What to wear to a wedding as the clued-up guest

The first wedding invitation was exciting. The 22nd was trying. Because once again, you’re faced with the conundrum of what to wear as a wedding guest. The dress code should give you a little steer. But, ultimately, it’s you behind the wheel. 

There are now many different types of weddings: from the scaled-back micro-weddings that sprung up during the pandemic era to events as grand as any state occasion. 

So if you haven’t been given a strict dress code, the first thing to consider when deciding what to wear to a wedding is the relative formality of the event and after that the location: a beach wedding and one that takes place in a registry office will require very different approaches.

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Whether you’re attending a non-western wedding, a grand affair, one in the countryside, or perhaps on the beach or a summertime ceremony, sometimes the dress code is casual and others it’s black tie, whatever scenario you’re facing GQ recommends the fit you should be wearing.

Non-western weddings

When invited to a non-western wedding use your common sense and ask the couple what
they would suggest you wear. There will be specific items of clothing, colours and accessories which respectfully honours their culture. Conversely, there will be colours and items to avoid. 

For instance, for a Chinese wedding it’s best to leave the white jacket at home because white is usually reserved for funerals. Meanwhile, there are as many different types of wedding attire for an Indian wedding as there are regions in India, but broadly you should be looking for ensembles which have more colour and exuberance. But again, ask the couple, or those involved in the wedding party, what they would suggest.

The grand wedding

The ‘Grand Wedding’! Usually takes place at a fancy central London location. The smartest and most traditional wedding of all. A surefire way to tell you’ve been invited to one of these is the invite which will be handwritten on a stiff card (what posh Brits charmingly call ‘stiffies’). 

The groom will most likely be in morning dress and you can follow suit if you wish, but for most of us, your very best dark blue suit will be perfectly acceptable. However, don’t just trot out the one you wear to the office. Weddings are a celebration and even in this most formal of occasions we can afford to express ourselves a little. A double-breasted peak lapel suit with a strong shoulder line has more flair than its notch-lapelled, soft-shouldered cousin. 

Also, look for fabrics which have a subtle sheen and lustre to them in tones and shades of dark yet interesting blue. There’s blue and then there’s something called ‘French blue’, which is sometimes referred to as ‘Royal blue’. It’s blue, for sure, but has a little extra zing in it that lifts it ever so slightly above navy shades, which is helpful for weddings when we want to show a little extra flair.

Tom Ford, Thom Sweeney, Ralph Lauren Purple Label, and Richard James all offer a deluxe version, while Reiss, Zara, and Suit Supply provide the high street alternatives. Furnish the suit with your best accessories. This is the time for a crisp white shirt with double cuffs and subtle silver or mother-of-pearl cufflinks, with a shimmering grey or silver tie, like the one Cary Grant wears in North by Northwest. 

Aspinal of London cufflinks

Aspinal of London cufflinks

A subtle dress watch such as a Cartier Tank, pair of black loafers, Oxfords or Derbys from George Cleverly or Crockett and Jones, and you’re ready to go. A simple boutonniere, such as white carnation is infinitely more stylish than the mad confections cooked up by an overzealous florist.

The Country Wedding

A wedding in the country will require an outfit which is elegant but softened up a little to reflect the less formal surroundings. Now, there’ll be a temptation to go for tweed, but also the danger of looking a bit fuddy-duddy. Much better to think in terms of brown, tan, olive, cream, in subtle checks, and in more casual fabrics like corduroy, flannel, cotton, or linen and silk mixes, depending on the weather and location. Obviously, a country wedding in the blazing heat of rural Italy will require a much lighter approach than one in Oxfordshire.

Drake’s x Aimé Leon Dore jacket

Drake’s x Aimé Leon Dore jacket

For country weddings, you can dress in tailored separates: a soft-shouldered jacket in a brown and blue Prince of Wales check, with a pair of grey flannel trousers and brown suede loafers nod to the spirit and colours of the countryside, without going full Toad of Toad Hall. Drakes, Barena, Officine Generale, and Bogloli are the masters of softly tailored casual separates which will suit this occasion. Finally, swap out a silk tie for a knitted tie, the formal, stiffly collared shirt for a button-down.

The casual or very informal wedding

Today, these are increasingly common. Born during the pandemic but now increasingly popular once other couples discovered that they were just as special and fun as grand occasions. The reception might be in the local pub or favourite restaurant. It’ll still be a party, and happily, at this kind of ceremony, you can have some fun. 

Rock ‘n’ roll once regularly provides us with the most casual examples of wedding dress, and Mick Jagger set the benchmark when he married Bianca. His three-piece suit by Edward Sexton was the epitome of louche ’70s tailoring. Worn with long flowing hair, a floral shirt with no tie and a pair of plain white sneakers, Jagger’s outfit had a profound impact on the way men dress. Up until then, few had seen a suit, let alone one for a wedding, worn with such nonchalance. 

Drake’s trousers

Drake’s trousers

Today, a completely unstructured suit from Dries Van Noten, Officine Generale, or a Games suit by Drakes, worn with a silk shirt by LEJ or Casablanca or even just a crisp white T-shirt, with a pair of white sneakers or espadrilles would be a lovely way to celebrate a casual wedding. Cos, Arket and Uniqlo also offer a great range of casual tailoring. However, we would draw the line at jeans and tracksuits etc – it’s still an occasion. Common sense is best used here. As you will most likely be a very close friend of the couple, you should have a good idea how far you can go.

Beach or Summer Wedding

Just because a wedding is on the beach, a pair of shorts and a T-shirt may well not be appropriate. In this instance, we would recommend a lightweight linen, cotton, or seersucker suit with minimal lining to ensure maximum comfort. Drakes and Oliver Spencer offer the kind of lightweight casual tailoring which works wonders in this context, while Massimo Dutti, Zara and Reiss are the more affordable, design-led options. Pair this kind of suit with a cotton or linen polo shirt with a substantial and structured collar that can be worn with a tailored jacket. For a beach wedding, a pair of espadrilles or open-toed sandals are acceptable. Even a new and smart-looking pair of Birkenstocks can work well.

Mango linen blazer

Mango linen blazer

Black Tie Wedding

Again, black tie is one of the most prescriptive forms of dress and in this case it is best to follow the rules. The suit should be black or midnight blue with peak lapels and contrasting grosgrain silk lapels and trim running down the sides of the trousers. Your shirt can be either crisp white cotton or soft, cream silk, which should either be fastened with studs or a covered placket (which means the buttons don’t show), and both should be worn with simple silver or mother-of-pearl cufflinks. 

A silk shirt with ruffled front taps into the new romantic mood that is sweeping menswear and is also acceptable at a wedding. Meanwhile, shoes should be kept sleek and simple: a pair of well-shined black oxfords, Gucci loafers or patent leather opera slippers. Accessories should also be traditional and simple: a hand-tied black bow tie, white pocket square and simple white carnation boutonniere, and, at a push, a black cummerbund.