Do Your Wedding Guests Have to Dress the Way You Want?

Nearly everyone agrees that certain articles of clothing–jeans and flip flops, for example–are inappropriate for a formal wedding. Ask most women what item they’d never dream of wearing to someone else’s wedding, and you’ll hear them name a white dress.

Weddings come with fashion obligations that hosts and guests alike accept. But fashion, as with any personal endeavor, comes in a wide range of styles. So where do you draw the line?

Consider the case of the couple who holds a costume wedding and provides their guests with a bin of funny hats and masks at the door. Not so bad, right? Now consider the couple who holds a superhero-themed wedding and demands that all of their guests show up in skintight Spandex.

One can hardly fault Great-Aunt Ida for cancelling. As much as you may love the idea of a themed wedding celebration where everyone looks like a flawless movie extra, it’s important to keep in mind that you’re inviting friends and family; not trained actors. The most important part is that your guests show up to share your joyful day. What they look like is secondary.

Encourage Participation

When you have your heart set on a themed wedding, there’s nothing that can deflate your enthusiasm more quickly than a guest who refuses to play along.

The best way to encourage participation from all of your guests is to show enthusiasm yourself–when your friends and family see how important your theme is to you and how happy the idea makes you, they’ll be more likely to jump in themselves. 

However, a pushy couple can ruin their guests’ appreciation of their theme before the wedding even begins. If you sense that your grandfather is truly uncomfortable with dressing as Spock for your nuptials, don’t pressure him.

Remember that you’re not casting a Hollywood film, after all; you’re sharing an emotional time with your nearest and dearest. Your decorations and special touches will carry your theme even without every guest in costume.

Provide Options

It’s not the best idea to ask that all of your guests arrive in turbans and flowing robes for your Arabian Nights-themed reception. That would cause understandable tumult among your guests who don’t already own kaftans and other desert couture.

On the other hand, you can suggest that they wear beiges, pinks, and yellows if they want to embrace the party theme. The suggestion will strike an imaginative chord with your fellow enthusiasts, while the guests who just want to attend in their own clothing will be free to do so.

Keep in mind that, as meticulously as you plan your theme, some guests will disregard it and show up in bright green dresses anyway. Don’t get upset–just get your photographer to take a few black and white pictures for your album and no one will ever remember that your reception wasn’t completely color-coordinated.

List Examples

In the case of most wedding outfit faux pas, the offending guest really has no idea he’s dressing inappropriately. Throw your less fashionably-inclined guests a life raft by listing some examples of your wedding dress code on your invitations.

Since some of your guests (especially younger folks and bachelors) may not know the difference between “semi-formal” and “beach formal,” or when renting a tuxedo is too much, it never hurts to include a few words on your invitations. For a very traditional reception, you may also want to include a request that guests cover their tattoos for the photos.

List a few examples of your preferred dress code, such as, “The reception will be semi-formal (cocktail dresses, suits, and ties please).” That way, even your guests who have trouble finding matching socks won’t go astray.

Invite People, Not Props

Even though you are putting together considerable effort and expense to make your wedding celebration perfect down to the last detail, keep a sense of perspective about what you can control and what you can’t.

The venue décor and table centerpieces are entirely yours to adjust. You can make the icing on the wedding cake match the exact shade of the bridesmaids’ dresses and the roses in your bridal bouquet. You can’t, however, control what your guests wear.

Keep your fashion suggestions friendly and casual. For those guests who want to play along, it’s wonderful to let them know how to dress so they’ll feel fully immersed in your wedding theme. However, since not every guest can go shopping for a new outfit, try to focus instead on the fact that your loved ones came to celebrate your special day with you.

Embrace them all without hesitation–even if Grandpa shows up in the same tattered old suit he’s worn to every wedding since his own. The person inside the clothing is always more important than the wrapper.