The Guest Wore White

by epi on March 14, 2012

Q: I recently wore a white linen suit to an outdoor wedding.  The wedding colors were purple and black, with the bridesmaids in black.  The bride, after the wedding, told me it was poor taste on my part to wear white to her wedding.  I thought the rule was outdated, especially with black as an acceptable color for guests and bridesmaids.

A: You are right.  Wearing white — or black — to a wedding is off the taboo list.  These days its simply a question of style.  Plenty of women wear black dresses to formal evening weddings, and black is a popular color for bridesmaids’ dresses.  The same goes for wearing white, as long as you couldn’t be mistaken for the bride.  And while it’s been the tradition for the past 150 years or so, there’s no rule that says the bride has to wear white either.  What really misses the boat is being told you committed a faux pas.  That privilege belongs only to very close friends or relatives who have (one hopes) your best interests at heart.  While you may be miffed by the bride’s comment, try to chalk it up to a bride who has had too much wedding aftermath going on.  If she is a good friend of yours and you want to move forward with your relationship, put the comment behind you.  Or if you feel comfortable saying something, you might tell her that you had a ball at her wedding, that she looked beautiful, and that, by the way, it is O.K. to wear white to a wedding these days.  Times (and traditions) change.

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{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

SLL March 14, 2012 at 9:34 am

I disagree, I wouldn’t wear white to a wedding. In Europe it’s very faux pas. There are so many other occasions where we may wear white, even after Labor Day, so why choose a wedding to do so if it may in any way be insulting. Better to be safe than sorry.
On the flip side, I would wear dark colors to a funeral. When my grandfather passed an aunt of ours with whom he was not on good terms came to the funeral wearing light colors. My family was insulted, especially considering that it seemed to flaunt the difficulty of their (my grandfather’s and my aunt’s) relationship.

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Elizabeth March 14, 2012 at 10:19 am

I also think it depends on the type of garment. A person in a suite is not likely to be confused for the bride, no matter the color. I think it would be in poor taste to wear a white dress that could be used as a wedding dress.

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Winifred Rosenburg March 14, 2012 at 10:48 am

Not necessarily, I’ve seen brides wear white suits instead of dresses. The black rule seems to vary by region (at my wedding it seemed like half the women there wore black). At the end of the day, it’s not really that hard to avoid two colors (black and white) just to be safe so why wouldn’t you?

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Just Laura March 14, 2012 at 11:06 am

My grandmother wore a suit at her wedding (shortly after WWII).
Personally, I have a selection of non-black and non-white dresses for weddings: One “daytime wedding”/church-appropriate blue dress, an evening teal, an evening beige, and a daytime/church-appropriate lavender. You’re right, Winifred, it’s not that tough to don other colors (I purchase most of my dresses on eBay, or consignment shops for less than $30). For ladies who don’t care for pastels, there’s always light grey or cobalt blue.

Of course, I still wouldn’t walk up to someone who was obviously not trying to upstage the bride and accuse her of being rude.

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Brandon March 14, 2012 at 10:28 am

I too disagree, there are so many color choices available to guests, white is not necessary to wear. When you can risk offending the bride it does not make sense to take that chance just for an outfit, err on the side of caution and stay away from the white.

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Maggie March 14, 2012 at 10:35 am

I feel it’s in very poor taste to wear white unless it is explicitly condoned by the host/hostess (e.g. and black & white wedding theme). Black is more flexible, and generally considered appropriate. Ultimately, it comes down to this: You would not wear white for the same reason you would not wear bright red–it is rude to compete with the bride or groom at their party. If you have to ask the question, then err on the side of caution out of respect to your friends. Why risk insulting them on their special day?

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D March 14, 2012 at 10:38 am

I definitely disagree. It’s the bride’s day and there are plenty of other colours to wear. It’s one day, so it’s really unnecessary to wear white to a wedding. Shame on Emily Post to “chalk it up to a bride who has had too much wedding aftermath”. That’s just rude and inconsiderate of the bride’s feelings.

