As much as they tend to pile up over the weekends of June, July, and August, summer weddings are fairly easy to dress for: an airy dress, some strappy sandals, and a touch of jewelry and you’re good to go. Winter weddings, on the other hand, presents a unique challenge. How to stay warm and look chic? Wear tights or go bare-legged? Are heeled boots a necessity? What do you wear to a winter black-tie event?
To answers those questions and more, we enlisted Jennie Ma, fashion editor at TheKnot.com, who gave us the 411 on “dos” and “don’ts” on cold-weather nuptials, as well as answers to some general “should I or shouldn’t I”-style questions.
Apart from white-tie weddings—which aren’t common unless you have some very fancy friends—black tie is the most formal dress code you’ll probably face. Here, it’s customary to wear floor-length gowns, though you may be able to get away with something shorter provided it’s suitably dressy.
Don’t own a gown nor particularly want to buy one for a one-off occasion? Rent the Runway is a good bet for its wide selection of red-carpet-worthy looks you can borrow for a small portion of the retail cost. Alternatively, Ma says it’s perfectly acceptable to wear a dress you already own. “Not everyone has a gown, so in that case it’s okay to wear a cocktail dress,” she says, adding that if you do go this route, just make sure to keep the colors dark and seasonal (think black or jewel tones) so as not to look too casual. Conversely, Ma says it’s fine to wear a gown in a lighter shade despite the season, 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,” she 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,” says Ma, adding that prints and colors aren’t verboten so long as the silhouette is appropriate. Also, adding statement jewelry, such as an eye-catching necklace or some on-trend earrings, is a great way to add a bit of personality to an otherwise restrained ensemble, 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’ll likely be on the more casual end of the spectrum, 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. Or, ditch the dress entirely and opt for a lace skirt and polished sweater, or a pair of tailored trousers in metallic silk or jacquard.
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 skipping your everyday outerwear 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. Bonus: having a fancy coat on hand is also a great way to give your meh-est outfits a bit of a boost throughout the season.
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. Basic black is always appropriate, or else you can try a pair with a bit of shimmer or a back seam—just no fishnets, please.
In the dead of winter, a pair of strappy sandals may not be the most desirable option, especially if there’s a chance you’ll be encountering any snow. Ma suggests seeking out alternatives such as pumps, peep-toe heels, or even dressy ankle boots. “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.
If the festivities don’t stop when the clock strikes midnight, and an after-party is on the schedule, is a change of clothes necessary?
“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.
A version of this article was originally published in November 2012.