We’re not sure about you, but when we open our mailboxes and find an invitation to a summer wedding, our thoughts immediately turn to easy-breezy dresses, cute sandals and maybe even ways to refresh a seasonal tan. On the other hand, winter wedding invites, while glamorous, typically present a bit of a challenge on the wardrobe front. Tights or no tights? Will I look silly in sandals? Can I wear a cocktail dress to a black-tie affair?
To answers those questions and more, we enlisted Jennie Ma, fashion editor at TheKnot.com, who gave us the dress code 411 for various types of weddings, as well as the answers some general “should I or shouldn’t I”-style questions.
Apart from white-tie weddings—which aren’t common—black tie is the most formal dress code you’ll probably face. Here, it’s customary to wear floor-length gowns, which some might consider staid. According to Ma, though, there are lots of ways to chic up a black-tie look, such as choosing a dress in a saturated hue or going for peplum detail. “Structured peplum gives a formal dress an edge, and makes it cooler,” she says.
Don’t own a gown and don’t particularly want to buy one for a one-off occasion? Ma says it’s perfectly acceptable to wear a dress you already have. “Not everyone has a gown, so in that case it’s okay to wear a cocktail dress,” she said, adding that if you do go this route, just make sure to keep the colors dark and seasonal (black, jewel tones, brown) so as not to look too casual. Conversely, Ma says it’s fine to wear a gown in a lighter shade, since the silhouette is inherently dressy. “If you’re wearing something floor-length, you can choose a lighter color—maybe light pink, blue, or purple,” Ma says.
If a wedding calls for cocktail attire, there’s no need to reach for that gown—knee-length or slightly above is fine, but steer clear of anything too tight, flashy or pouffy. Think of it this way: Fun is fine, but consider the type of dresses you’d want worn at your own wedding (a skin-tight sequin backless minidress? Probably not). “You definitely want to look chic,” Ma said, adding that stylish patterns and great colors aren’t verboten if the silhouette is appropriate. Also, adding some statement jewelry, such as an eye-catching necklace is a great way to add a bit of pizazz to a fairly restrained cocktail dress, she said.
While afternoon weddings aren’t as common in the winter as they are in the summer, they do occur. Here, Ma points out that they likely won’t ever be formal, so she suggests opting for festive cocktail or tea-length dresses in lighter fabrics, such as chiffon or jersey, as opposed to evening-ready silk or satin.
If all else fails …
If you’re not sure what to wear, Ma suggests going for—you guessed it—an always-chic black dress. Even the most basic versions can be made festive with the right accessories, she says.
Since it is the winter, you’ll need something to keep you warm. Ma suggests leaving those cardigans, denim jackets and everyday puffers at home and investing in a fur (or faux-fur) jacket or classic overcoat, and a chic shawl or cashmere wrap in case you get chilly inside.
Tights or no tights?
“Tights are definitely fine … why not?!” says Ma, who adds that if you’re in a chilly location, it’s better to stay warm than be uncomfortable. “There are also lots of really cool tight options out there now, so you can get a nice fashionable pair. Just don’t get anything too flashy,” she adds.
One thing’s for sure: In the dead of winter, a pair of strappy sandals aren’t the most desirable option in which to traipse around. Ma suggests seeking out alternatives such as pumps, peep-toe heels, or even dressy ankle boots (really!). “There are so many fashionable shoe options right now, like metallic pumps or black booties, which would look really cute paired with black tights,” she says.
Occasionally, the festivities won’t stop when the clock strikes midnight, as many couples organize after-parties—especially when it’s a hotel wedding. Is it acceptable to change into jeans, or is keeping your dress on a must?
“This really depends on the location of the wedding, says Ma. “If your hotel room is easily accessible, a lot of people do change. But if it’s another venue, most people won’t.” She suggests feeling out the situation to see what others are doing.”You don’t want to be the only one in jeans when others are still wearing their dresses,” she said.