What to wear to a wedding

Feb 2, 2011 at 3:36 p.m. ET

Wedding season used to be so easy: If it was a daytime wedding, you wore a nice floral dress. If it was an evening wedding, you wore a cocktail dress or a black-tie gown. Now, though, wedding invitations come with complicated codes such as "dressy casual," "smart casual" and "creative formal." Here's how to figure out what to wear to a wedding.

Casual Wedding Guests

Basic rules

Here are the basic rules to wedding guest attire:

  • Women should not wear white or ivory, even if the bride herself is wearing a different color. This doesn't mean your dress can't have any white in it, but the dominant color should not be bridal.
  • Avoid wearing black or red if the bride or groom's family is traditional, or the wedding is being held in the South. Believe it or not, there was a time when black was seen not as a fashionable color, but as a color of mourning -- and wearing black to a wedding indicated disapproval of the union. Remember the scene in Gone with the Wind where Rhett Butler forces Scarlett to wear a red dress to a party? That's because red was seen as a scandalous, attention-getting color. Some people see wearing red to a wedding as a bid for attention on a day when all attention should belong to the bride.
  • When in doubt, go low key. Avoid wearing anything that has a low cut, is too short or is otherwise out of sync with the couple and their guests.
  • Avoid wearing the same color as the bridal party, if possible. Don't go out of your way to find out those colors, but if you by chance know them, avoid wearing them so you don't seem like you're trying to shoehorn your way into the wedding party.

Up next: Basic definitions to help you with other dress code questions >>

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