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AMS March 14, 2012 at 10:41 am

Whether it is outdated or not, black or white to a wedding is in poor taste UNLESS you are asked to wear black and white (B/wh themed wedding).

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annie March 14, 2012 at 4:21 pm

i agree with the answer. when i get married it is not just my special day, it is also a special day for those people i care and love enough to come to the wedding. whatever makes my guest feel comfortable, and they are dressed appropriately, then i don’t care what they wear as long as they are there.

they only way i could see it as rude was if the invitation specified traditional dress, and the guest wore white despite this. when my sister got married her MIL wore white, even though my sister, mom and the MIL planned the wedding as traditional. sis blew a fuse and almost called off the wedding because if it. but then, sis has always been a bit narcissistic IMO.

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polite punk March 14, 2012 at 9:42 pm

this! thank you annie!

personally, i find it more rude that the bride said something to the guest.

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Elizabeth March 15, 2012 at 11:02 am

I do, too. For the record, I would never consider wearing white to a wedding (and in fact did so only reluctantly at my own – I look terrible in white!). But AS a bride, I cannot honestly tell you what any of my guests wore, save for the few that showed me in advance (bridesmaids, MOB, MOG). If someone wore white, I didn’t or wouldn’t have noticed, nor would I have cared. It’s an easy enough thing to avoid, though. However, what I do totally disagree with is the injunction against wearing black. Almost my entire wardrobe is black (it’s an architect thing, not a goth thing), and for an evening wedding with drinks and dancing, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with wearing a LBD. For something during the day…I would either wear a different color or wear a black sheath with a colored jacket. But I certainly wouldn’t look askance at anyone who did. I feel like people who go around inspecting others’ clothing are looking for offense.

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Allyce March 14, 2012 at 6:23 pm

Just because SOMEONE has said it is OK for guests to wear white/ black to weddings does not make it appropriate. There are some traditions that we need to keep. Of course, another tradition that should be kept is that second-time-around brides should not wear white, since it is meant to represent purity and chastity. I agree with others’ comments: There are 364 other days in a year, so let the bride have her day to wear white. And save the black for funerals.

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polite punk March 14, 2012 at 10:19 pm

I’m sorry, but if we are going to talk about the white dress as tradition, it is important to know at least some of the history behind it. In the context of the history of marriage, the white dress itself is relatively young (dating back to Queen Victoria’s wedding in 1840). For the next 100 years, the white dress was primarily worn by elite brides, not everyone. It wasn’t until Hollywood’s portrayal of movie weddings in the post-WWII era that the white dress became the go-to costume for the bride. My point being that the white dress is a relatively new concept and not part of some historical marriage tradition.

Finally, let’s talk about this symbol of purity and chastity? How many brides today (or then, even) are “pure” and “chaste”? If they aren’t, should they be wearing a non-white dress as well?

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Winifred Rosenburg March 15, 2012 at 12:17 am

Actually, that’s not what the white dress symbolizes. It came into fashion because Queen Victoria decided to wear white, not for any symbolic reason. The trend caught on and people mistakenly assumed to white dress symbolized virginity because that’s what Queen Victoria was famous for. Since it doesn’t actually symbolize anything, I see no reason why any bride can’t wear white or really any color she wants.

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Lady Antipode March 15, 2012 at 11:50 pm

White was a very impractical colour, as it could be easily stained and damaged. A pure white, I understand, was also difficult and expensive to dye. Queen Victoria wore white as a symbol of her wealth and status, not purity.

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Aloicious March 15, 2012 at 10:39 am

I find both parties to be at fault. As a bride-to-be, I would be offended if my guests wore white (especially the female guests). I know it sounds strict, and archaic.

I have a very close friend who innocently approached me with a picture of a dress that she was thinking of wearing to our wedding. It was a strapless long white dress with embroidery. So is mine. I then was put in the EXTREMELY AWKWARD position of telling her gently, tactfully and kindly that I would not be comfortable with someone else wearing a long white dress to my wedding, besides me. It makes things awkward. There are other colors that you can wear. If it could even potentially make an awkward situation, just go ahead and change. It’s not that big of a deal.

