Stylistically, weddings aren’t the straightforward, traditionally formal affairs they once were – when everyone wore their Sunday best, got a bit boozy and that was that. These days nuptials can be casual, overtly formal or even themed (shudder) – ranging from the unusual: ‘dress Hawaii’, to the ultra-specific: ‘wear pink stripes’.
Arguably even more confusing is figuring out what you’re supposed to wear to a wedding reception. If you’re only attending half the day, can you make half the effort? Of course not.
The only saving grace here is that because you’re avoiding all the pomp and ceremony, you can afford to have fun with your attire, as befits an upbeat, positive occasion. But, unless you’re also the entertainment, fun is not wacky. There needs a degree of sobriety in your outfit, even if it’s lacking from your behaviour by the end of the evening.
Wedding Reception Style Tips
Know The Dress Code
The invitation is likely to contain the all-important information that will help you decide what is appropriate to wear as a wedding reception guest. This may be specific – lounge suit, for example, or, unhelpfully vague – ‘party clothes’.
The latter might require some background research, such as asking someone closer to the groom for a more precise interpretation. “And if the invitation says a certain dress is ‘optional’, that usually means the bride and groom really want you to wear it,” says Christopher Modoo, formalwear expert and creative director of British tailoring brand Kit Blake. So do it, in other words.
Respect The Hosts
A wedding reception is not an opportunity for style rebellion. Not, at least, unless it’s towards conservatism. Sure, if the hosts are sporting, say, some specific period style, you don’t need to feel obliged to fit in. It is only the reception after all, which is essentially just one big party.
That said, this is not the time to debut your new lime green two-piece and bedazzled velvet slippers (in hindsight, there’s probably never a time for that.) Tempting though it may be to dress like a Pitti peacock, never look like you’re trying to upstage the bride and groom.
If you want to suit up, cream linen tailoring can make for solid wedding reception outfit. That is, if the wedding reception is being held on a beach. In the middle of the city? Not so much.
As well as the time of year and general dress code, the location of the wedding should play a big part in what you choose to wear. If it’s a country estate, feel free to dig out your glen check suit and trusty brogues. If the hip and happy couple have booked a converted industrial building for their reception, that’s a cue that you can lean more fashion with a modern take on tailoring.
Embrace The Formal
“There is a temptation for men when attending a wedding reception to wear ‘fancy’ clothes they wouldn’t normally wear,” says Modoo. “You see men in loud, busy shirts, for example. And there’s always one guy in an electric blue suit. It’s a look that’s more suburban estate agent than refined wedding guest.” Dress up, for sure. But this isn’t Harry and Meghan’s big day – keep it toned down, unless the invitation says morning suits.
Sober, well-cut tailoring will always trump the flashy in terms of elegance. You’re not there to drain attention from the groom. And besides, if the wedding is casual enough, you can do something individual by ditching the tie and wearing an open-collar or grandad collar shirt.
What To Wear To A Wedding Reception – Three Looks
Let’s start by saying that it can be acceptable to wear your work suit to a wedding reception, if it’s correctly tailored. A well-fitting suit can serve you well for a wide range of social occasions, especially if it’s in versatile navy or grey.
Where you can make a difference is with everything else. Wear a subtly striped shirt; a not-too-formal knitted tie; a smart wristwatch, and some polished Derbys. Ensure your tie knot is on point – complete with a small dimple – and make an effort with your grooming. If you want to jazz up your ‘regular’ suit, it’s the little things that will make a difference.
If the wedding reception is just the excuse you need to purchase a new suit, go for something you’ll get plenty of wear out of. Think lightly structured, single-breasted and patch pockets, which will allow you to wear the jacket on its own, separate from the trousers.
Laid Back Tailoring
As you’re not going to have to endure the more formal ceremonies of the day itself, you often won’t be required to go all out and wear a dress shirt and tie in the evening. So, while you still might choose to wear a suit, you can opt for a more laid back top half – a knitted polo or grandad collar shirt, perhaps.
This will transform the suit, and instantly give it a more comfortable, louche edge. It removes any ‘business’ connotations the suit might otherwise have – which is ideal if you’re not usually comfortable wearing one, or don’t want to look too stuffy.
An easy way to nail the dressed-down suit is to go tonal, that is, opt for a knit or shirt in a similar shade to that of the suit. It’s an unfussy way to wear tailoring, especially if you skip on the pocket square and go for dark brown or black shoes.
One way to look smart yet still effortless is to wear separates. That is, a suit jacket with a mis-matching pair of trousers. There is a trick to it of course but worn well, there’s no easier way to look cool at a wedding reception.
Tailoring separates allow a degree of creativity that a regular suit doesn’t. You can get fancy with your fabric combinations – pair moleskin with corduroy, or brushed cotton with wool. Do the same with colours and patterns, although we’d advise on keeping things restrained there. Prince of Wales worn with pinstripes is a no-go.
Classic combinations include navy worn with lighter blue, or neutrals – think beige and brown. And because it’s a more dressed down take on tailoring, separates wear well with tees and knits, if you want to go down the even-more relaxed route.
Key Wedding Reception Pieces
A simple mid-tone suit in a lightweight wool will suit most wedding receptions, year round. It’s both formal enough for the occasion, and light enough to deal with the heat of the marquee or dance floor. If required, wear a tie, but consider a more interesting, bright or textured one – a knitted tie will always work. To give a lounge suit a more formal effect, try a contrast waistcoat in plain silver-grey.
White may be too much like office attire, so opt for a warmer, brighter shade without entering more extreme territory: sky blue, cream or pale pink will all lift your presentation, while also looking elegant. Make sure your shirt has a structured, stiff collar in order to make the most of your tie. Avoid shirts with extraneous detailing the likes of contrast buttonhole stitching or piping.
The Shirt Alternatives
If the reception is casual enough, you can ditch the traditional collared shirt wear something more comfortable and individual. A roll neck looks refined with a suit in winter, while an open collar-shirt pairs nicely with linen blends for summer weddings. T-shirts and knitted polos are more casual still, but they can work for the right event with the right styling.
The rule to abide for all of these options is to stick with plain neutral colours in tonal shades that chime with the suit.
Unless your suit is very light in shade, black Oxfords or Derby shoes will work for most occasions, helping to bring the required air of formality. As with the groom, this is not the occasion to wear brand new shoes – unless you’re planning to stay in your seat throughout; nor are overtly casual shoes – boat shoes, driving shoes, even black ones – appropriate.
For all that the watchword is ‘formality’, a wedding reception is also an opportunity for a degree of self-expression not always afforded by work. The happiness of the occasion can be reflected in taking pleasure in dressing up: a pocket square, tie-pin, pocket watch and chain, cuff-links and the like are all suitable. “This is an opportunity to wear the kind of accessory you don’t see every day,” says Modoo.