How to dress for a wedding... and still look like you

Woman in dark floral dress from the Modern Rarity collection at John Lewis
Jane Vella,-Fashion Journalist

Wedding guest dressing can be a nightmare. We spoke to three different women whose style and outlook we admire and asked them to share their tips for finding the perfect wedding outfit - whatever your age or style

Stay true to yourself. That’s your starting point...

“I think that people go wrong when they have this idea in their heads of what wedding guest outfits should look like and wander too far from their usual style” says ex-Vogue stylist Hannah MacLeod.

“Don't be afraid to think outside the box. I always say try and stick as closely as possible to what you would wear in your everyday life. So if you're generally a jeans and T-shirt kind of person, then wear smart trousers and a blouse, a jumpsuit or even a tailored suit.”

Equally if you don’t wear heels, are you going to feel comfortable walking and standing in them for a whole day and evening? Probably not. There are loads of occasion flats to choose from now… high heels aren’t the only wedding option out there.

Plan ahead: give yourself at least a month to prep

The most stressful outfit experiences usually stem from being unprepared and leaving your shopping to the last minute. Don’t wait until the day before - or even the week before - to look for the perfect outfit.“

The arrival of a wedding invitation means I immediately start thinking about what I'm going to wear.” says Catherine Summers of award-winning blog Not Dressed As Lamb. “If I'm buying something new (which I tend to do when I know most of the guests) then I'll have the whole look meticulously planned in advance.

Emma Thatcher, one half of the inspiring duo behind grown-up fashion blog A Style Album, agrees: “I’ll usually start browsing a month before to see what’s about and then narrow my options down nearer the time.” 

“I also like to look for outfit inspiration on Pinterest or wedding hashtags of people I follow on Instagram. I love looking at guests' outfits!”

Woman in dusky pink coat and trousers from the Modern Rarity collection at John Lewis

Be prepped for changes in the weather

A British summer rarely allows for such confidence that you don’t have to think about a cover-up. As Hannah says “I have seen so many wedding guests who are wearing beautiful outfits but have obviously decided at the last minute that they need something warm and have put any old coat over the top and ruined it.” Plan for every eventually and you’ll never get caught.

But how to choose something to go with your outfit? “A duster coat will hang beautifully and will suit anything from a shorter dress to a midi dress to a jumpsuit,” says Catherine. “It'll keep you warm for those outdoor photos but doesn't completely cover up - or compete with - an outfit like a heavy coat would. For very cold days a cropped faux fur coat is another great option.”

Hannah’s advice? Think coat first: “I would say that if you think that it is likely that you are going to have to wear a coat or a jacket to the wedding, then I would build your outfit around this.

“I know that it sounds quite extravagant as coats and jackets can be expensive, but your overall outfit will look so much better. Don't forget that just because a coat or jacket has been bought for a wedding, it doesn’t mean that you can't wear it more casually in your everyday life.

A-line or swing coats are perfect as cover-ups for weddings as most silhouettes work underneath - from a 3/4 A-line skirt to a fitted jumpsuit. If you go for a neutral colour then you're likely to get lots of wear out of it.”

Remember the basics

However informal wedding guest dressing has become, there are still some hard and fast rules to follow.

Most people still agree it’s faux pas to compete with the bride at her wedding: “Don't ever, ever wear anything that means you could be mistaken for the bride!” says Catherine. “I think some weddings look lovely when you have an abundance of guests in whites and creams. But that would be only if you know for sure that the couple are happy for you to wear white or have specifically requested it. If you're ever in doubt, steer clear.” Emma agrees: “Keep it classy and don’t ever, ever wear white.”

Other big no-nos include tiaras (for obvious reasons), flip flops, jeans or denim of any kind. 

Woman wearing gold drop earring from John Lewis

Shop smart and buy into accessories

“We all have that fear of turning up in the same outfit, so accessories can help to keep you look individual." says Emma. "I love a pop of colour at a wedding. If you’re wearing print, pick out a colour and accessories with a bright coloured clutch bag.”

Catherine adds: “I'm a big fan of statement jewellery and my tip for a season when you have several weddings coming up is to invest in a solid-colour dress in your favourite silhouette, then dress it up with different jewellery, belts and shoes (or a hat) to make it look like a new outfit each time. It won't be as obvious that you've worn the same dress to more than one wedding than it would be if you went for a bold print.”

As for hats, Hannah has some great advice: “It used to be that most wedding guests would wear a hat, but I have found that people are wearing them less and less. If you are keen to wear one though then think about the hat first and work the outfit around it.  If you are looking to wear the hat again and again, then I would keep the colour palette neutral. Navy and cream are always good bets. If you are keen not to wear a hat but would like something in your hair then vintage hair slides are incredibly on trend at the moment, as are alice bands.”

Take inspiration from... yourself

It’s so easy to fall into the trap of wearing what you think you should wear to a wedding. There’s a reason you dress the way you do in everyday life, so look to your current wardrobe for inspiration.

“When I was younger I’d often wear something quite grown up to a wedding and wouldn’t really feel like me” says Emma. “Now I stick to my personal style. I’ve recently been to a wedding in Ibiza where I wore a Bohemian-style floral dress and a wedding in the city where I wore a pastel coloured trouser suit. You have to adapt to the location too.

”Catherine has the final word on this one, and it applies every time: “Always ask yourself: am I sticking to the dress code and is my outfit occasion- and venue-appropriate? As long the answer is yes then you can tailor your outfit to suit you.”

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