Weird wedding dress codes and what to wear to each of them

Words by Alyce Cowell

What the?!

So you’ve been invited to a wedding. H*** F*******G YESSSSS !!!!!!!!!!

You can almost taste the free champagne and coconut prawns, but first, there is a tedious and time-consuming task you must complete: deciphering the dress code and finding something to wear to this bloody event. This has been made extra difficult by your totally inconsiderate friend who has listed the dress code as Bohemian Mountain Festive Chic With A Touch of Burnt Orange.

You obviously can’t wear anything you already own, partly because it doesn’t fit the theme, and partly because it has already been posted on Insty.

You need help. Let me introduce you to stylist and wedding wardrobe wizard, Lainy Marshall.

Ok, what’s with all the dress codes?

I think everyone wants their day to be special, and to stand out from the rest. Brides (and grooms!) are also getting their creativity on and becoming more theme-focussed because their wedding is a way to express their personalities, and they want every last detail to be styled to perfection. The rise of destination weddings has forced traditional dress codes to evolve too.

What are the most common dress codes for weddings, and some foolproof outfit ideas?

Black tie – This usually means it’s an evening affair, so keep that in mind when you are planning your perfect outfit and stick to ‘evening’ fabrics and options, like floor-length gowns and tuxedos. I would take this opportunity to bring out the metallic, or a long red or nude fitted gown. Tres chic.

Cocktail – This is the most convenient of dress codes, because you have more to work with. Obviously, cocktail dresses are welcome here, as are different hem lengths. You can even do a pantsuit (God, I love pantsuits). Just remember: you are going to a wedding, not a club, so avoid anything too revealing, or at least keep your look balanced. For men, wear your best suit rather than a tux. The suit that is a little too extra for a regular day at work.

Formal/Semi-formal – Formal is a hard place located somewhere between cocktail and black tie, and semi-formal is a hard place between formal and dressy casual.  For this code, keep in mind the time of the wedding – wear dark for night and light for day.

Smart casual – The first mistake you absolutely don’t want to make here is take the casual part too literally. While this code is definitely more relaxed, you still need to make an effort/dress up! Experiment with lighter colours, slightly more casual fabrics and smart separates.

Beach formal – Ladies, think luxe resort wear. Colour, prints, sheers, metallics and flowing fabrics. Men, think deconstructed suits, casual suiting in lighter colours and lightweight fabrics such as linen, cotton and seersucker. Embrace all white errthang.  Do it. Do it.

Garden party – Get out the colour and print! What would a 1950’s housewife wear to this soiree? Garden party also suggests you’ll be on grass, so consider this before you commit to the stilettos!

Dress to impress – In my opinion, anything goes! This dress code means it will be fun and flirty AF, and possibly super #farrshun.

But Lainy, we’re individuals. How do we put add our own twist?

It’s all about the details and how you style it. Inject your personality through jewels, shoes and bags, and don’t forget hair and makeup because this can really complete a look.

We have received an invite with an ambiguous dress code. What do we do? Cancel?

Invitations that use single adjectives or cheeky phrases such as ‘Dress to Impress’ can be super confusing, but with these ambiguous codes comes permission to wear whatever you like! For me, it’s actually the best possible option because it allows guests to be creative and forces them to use their imagination and interpret the brief based on their style. Both men and women have more options and can wear whatever they feel best in.

What are some of the weirdest dress codes we’re likely to see, and what would you suggest wearing?

Beach chic – Channel your inner Sex & The City character on vacay. What would you wear to a beach dinner in the Caribbean? Maxi dresses and kaftans are perfect.

Fancy ranch – You’ll probably see this for a farm or barn wedding. A beautiful gingham dress would be perfect. Be inspired by the dress code, but don’t get too carried away. For example, a touch of check is great, a fancy dress costume is not.

Tasteful tropical, Bohemian black tie, California casual, Sunday best… the list goes on!

Any secret lil’ styling hacks we should know about?

Something I am super fond of doing is changing outfits between ceremony and reception, because A) fashion, B) there’s a lot of time to kill and C) if you’re attending a religious wedding, you might want to wear something more conservative for the ceremony.

Another cheat I use is to think, “would I wear this to the races?” If yes, it will be wedding-appropriate too… sans headwear, of course.

Always take note of the location, time of day and any clues the invite might provide. Also, what is the couple like? Are they chill, or are they fashionistas?

If all else fails, go for that LBD or floral dress you always feel a million bucks in.

Are there still no-no’s when it comes to dressing for a wedding?

For me, black is perfect for weddings because it always looks chic, and you can outfit repeat without anyone knowing. Keep in mind though, some people don’t believe black is wedding-approps, so if in doubt, always check with the bride.

While I don’t believe in rules and regulations (obviously), for me white is an absolute no-no. The only exception is if the bride specifically asks you to wear white!

That said, apparently, three out of five women would happily upstage the bride by wearing white, so if you feel like being bad and bougie, go for it.

What are some of your favourite brands that are wedding-approps?

Some labels I’m loving for the wedding season are Mr Self Portrait, Asilio, Realisation par, Thurley, Nicola Finetti, Manning Cartell, Misha Collection, Maurie and Eve and House of CB. That last one is particularly for the bandage dress enthusiast.

Illustration by Twylamae

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