That being said, the bride was also in the wrong to put the guest in the awkward situation of regretting their attire. How rude also! At that point, the past cannot be changed, so just let it go.

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Courtney D April 10, 2012 at 12:10 pm

This one is tricky. The fact that it is a suit would probably draw less attention over a dress, but as a bride I know I would probably be upset if someone else wore white to our wedding. I have been waiting my whole life to wear white and any other female can have their day too. Any time someone dresses in something that might take away from the couple is rude. My fiance will be wearing a summer suit and his brother announces that he is wearing a navy tuxedo. I shut him down and he fights back but I will not have a guest intentionally or not trying to upstage the bride or groom. Due to this, I believe we will be putting a nice note on our wedding website with advice of what to wear. That way, the guests won’t have to wonder what the attire is.

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Just Laura April 10, 2012 at 12:34 pm

Courtney, be very careful with the advice as to what to wear. This is an event for your friends and family to celebrate you and your fiance, but it is not an event that is color-coordinated or that causes bad feelings that may last for years. As both Miss Manners and Emily Post Institute state, the time of day/location will be the best indication of how your guests should dress.
I seriously doubt that anyone will upstage you (or that anyone will care what suit the brother-in-law is wearing) – you wearing your brilliant white dress and a radiant smile will be too lovely a picture for that to happen!

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Courtney D April 10, 2012 at 1:08 pm

Laura, I understand I can’t dictate what other people wear. The brother will be a groomsmen so obviously he will have a matching suit to the other groomsmen. I was saying I was going to post an informational note that way guests don’t have to wonder if they should be wearing floor length dresses or tuxes. I will just make suggestions and hope for the best. My goal is to remain gracious, but we will also be at a country club with a dress code so I think I will be able to mention that without it sounding like it is coming from me.

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Alicia April 10, 2012 at 1:55 pm

That note will be taken by your guests as you being bridezilla controling of attire and clueless about proper attire yourself. It will offend anyone with a sense of decorum as you are telling them they are tooo ignorant to dress themselevs and it will be ignored by those who would be clueless enough to dress inappropriately to begin with. So you will insult those who would never do anything wrong in this regard without causing the desired effect. These are your family and friends love them for who they are not their attire or honestly you should not be inviting them to your wedding. The note will make you look bad, rude, clueless, and self centered. You probably are none of these things but this will be the impression left of your wedding and that is a much worse impression then if you just wear your dress and react with love and affection regardless of peoples attire which will leave the impression that you are an in love lovely bride.

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Courtney D April 10, 2012 at 2:21 pm

Unfortunately I have been to a wedding on that side of the family where they changed into jeans for the reception! However, I still feel that you are misinterpreting my point. The point is that I want to let others know that it is not necessary for them to rent a tux and the suit they wore at Christmas is great! I probably won’t put anything up at all if you guys here are misreading that.

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Just Laura April 10, 2012 at 2:36 pm

I think you see what we mean now (referring back to one of Alicia’s points): The people who are clueless already probably won’t pay attention to your quick note about “dress semi-formal” (particularly those relatives who feel that jeans at the reception were acceptable), and the relatives who do know the difference between a cocktail dress and an evening gown might be offended that you felt they couldn’t be trusted to wear the correct clothing.

That said, if it makes you feel better, I wouldn’t be upset if I saw on a wedding website “dress semi-formal.” That leaves a lot of the choice to me, and doesn’t sound as if you are dictating anything. :)

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Vickie May 6, 2012 at 12:40 pm

Back to the original question, which I am in a quandry about for my neice’s wedding in 2 weeks. She will be married at a park at 5:30pm. I found a perfect short white eyelet dress that I just love (and finding dresses for my 6’2″ statue is not easy). Could I get away with wearing it with say, a short sleeved cardigan over it and camel sandals?

