer. Some others have even launched quick turnaround collections online to appeal to the overwhelming number of COVID-affected brides. And it doesn’t have to be tagged bridal to be bride-worthy, either—you can scout out special-occasion options through your favorite ready-to-wear shopping sites.
Here are some buy-now offerings for corona brides getting married at home that are simple, beautiful, and still totally bridal.
The Little White Dress
Bride-adored brand Amsale recently debuted its Little White Dress collection, and it’s replete with crisp, modern, and polished options for brides who want a very aisle-appropriate aesthetic, but aren’t feeling a gown. They also have a brand-new virtual try-on feature to help brides imagine how they’d look in each dress, since in-store appointments still aren’t the safest bet. Items typically arrive within a 4-6 week shipping window, however, some dresses are available immediately. The Amsale team always goes above and beyond, too, to make sure these expedited deliveries happen without a hitch.
Amsale LW143 Stretch Crepe Dress, $425
Amsale LW138 Faille Dress, $385
One of Amsale Design Director Margo Lafontaine’s favorite features are the super comfortable, yet sophisticated stretch crepe fabrications that most of the designs are made from. We’ve been at home for so long that luxe loungewear has become the universally accepted fashion of the moment, but for your wedding day, even if it’s at home, you need something that’s equal parts comfy and stylish. This first jumpsuit, for instance, has pants that a bride will quite literally “want to live in,” according to Margo. Can’t argue with that!
Amsale LW161 Cami Neckline Jumpsuit, $550
The Jumpsuit, And Other Unconventional Couture
Nadine Merabi Hailey White Jumpsuit, $400
Nadine Merabi, luxury womenswear designer and minimony bride herself, just debuted her own collection of looks that are perfect for I Dos done simply. The White Collection is full of ready-to-ship styles that don’t feel too over-the-top, which is great for brides who want to tone down the formality, but not the fashion statement. We’re especially into the jumpsuits and midi options, because they can be worn down the aisle and then out of the house… when it’s safe for us all to get social again. Also, totally something you’ll want to throw into your suitcase for your honeymoon… whenever that happens.
Nadine Merabi Victoria White Dress, $335
The Ready-To-Wear Looks That Aren’t Bridal, But Can Be
Olivia von Halle Issa Ivory Slip, $400
As we mentioned before, your outfit doesn’t have to be bridal per se to work for your wedding , especially with elopements and limited-guest gatherings becoming the norm right now. There are so many ready-to-wear options, and spoiler alert, there are lots of great benefits to shopping modern and contemporary for your unique occasion. First, you won’t have to spend as much on your look as you would if you went through traditional bridal channels. You can also get away with purchasing something a little more edgy or alternative (sexy slip dresses, brave crop top combos, etc.), since the pressure to dress for a crowd isn’t really part of the equation. Finally, you can really have fun with your accessories, and either go more bride (with classic accoutrements like a veil, a cape, or a bouquet) or more anti-bride (choosing something that’s not ivory/white, smoking out your makeup a little more, or throwing on a leather moto jacket).
Allen Schwartz Raine Bustier Dress, $485
Even with all these ideas in mind, you don’t have to go back to the drawing board if you don’t want to. Nicole Sheppard, who was actually a wedding planner and owner of All Who Wander Event Design before she opened up her Caldwell, New Jersey dress shop, sees a lot of her brides staying the course and wearing their original, pre-pandemic gowns, even for smaller weddings. “But,” she says, “there are a lot of others who are getting creative, especially when doing a smaller wedding or ceremony in 2020 and a larger-scale event or reception in 2021.”
She adds, “Many brides are looking to their designers or even similarly minded contemporary fashion houses to find something that mimics their gown, but in a more casual, understated way.” Sheppard suggests, “a little white dress iteration or a dress that pulls in some of the most recognizable design details from their dream dress” that allows brides to “honor their original dress in a more low-key setting, but save the real deal for their party in 2021!”
People are also taking the opposite route, and Sheppard tells us her favorite “is a bride wearing her original gown for her 2020 date, as anticipated, but getting a new, even more fun gown for her 2021 celebration. We’re looking at puff sleeves, beading, a total mood, even bigger than before!” Basically, people are doing a million different things, and there are no wrong answers.
Savannah Miller reminds us that whatever details you decide on, it’s all about feeling your best on the big (or not-so-big) day. “I believe that every bride should feel like the best version of herself on her wedding day.” In 2020, “That may mean dressing in a slightly more laid-back way than you have initially anticipated, but it doesn’t mean you will look any less fabulous.” In such a crazy time for weddings (and life in general), this is exactly the mindset we all need right now.
Betches may receive a portion of revenue if you click a link and purchase a product or service. The links are independently placed and do not influence editorial content.
Images: Jonathan Borba / Unsplash; wanderatelier / Instagram; Savannah Miller; Amsale; Nadine Merabi; Shopbop; Allen Schwartz