Winter weddings can be challenging events to dress for. Especially if you have an arsenal of favorite dresses that make the spring and summer wedding circuit, it can be tough to wrap your head around how those pieces translate to cooler temps.
In addition to the cold weather dilemma, what about color? What about dress length and sleeve length? What about attire indications on invitations? With my first #30DRESSESin30DAYS series in March, I addressed the sartorial challenges presented by Spring and Summer weddings because I get so many questions about wedding guest attire and rehearsal dinner dresses for the bride. As part of the ongoing Fall/Winter edition of the 30 Dresses series, I’m excited to do the same this time around for cold weather weddings as well.
For the most part, I get loads of questions in the following four core areas: (1) Wedding guest attire for invitations that indicate Cocktail Attire; (2) Wedding guest attire for invitations that indicate Black Tie Optional; (3) Wedding guest attire for invitations that indicate Black Tie or Formal Attire, and (4) Bridal attire for fall or winter rehearsal dinners. Today I’m going to share my top tips and recommendations for all four wedding-related occasions, so let’s break it down…
1. WINTER WEDDINGS — COCKTAIL ATTIRE OR BLACK TIE OPTIONAL
Yep, you read that correctly. Cocktail attire OR black tie optional. Boom. Just killed the first two birds with one stone. For the most part, you can approach cocktail attire and black tie optional in the same way. The only exception is if you want to wear a formal evening gown, then you should really only wear one if the invitation says Black Tie Optional and your date is wearing a tuxedo. If it’s black tie optional and your date opts for a suit, go for a cocktail dress that’s tea length or shorter. If you don’t have a date, try to touch base with other weddings guests and get a sense for whether most men in attendance (or at least the guys at your table) are wearing tuxedos. When in doubt, however, opt for a cocktail dress.
Hopefully, this goes without saying, but just in case you’ve never been to a wedding or have otherwise missed the memo, let me be clear: do not wear white to a wedding under any (ANY!) circumstances. Not white, not ivory, not pale blush, not champagne. NADA. If you can’t decide whether it’s too close to white, it probably is. Just don’t risk it! I don’t care if your house burns down moments before the ceremony and the only surviving dress in your possession is white, still don’t do it. You literally have the rest of the rainbow to choose from, so play it safe instead of risking the wrath of an angry bridesmaid who feels you’re trying to steal the spotlight from the bride. After a day of hair, makeup, last minute to-dos, and looooots of picture posing, those bridesmaids are likely to be tired, underfed and easily provoked. Consider them armed and dangerous if you’re wearing anything in the white family.
Aside from avoiding white, the world is your oyster! For fall and winter weddings, I especially love rich jewel tones like purple, burgundy, navy, fuchsia or emerald green. For the most part, I try to avoid wearing basic black dresses to winter weddings, but if I do go with a black dress, I like to make sure that the somber tone is balanced by some other celebratory element. In the case of the dress I’m wearing today, the black is countered by intricate lace detailing and black sequins which make it feel anything but basic. However, you can also jazz up a simple LBD with accessories, like festive jewelry, a bright clutch, statement shoes, or a dramatic waist belt.
In terms of style, you want to avoid fabrics that are particularly summery (i.e. avoid light, airy chiffon dresses, etc.) and styles that are particularly revealing. Remember, this isn’t your day, and this is family programming, not Saturday night at da club, so err on the conservative side. The best rule of thumb is to play up one feature, and hold back on the rest. In the case of my black dress today, the dramatic open back is offset by the high neckline and midi length, making the dress overall entirely wedding-appropriate. But with that said, you can make almost any style work! Whether that’s a chic velvet maxi dress, a midi-length lace sheath, a strapless jacquard knee-length a-line, or a short sequined shift dress, as long as you take note of the wedding venue and what you know of the bride and groom (and their families), you’ll be good to go! If the wedding is in a particularly cold climate, you might want to look at maxi options or look for cocktail dresses with long sleeves. If the ceremony is in a church and you’ve opted for a strapless or spaghetti strap number (anything with a good amount of skin showing), I’d suggest wearing a wrap, stole or jacket for that portion of the evening.
2. WINTER WEDDINGS — BLACK TIE ATTIRE
For weddings indicating Black Tie, a floor-length gown is your best bet. You can definitely get away with a high-low option (like this one), and can even make tea length options work if floor-length dresses aren’t your thing. If you just can’t get comfortable with a long dress and insist on a shorter dress, I’d recommend it not go shorter than knee-length, and I’d also recommend that it make up for lost length in formality. Your run-of-the-mill basic cocktail dress is likely not going to cut it.
Length aside, as far as color and style goes—same general rules apply as the ones discussed above in Cocktail Attire. Take stock of the venue(s) and families, go for rich jewel tones, and avoid summery fabrics. Occasionally, some old school formal weddings indicating Black Tie will expect female guests to wear black, navy or other dark colors, however, this is rare. In most cases, you can feel free to have fun with color, style, and details as long as you’re not wearing anything in the white family of colors or wearing something that is otherwise too “statement-making” (read: Underfed Bridesmaids Prone to Violence above). And, just like any other wedding, you should bring a wrap, stole or jacket if the ceremony is in a church.
3. WINTER WEDDINGS — BRIDE’S REHEARSAL DINNER DRESS
I constantly get asked whether a “little white dress” can be worn to a fall or winter rehearsal dinner. In my opinion, as long as the dress doesn’t feel super summery (i.e. it’s not linen or breezy chiffon) you can absolutely wear white! In general, the “no white after labor day” rule is officially dead, but is especially inapplicable when it’s your wedding. If you’re stressing that your mom or grandmother doesn’t quite agree with the rewritten rules on white after labor day and still have your heart set on white, go for an ivory or winter white option!
Otherwise, the first rule in determining the appropriate rehearsal dinner dress (or any dress for that matter) is to first understand the venue and the hostess (likely your mother-in-law). If the rehearsal dinner is being held in a rustic wine cellar, you may want to opt for something celebratory, but slightly more understated (i.e. perhaps nix the sequin mini dress). However, if your rehearsal dinner is held at a dressy upscale restaurant, a sequined cocktail dress may be perfect!
I spotted this white lace sheath dress with rose gold lace overlay on Rent the Runway and thought it would be perfect for a rehearsal dinner. One of my readers on instagram commented that she was actually wearing it to her bridal shower, and I think it could be perfect for that too! Whatever the event, I think the rose gold embroidery adds a depth and richness to the dress that makes it feel more seasonally appropriate, while the white foundation keeps it bridal and festive. Of course, there are also lots of all-white dresses that work great, and conversely, lots of dresses that aren’t white at all that can fit the occasion perfectly as well.
Did I miss anything? Let me know if you have any winter wedding advice in the comments below!