What The Father Of The Bride Should Wear & Other Wedding Participants
There’s a half-playful saying that “weddings unite couples and end friendships.” The reality is that being in a wedding party can be a stressful — and expensive — experience.
You want to do your best for your friend, but you also have to be mindful of your own limits, both of money and of patience. Gents, this is why I have created the ultimate groomsmen attire guide. Plus, I'm covering what to wear if you are the father of the bride or another important wedding guest.
The experience can vary quite a bit depending on how tightly run the wedding is, but as a groomsman or usher or similar wedding participant, you can usually expect to have three basic clothing goals:
- Match the wedding party as closely as requested
- Be recognizable as an official participant instead of a regular guest
- Get all your details right
I'm also going to cover how to dress as the father of the bride (or groom) because this is a special case.
Groomsmen Attire Guide: Match the Wedding Party
Weddings will vary widely and this will affect the specifics of the groomsmen attire guide for each one. Some will have identical outfits for all the groomsmen (usually either given as gifts or available at a specific rental store), while others will simply request a color scheme or general level of formality.
Happily, your job is simple: follow the directions you’re given. If they want everyone in black and white, wear black and white and leave the colored pocket squares at home. If they want everyone in the same godawful tuxedos with Hawaiian-print waistcoats from Bob’s House O’Tuxes, wear one with a smile.
The only time this really gets contentious is if money is involved, and if that truly is an issue there’s nothing you can do about it but talk privately to the groom. Explain that you’d love to stand up for him but you don’t have the requested outfit and can’t afford it in your current situation. He’ll either figure out a way to help with the cost, change the look of the party around, or — worst-case scenario — find someone to take your place.
Most of the time it isn’t an issue — men with particularly extravagant requests tend to make either the clothes themselves or the rental fee a gift. So unless money is an issue, just follow the instructions you’re given, and err on the side of conservative clothes if there are any ambiguities.
A relatively modern twist that can be more challenging is a man who’s invited to stand up for a bride. You’re not likely to fit in the pre-planned bridesmaids’ dresses if there are any, and it might raise some eyebrows if you tried, so you’ll need to talk with the bride (or her wardrobe planner) about what alternative’s she’d like. In most cases, you usually end up in a suit or sports jacket of the same color as the bridesmaid’s dresses, or simply wearing what the groomsmen are wearing.
Groomsmen Attire Guide: Be a Visible Part of the Wedding
A big part of the reason that grooms have specific outfits for their wedding parties is so that people can tell who’s officially helping out and who’s just a guest.
How to achieve that will vary a lot based on the “look” of the wedding. In some cases a specific color of pocket square or boutonniere will do the trick; in others you’ll be stuck with a “Hello, my name is…” nametag and some Sharpie.
The goal here is twofold: so that guests know who to go to with questions (not that you’ll necessarily be able to help, but it will give them some hope of finding the person with the actual answers), and so that the wedding planners and families of the bride and groom know who’s officially helping them and who’s just being a busybody.
It sounds a little silly, but once you’ve got two families and two guest lists, with a total number upwards of 50 even at a small wedding, having at least some sort of uniformity in your look as part of the groom’s party is a big deal.
Groomsmen Attire Guide: Get Your Details Right
If someone else prepared the outfits this is usually done for you. If you’re wearing your own clothing though, you need to make sure they’re properly cared for. Have everything cleaned and pressed, and get any leather dress shoes properly shined.
Looking particularly sharp around the edges is a good way to fulfill your other basic requirements — standing out from the male guests and looking like all the other groomsmen. It’s also just polite.
Take the time to think about the details you can tidy up. Get a haircut, trim your nails (or have them done professionally). If you know how to shave with a single-blade razor or you have a local barbershop offering a classic, straight-razor shave then you should spring for it.
It’s a little gesture. But, it's one that goes a long way toward making you the groomsman everyone wants to have in his party.
How To Dress As The Father Of The Bride (Or Groom)
The happiest man in the room at a wedding — in theory — is the groom. But the parents might just be the proudest.
It’s not always the biological parents filling that role, of course. Sometimes the closest parent figure is an aunt or uncle, a set of grandparents, an older brother. It's even just a good friend or mentor in some cases.
