Most weddings are organized in the spring, a popular time to get married. To a great extent, clothing determines the atmosphere and is the way to add a festive touch to this special occasion.
What do you wear as a guest? This isn’t always clear. Read on to find out more about proper wedding guest attire, as well as the do’s and don’ts for him and her. I will take the mystery out of some common dress codes for you, with an explanation of the appropriate clothing to wear.
The invitation usually specifies the dress code – black tie or tenue de ville. Festive or evening dress are other forms you may see. A dress code is meant to be clear. An invitation that says ‘festive’ or ‘evening dress’ doesn’t really tell you much. The best thing to do in that case is ask.
Sometimes, the invitation can give clues about the style of the wedding. If you have no idea about the proper wedding guest attire, just ask the bride and groom, or master of ceremonies. Nothing is worse than appearing at a wedding in a pair of jeans when everyone else is wearing an evening gown or arriving overdressed.
Tenue de ville
Tenue de ville literally means ‘city clothes’ and is neat dress for daytime.
Men should wear a dark suit in navy blue or charcoal gray (not brown) with a shirt and tie, black shoes and dark high knee socks. Tuxedos should not be worn before 6 pm. Ladies should wear an elegant suit or a nice dress in a cheerful color, with or without a jacket. Legs should be covered with hosiery (no bare legs) and, if desired, you may wear a hat that coordinates with your outfit. Nowadays few people wear hats, so make sure you know if it is appropriate. A hat in the evening is a no go.
For a daytime wedding in the summer, men and women can wear lighter colored suits. Consider that dark colors appear more formal than light colors. You can also wear an ordinary suit to most weddings (as long as it’s not very formal), such as a jacket with matching pants and a top, as long as you add a colorful accent such as a beautiful scarf and nice jewelry. Try to stay away from anything that looks like you’re going to the office. After all it is a festive occasion!
Black tie (also cravate noire) is semi-formal evening wear. Black tie is worn only after 6 pm. For men, a tuxedo is the only appropriate thing to wear.Ladies traditionally wear a sophisticated short (cocktail) dress that ends just below the knees with shallow cleavage (only the upper curve of your breasts is slightly revealed) e.g., a little black dress (black is fine for the evening) – no ball gowns. You can also wear an evening pants suit. You also see long dresses with arms uncovered.
Black tie weddings almost always involve dancing, so don’t wear anything too constricting. You want to move freely. Bring out your finest jewelry, such as sparkling earrings, satin high-heeled shoes, fancy wraps and the matching purse that’s been waiting for an occasion such as this.
At a black tie event you forget about the time so just leave your watch at home. You are presumed to have all the time to experience the party together so no mobile phones.
Black tie refers to the black bow tie men traditionally wear with the tuxedo. In the Netherlands, a tuxedo is called een smoking; and in England, it is called a dinner or smoking jacket. In an earlier era, a smoking was a velour jacket that was worn after dinner to avoid the smell of smoke and cheese.
Today, a tuxedo consists of a black jacket with front and back panels of the same length (no tails) and black pants with outer seams decorated with a single silk braid. The shirt is white with invisible buttons and French cuff links. The black bow tie is unavoidable, and should be knotted by hand (and never white). Complete the ensemble with knee-high silk socks in black (traditionally held in place with suspenders or garters), and patent-leather shoes (also called opera pumps). The cummerbund, covering the part between the trousers band and the shirt, is worn with its pleats facing up.
In very informal summer situations, maroon can be used for the cummerbund (though note that this is not to match the bow tie, which was always black). You can add a small colorful accent with a red breast-pocket handkerchief in linen, silk or cotton. Being gallant for your partner is great, so wear a cape and offer to protect her from wind and rain.
If you are thinking of buying a tuxedo, stick to black. You cannot wear bright and colorful tuxedoes. It looks awful. Traditionally men wear black to be subtle and allow the ladies to stand out in brighter colors.
If you want in the summer or on a cruise ship, you can replace your jacket with a white dinner jacket.
White tie (also cravate blanche, gala or tenue de soirée) is less common. It is the most formal evening dress code. Ladies should wear full-length dresses, such as ball gowns to the ankles with deep cleavage, long gloves,, your finest jewelry pieces and a stole. Men should wear a black tailcoat horizontally cut away at the front, black pants with a single stripe of satin, a plain white stiff-fronted cotton shirt and a white bow tie.
As you see, it is strictly regulated what men can wear to traditional occasions. On the other hand, formal dress for women is not as clearly described as that of men. Women have more freedom and for a black tie event, a woman can opt for different lengths, cuts and fabric. Other details, as well, can be chosen according to her own taste. Think of what is appropriate and acceptable for the occasion and style of the wedding. The most important thing is that you look well-groomed. In case of doubt, just ask the ceremony master.
Carina van der Kloet is founder and personal stylist. She has twenty years experience. She has given numerous master classes and personal styling advice to thousands of people including management, executives, entrepreneurs, expatriates, diplomats working at various (international) organizations.
Carina van der Kloet grew up in French speaking countries in Africa and in the United States. She speaks English, French and Dutch.
"Carina van der Kloet is an inspiring speaker! With striking examples of how clothing works for you, she knows how to create a pleasant and intimate atmosphere. Great to see how you can create impact with few words."Miranda van Mondfrans, director Pro Assistance BV