Everyone loves a wedding invite. It means two people, whom presumably you’re fond of to some degree, are taking the next big step in their lives together. Secondly, they consider you important enough to be there when they do. Thirdly, there might be a free bar. And, last but not least, for the stylishly inclined, it’s a golden opportunity to flex some menswear muscles.
Unfortunately, “stylishly inclined” doesn’t always translate to “confident with tailoring”. This is why, in addition to drunk aunties, weird uncles and bad dancing, nuptials are often awash with the sort of suiting faux pas that would leave Don Draper coughing and spluttering up little plumes of smoke, having swallowed and choked on his cigarette in startled disgust.
Suit jackets with jeans, overzealously cropped skinny-fit dress pants, and matching tie/pocket-square combos are just a few to tick off in a game of Ill-Conceived Wedding-Attire Bingo. And if you’re wondering what the problem is with any of those three things, that’s precisely why you need to keep reading.
The key to avoiding sartorial missteps is to have a core selection of go-to wedding guest outfits that covers all bases. Sort of like how you might have those few signature dishes you can successfully whip up without burning the house down.
These are the failsafe, fallback outfits that can be relied upon for everything from a seaside ceremony in the Maldives to a black-tie-optional reception at a swanky hotel (Pro tip: It’s never actually optional).
The Smart-Casual Wedding
Smart-casual sounds simple enough, but it’s actually one of the trickiest dress codes to navigate. How smart is too smart? How casual is too casual? Does it mean you can wear trainers? Will a suit be overkill? These are all valid questions and ones we will now attempt to address in outfit form.
When staring down the barrel of a locked and loaded smart-casual wedding invite, it’s always better to err on the side of smart, as opposed to the other way around. That means yes to relaxed tailoring or suit separates, and a big fat no to shorts, sneakers or, heaven forbid you should even consider it, singlets.
Instead, opt for a shirt with a twist. Something of the grandad-collar variety will do the trick, keeping things laid back without straying into sloppy territory. Contrasting your jacket with your pants will achieve a similar effect. If you go light up top, do the opposite downstairs, and vice versa.
In summer, think pastel shades, and for winter, think earthy and neutral. Top it off with loafers and, if you must accessorise, exercise a degree of restraint in doing so.
The Summer Wedding
If you’ve ever attended a summer wedding in a three-piece wool suit then you’ll know exactly how the Wicked Witch Of The West felt in that one scene from The Wizard Of Oz. If not, rest assured it’s a sweaty affair.
Thankfully, there are some warm-weather alternatives to traditional tailoring that will keep you cool without leaving you looking underdressed. The secret lies in thinking outside the box when it comes to colour and fabrication.
First of all, ditch the waistcoat. A two-piece suit is more than smart enough for a summer-wedding guest and you could do without any extra insulation. Plus, your gut will thank you when you’re all full of cake and beer come 9pm.
Colour wise, go light. Ever noticed that all the cars are white in hot countries? There’s a reason for that. The lighter the colour, the more it will reflect the sun, meaning the less sweaty and bedraggled you will look in photos.
Now, we’re not saying you should go dressed as Colonel Sanders and wear white from head to toe. Instead, think cream, beige or ecru, worn with a white shirt and contrasting tie. Finish off with a pair of tassel loafers and don’t be afraid to show some ankle, especially if the temperatures are more excitable than the mother of the bride.
The Beach Wedding
If you’ve been invited to a lavish beach wedding in some far-flung, sun-kissed corner of the earth, first off, allow us to congratulate you on your choice of friends. Secondly, let’s help you get through it sweat-free and with the fewest possible number of Richard Branson jibes.
Needless to say, dressing for a wedding on sand, in 30+ degree heat is no easy task. Selecting footwear alone is enough to give even an ordinarily well-dressed man heatstroke, and that’s before we even get started on the rest of the ‘fit.
Starting from the ground up, feel free to step outside of the norm when selecting your footwear. Espadrilles are a good alternative to traditional leather shoes, or, if you’re feeling particularly brave, you could even swap them out for a plush leather sandal.
Moving further north, think light-coloured chinos. Pleats in the leg can make them look a little smarter. Your jacket – and yes, you definitely should wear one – should be darker in colour, but not too much. Think brown as opposed to black or navy.
For extra beach points, drop the shirt and opt instead for a simple tee or possibly a Henley shirt in a subtle, light shade.
The Winter Wedding
It may be cold, wet, dark and basically one big fat depression session from start to finish, but man does winter open up your wardrobe options. Picking an outfit for cold-weather nuptials is about as easy as it gets. There just aren’t really any grey areas. Well, apart from the sky.
