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8 Unwritten rules about what to wear to a wedding

Say what you will about bridezillas — I love them. I love their take-charge attitude and I especially love that they have zero problem telling you, and even making it clear-as-day on their invitations, that they expect you to wear black. Or turquoise. Or enormous floral fascinators.

Bless their hearts, demanding brides may make their bridesmaids’ lives hell, but they make it easy as red velvet cake for their guests to know what to wear.

But when there is no one dictating our wedding wardrobe, it can sometimes get confusing. Can I wear a cocktail dress to an evening reception? Florals in the winter? All of my dresses have some white in them — do I have to shell out on a brand new gown?!

“Wedding attire is 100 percent dependent on your relationship to the bride and groom and the type of wedding,” said Allison Andrews, founder and director of Fashion Week San Diego & FAB Authority.

We enlisted the help of Andrews and style expert Amy McGinty, owner of J’adore Style Boutique in the UK, who gave us eight helpful tips we can all follow when deciding what to wear to a wedding.

1. Consider your venue

Apologies to those of you who have the perfect long black ball gown and have just been invited to a garden wedding — you’re going to have to hit the shops. And extreme caution should be given if you are attending a wedding that is being held at a religious venue. “If the wedding is taking place in a church, temple or other religious institution, make sure your dress length is conservative and don’t bare your shoulders — if the dress is short-sleeved, wear a shawl or scarf in the venue,” Andrews said.

2. Respect the bride and groom’s wishes

Someone else’s wedding isn’t the time to go rogue and wear whatever you please, especially if the invitation states that the occasion is formal. “If it’s in the evening and formal, wear a long dress,” Andrews said. “If it’s summer and the wedding is outdoors, a short dress will work, but stay away from extremely short and sleeveless unless you have a shawl or scarf to cover your sleeves, as a sign of respect to the groom and bride.”

More: The perfect dresses for casual summer weddings

3. Practice good shoe sense

Study your invitation again and choose your shoes wisely because nothing is worse than showing up to a beach wedding wearing stilettos that are going to sink into the sand — you’ll wind up barefoot the entire night. If you’ve been invited to a garden or seaside reception, stick with stylish flats, wedges or cute sandals.

4. If you’re going to wear white…
You just have to wear white, don’t you? I’m only kidding — I’m a fan of the sweet hue, as well, but you must be careful with it at weddings because you do not want to look like you are competing with the bride. Never wear a plain white dress, McGinty says, though one with a floral or alternative pattern can work. Even better: Take a cue from Reese Witherspoon at this year’s Oscars and wear a sophisticated black and white dress.

5. Don’t match the bridal party

It’s one thing if the bridal party will be wearing black or navy because those two colors are probably going to pop up quite a bit among guests. But if you happen to know the ladies will be wearing a more unusual shade like lavender or gold, don’t do the same or you’re going to confuse the photographer when it comes time to take family photos (but what a great strategy for photobombing). If you can, find out your bride and groom’s color scheme and either complement it or stay far, far away from it.

More: The best wedding dress styles for your body type

6. Let the season inspire you

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Allow the season to help you make great choices when it comes to the color gown or dress you select. “Depending on the season you should opt for lighter pastel shades for spring through summer, and for autumn and winter, darker, jewel tones are a go-to option,” McGinty said. Some fab color suggestions include: lavender, powder blue, mint green or peach for spring; bold coral, yellow, pink and sapphire blue for summer; emerald greens, metallics and dark florals for autumn; and deep reds and satin and velvet materials for winter weddings.

7. Avoid flashy accessories
Put down the tiara. In fact, McGinty cautions against wearing hair jewelry altogether, unless it’s a very small flower or hat (for a less formal, outdoor wedding). If you’re considering a beautiful, bold statement necklace or earrings, go for it — as long as the venue is as equally elegant.

8. When in doubt, consult the bride.
Brides are incredibly busy right before their weddings and I ordinarily wouldn’t suggest calling one out of the blue to pepper her with questions. But if you have absolutely no idea what type of affair they are throwing and want to be sure you don’t show up under or overdressed, consider texting or emailing the bride with a quick query about the venue and level of formality. “As with each wedding, every bride is different,” McGinty said. “Some I have known request their guests to wear a certain color/style, so it is sometimes safe and polite to have the approval of the bride. This also avoids arguments.”

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