We are deep into wedding season in San Francisco, and it seems like every other day, someone approaches me for advice on what to wear when attending their friend’s or relative’s nuptial celebrations.
Dressing for a wedding is much the same as dressing for anything else: A gentleman’s clothes must suit the occasion, they must suit each other and they must suit the gentleman to the extent that they project his personality in an understated manner. That being said, one’s personality or style is as difficult to define as it is easy to recognize. It is something a gentlemen needs to develop over time and should probably be left for another blog discussion.
Let’s assume you have a strong sense of your personal style, the next step is to read the invitation. Some invitations will provide a dress code, although it can be vague or non-existent (for men). Nevertheless, take note of the invitation itself. Couples spend quite a bit of time selecting the invitation that is right for them (more time than you would believe!). It can often tell you a lot about the couple and what type of event they are hoping to have. Are the colors dark and formal? Light and airy? Is all the text precisely laid out with perfect symmetry? Is the font funky and the shape of the invitation unconventional? All of this will give you subtle hints as to how the lucky couple envision their special day. Remember, when in doubt, ask your significant other!
To give you a head start and help you decrypt the wedding attire code, I've compiled a list of some of the most common dress codes used on wedding invitations and my advice on what one should wear:
You are expected to wear a tuxedo and as with every suit, the fit is crucial. For this reason I don’t recommend renting one out. If you can, invest in a bespoke tuxedo, it will be appropriate for any black tie affair, and doing so will enable you to express your individuality with the fabric and lining. The lining is a great place for a gentleman to be discreetly outrageous even on a garment that some might consider uninspired.
Black Tie Optional:
My understanding of this is that the hosts would like for you to wear a tuxedo, but a black or dark suit would be acceptable. If you don’t have a tux I would suggest a black or dark blue suit with a peak lapel. If it’s not a bespoke suit you can express your personal style with accessories such as cufflinks, belts and shoes. Remember; whisper don’t shout! If the reflection from your cufflinks is going to blind the bride before she says “I do” then you probably shouldn’t own them.
Shirts should be white and pocket squares should be square, also white and show no more than half an inch.
This really means business attire, however it doesn’t mean that you should look like you’re presenting at a conference on Integrating Economic Synergies to Empower Synchronized Reciprocal Capabilities... A gentleman should always consider versatility when selecting the cloth and design of his suit, so your business attire should fit several occasions. Plain colors work best; grays, browns and blues during the day, blacks, charcoal and dark blues during the night. You might also consider doing separates, like gray jacket black trousers. A slim tie with a tailored shirt (preferably spread collar) is always a sharp look. You can add a splash of color with a pocket square to complement the tie, not match it.
Pro tip: go back to the invitation if you’re looking for color ideas for your accessories.
This usually means dressed up, but not stuffy. While ties aren’t necessary a cocktail jacket, dinner jacket or sports coat are. Once again dark colors rule the roast; one-button, slim lapels, crisp open collar shirt and a cravat if you dare.
This can mean many things depending on the person’s definition, although it is often used for daytime, summer and garden weddings. Try to determine what the couple means by casual al based on what you know of them. Think about the last time you got together with them for dinner or Sunday brunch. Don’t impose your own definition of casual. It is never acceptable to show up in a wife-beater and shorts (unless the invitation specifically says to do so).
You can’t go wrong with a tailored shirt (long or short sleeved), a pair of flat front cotton twill trousers and a blazer. Make sure each piece complements the others well, so when you take off your blazer you’ll still look the part. In spring and summer I’m a fan of pastel colors so I use this opportunity to get my pastel on!
One word: Linen.
I recently got invited to a wedding with a festive dress code - apparently they are rather popular these days. Initially I was flummoxed, but I now understand this code to mean: a colorful cocktail party. It is still formal, but you are encouraged to use color where you ordinarily wouldn’t. I wore a pair of radioactive green socks!
Hope this helps. My best to the bride and groom.