A winter wedding is your chance to get traditional and bring out the full, three-piece suit. Navy and grey are both good choices but if you’re going to buy one, make it the former. As far as tailoring goes, navy is about as versatile as it gets, meaning you’ll get more wear out of it, and you can even split it up to wear as separates.
There’s a little room for creativity here, too. Your waistcoat can be the same shade as your jacket and pants, but it could also be contrasting. A grey waistcoat tends to lend itself nicely to a navy suit.
In terms of shoes, a black Derby or Oxford will always be a safe bet. However, if you’re comfortable stepping things up a level, why not try a double monk strap instead? Suede and leather are equally acceptable, just be sure to keep an eye on the weather if you go with the former.
The Black-Tie Wedding
“Black-tie optional”. Three words that when printed on a wedding invite are likely to inspire more confusion and apprehension than any others. Well, aside from, perhaps, “you’re not invited”.
Optional? What could be the meaning of such a word in this context? Does it mean you could wear a dinner jacket, but actually Robocop cosplay would also be completely acceptable? Does it mean you should wear a suit, but with any colour tie that takes your fancy. To answer all of the above, no. Especially not the Robocop thing.
In actual fact, “black-tie” means, “wear a dinner suit or tuxedo”. Meanwhile “optional” can be loosely translated as, “wear a lounge suit if you really have to, but you’re probably going to look a little out of place because nobody else will be”.
The really confusing part, however, is that black doesn’t necessarily mean black. Obviously, it’s the safest bet, but a midnight blue will look equally suave and won’t be violating any dress-code rules. Plus, it has a tendency to actually look more black than black as the light dims over the course of the evening.
The important thing is that you’re in a tux or dinner suit that fits, you’re wearing a bow tie and you’ve finished it off with a traditional pair of black, patent-leather Oxford shoes.
The Country Wedding
If the wedding is in a house, a very big house in the country, there are some extra considerations when packing your suit carrier. Whether it’s a manor estate or a tiny village church, country weddings often have a rural, rustic vibe that calls for a softer approach to tailoring.
Tweed, corduroy, and heavier wool suits are all good options (as is a course linen in the summer), but the trick comes in wearing them without looking like your surname is Baggins. Natural earthy colours are your starting point – deep greens, rich browns – but from there, we’d recommend throwing in some unexpected touches and accessories.
A denim shirt with a knitted tie, for instance, would steer you away from bumpkin territory. Leave the paisley pocket squares at home and instead try to modernise the traditional look with a grandad collar shirt and minimal accessories. For your footwear, a chunky brogue is most in keeping, but a high-shine Derby would be our pick.
And if you don’t own a tweed or corduroy suit, and don’t want to buy one? You can achieve a similar vibe with a check suit.
The City Wedding
This is maybe the easiest kind of wedding to dress for because the invitation includes a tacit acknowledgement that you can wear your work suit and it’ll be fine. The important thing is that you dress it up and give it some sense of occasion. A wedding outfit shouldn’t be the same as one for a networking event.
Let’s assume you’re starting with a staple navy or charcoal two-piece, with nothing more jazzy than a gentle check pattern. Begin its transformation by ditching the 9-5 shoes. Rather than Oxfords, wear some jazzy loafers, Chelsea boots or some contrast-sole brogues.
Avoid the urge to go colourful with your shirt and stick to failsafe whites or blues. A point collar or club collar will give you a different vibe. Then inject some colour and/or interest with your accessories. Use a paisley tie to contrast the check on the suit or a preppy striped tie with a richly coloured pocket square.
Oh, and you don’t need you lanyard either.
Once spring has sprung, menswear unbuttons its top button, figuratively speaking. Even at weddings, assuming the invitation doesn’t state otherwise, dress codes relax a little. Fabrics get breezy, accessories are less welcome – even your socks can be forgotten without raising many eyebrows.
So what does that mean for a wedding guest outfit? It means unstructured blazers are okay. Open collars are fine. Suit separates are, too. Colour palettes open up to include sage greens, taupes, creams or sky blues. Grandad or Cuban collar shirts work just as well as the full double Windsor look.
On your feet, suede is best. Derbies or loafers pair well with a more casual take on tailoring, even if you decide to keep a tie and pocket square in the mix. And if you do, this is the time of year to debut more playful patterns like polka dots – just keep them in staple colours like white on navy. It’s still a wedding, not children’s TV.