Regardless of the relation, there’s often a man who has special reason to feel proud of the bride or groom. This “father of the bride” figure (for all intents and purposes) gets to dress a little more uniquely if he wants so forget about the standard wedding attire for men guide. It’s not a requirement, but the fathers of the couple traditionally dress to stand out:
- Outfits slightly higher up the wedding dress code than other guests.
- High-quality clothing or small luxury accents.
- A “dignified” look.
Dress Above The Dress Code
How this plays out depends on the wedding. It’s quite typical for the father of the bride (or groom) to show up slightly over-dressed.
It’s usually only a subtle upgrade — wearing a fine tuxedo at a “black tie optional” wedding, for example. Maybe a dark suit instead of a more casual one.
Often, this results in the groom and the fathers being at roughly the same level of dress. It’s not uncommon for fathers-in-law, particularly, to want to upstage their new son-in-law just a bit. Not enough to seem rude though, of course. Just enough to make sure he’s respectful.
Be confident but restrained if you choose to go this route. Wearing a tuxedo when the men around you are wearing dark suits is fine. Wearing a tuxedo to a backyard potluck is probably not. And be sure to avoid anything bright or gaudy that draws attention by being ostentatiously out of place. The goal is to be startlingly well-attired upon close inspection, not visible from halfway across the room.
Wear High-Quality Clothing
An ideal way for a father of the bride or groom to stand out is simply by wearing the highest quality of clothes available in the desired dress code. A tailored fit is a good starting place. Nothing looks as good as a man in the perfectly proportioned clothing that bespoke tailoring gets you, no matter what the level of formality.
If suits are the outfit of choice, for example, have one tailored. Invest in rich, dark wool. Pair with a thick silk tie. Wear a cream-colored shirt of heavy cotton rather than a thin, plain white one. And so on — do what all the other male guests are expected to do, or something just a touch nicer than it, but do it better.
Small, tasteful accents with a hint of luxury to them are acceptable for the paterfamilias. A plain gold watch chain in a vest pocket, for example, would not be out of place. Nor would a luxury watch (so long as the design is not too ostentatious), or similar men’s jewelry.
These aren’t items to flaunt — and never to mention aloud. They are worn to show everyone that the elder gentleman is comfortable. He approves of the day’s celebration. Think of it as a small, tasteful stamp of approval for the soon-to-be in-laws.
Adopt A Dignified Style
Unless the family arrangement is very odd indeed, the man filling the “father of the bride” or “father of the groom” role is usually a generation or so older than the wedding couple. Dress like it!
Accepted styles for older men are different to what the rest of us can get away with. An older gentleman is “allowed” to wear the most classic and dignified styles and look perfectly at home. It looks much more natural on them than a younger man.
Your options vary depending on the dress code. But here are a few examples of styles that are generally considered dignified. This is particularly true when worn by a gentleman with a little silver in his hair:
From a midnight blue tuxedo jacket on down to a colored sports jacket, soft velvet looks best on an older man. That doesn’t stop younger men from doing it as well, of course. They’re uncommon enough though that you’re sure to stand out in one. Avoid, however, matched velvet suits — no one should be wearing velvet pants no matter what their age.
A man's double-breasted suit is the last word in elegance at the dress or business-dress level of formality. Plain, dark charcoal or navy looks good, as do the same colors with very restrained white pinstriping.
A good alternative to double-breasted, with an added advantage — if people start removing their jackets after the ceremony, which often happens when the dancing starts, you can do the same and still look more dignified than most men around you thanks to the vest. Just make sure the waistcoat is properly fitted. It should completely cover the waist of your shirt, overlapping with the trousers.
If it’s a true casual wedding, with most people in shirtsleeves or sports jackets at the most, knowing how to wear a navy blazer is probably your best way to stay dignified without being so formal you’re out of place. Other blazer colors can work as well. The green blazer with brass buttons is about as traditionally east-cost upper-middle-class as an older gentleman can get, for example. Gray wools slacks or khakis are usually the best pairings for a blazer.
These are just a couple of examples. However you choose to execute it, the goal is simply to look a bit more refined than the younger men at the party. Keep it all tidy and understated, but of the highest quality — as befits a man who’s there to celebrate a family success.
Want to know more about what a man should wear to a wedding? Click here to discover my ultimate guide to wedding attire for men.