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Elizabeth May 6, 2012 at 1:23 pm

You know, you might be able to “get away with it,” but why would you want to? You’ll spend the whole wedding nervous that she’ll notice and be unhappy about it. Buy the dress and save it for another occasion, and find something else to wear. Not to promote particular companies, but I have heard that eShakti makes beautiful dresses to order, and they have a very quick turnaround time and are reasonably priced. Your height won’t be a problem for them, and they have a $20 off special right now.

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Vickie May 6, 2012 at 5:28 pm

You make a good point. I would be nervous about “hiding”. The dress comes in navy too, I just really liked the white and know that I can’t afford 2 dresses. It is funny that there are certain areas that aren’t frowned upon, like the fact that the bride and groom have been living together for 2 years, and the color of a guests’ dress would cause more of a stir than that. Thanks for the quick reply. Off to order the navy dress!

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Elizabeth May 6, 2012 at 6:10 pm

Hm…I’m not sure what the two have to do with each other. Premarital co-habitation is an ethical or moral issue for some, and the color of one’s dress is purely one of etiquette in this case. If you disapprove of the couple for some reason and don’t want to attend, you can easily send your regrets. But two “wrongs” don’t make a right, you know, and you could surely not answer “but they lived together before marriage!” if someone questioned your decision to wear white to someone else’s wedding. It’s too bad it doesn’t come in something between white and navy, though. I wouldn’t want to wear navy to an outdoor wedding, either (only because it might be hot).

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Winifred Rosenburg May 6, 2012 at 9:53 pm

I agree with Elizabeth. I never understand why people complain about people who already live together getting married. Even if you are morally opposed to the concept of pre-marital cohabitation, I would think you would be happy to see them remedy the situation by getting married.

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vickie May 10, 2012 at 9:19 am

My point was just that it seems funny the things that are considered in bad taste sometimes. I am cool with their choice, hey, it is hard enough to find someone to love, let alone want to spend your life with. It is not for me to pass judgement. Anyway, both dresses are on back order. So it was all for not. Thanks for the responses though.

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Soon-to-be weddingguest May 31, 2012 at 1:22 pm

My friend will be marrying in a brightly colored dress. They simply put in the invitations “please do not wear [color], as that will be the color of the bride”.

Regardless of how the rest of the party is themed colorwise, as long as the bride wears white or a similar, light color, I would always avoid white.

But since this has already happened, how about apologizing and just explaining that it seemed okay with the color theme, and wasn’t meant to be rude?

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Bella July 5, 2012 at 9:26 pm

I think people need to lighten up. Who cares what the guest wears. As long as the guest doesn’t wear a white ball gown or an overblown drag queen get up with sequins and feathers to totally upstage the bride then it really, really doesn’t matter.

First world problems.

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Kristin February 23, 2013 at 1:35 pm

Bella – I completely agree!

People wore white to my wedding and I thought they looked lovely. It was meant to be a celebration of love for our family and friends to enjoy and my husband and I just wanted everyone to be comfortable, happy, and have fun. I can’t believe that brides actually get hung up on things as trivial as what colors people are wearing to their wedding. First word problems indeed!

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Just a guest September 1, 2012 at 2:59 pm

The problem with wearing white to a wedding is that you as a guest really have no idea what the bride is wearing. She could wear a long white gown, short white dress, white suite or any other choice of a white. So why go there, it is rude and anyone at any income level age or whatever can find something in there closet or any Marshall’s etc. to wear. It’s a matter of respect, if one chooses to wear white they are saying I’ll do what I want you don’t matter. Just like wearing white or even bright red to a funeral. Come on REPECT is not that hard to handle. We all come from a different place, how we were raised, our generation so many back ground issues, but we all know the rules! As far as a bride gently advising her guest of the attire, how nice to not have to guess what to wear. Truly the wedding day is about the bride and her groom. They have chosen to go the expense and time to invite those they care about and love to “share” this day with them. So yes it is about the 2 of them and they should be respected! You will know a Bridezilla when you see one and the young LADY above stands out as one who cares for all not just herself!

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