The vast majority of weddings we attend, we attend as guests.
Being a well-dressed guest is a sort of wedding gift in miniature — a bit of time, effort, and often expense, given to the bride and groom as part of their experience. So what should a man wear to a wedding to create this effect?
“Neat and tasteful” are the thoughtful wedding guest’s watchwords. You’re not trying to be the center of attention, just to look nice within the standards of the dress code.
For most weddings a guest’s clothing responsibilities are simple:
- Know the dress code and follow it
- Make a special effort for the occasion
- Avoid anything too ostentatious
Know And Meet The Dress Code
Our next section looks at dress codes in detail — use it if you need the help!
What a man should wear to a wedding is whatever will fit in with what the bride and groom (or wedding planners) are expecting from their audience.
That will almost always be printed in the wedding invitation. If the invitation makes no mention of dress code at all, assume that business dress or the higher end of business-casual would be welcome — colored suits are probably fine, as are dress trousers and blazers, but you can reasonably expect to wear a jacket and tie of some kind unless the invitation specifically says not to.
For weddings with one of the different types of dress codes, wear the best example you have of the standard. That is to say, have a proper black-tie ensemble (no colored accents, clip-ons, etc.) for a black-tie wedding, a dark suit with a white dress shirt and a conservative tie for a “business dress” wedding, and so on.
The more casual the code, the more flexibility you have. You always want to err on the side of formality though. Outside of costume weddings, a man should almost always have at least some sort of jacket. If the invitation calls for casual dress, you can wear blue jeans with a suit or sports jacket. You'll be both within the dress code and neatened up for the occasion.
Make A Special Effort
In the case of a black-tie dress code (or even more formal) wedding, you’ve already made a significant effort with your outfit.
For more casual weddings, find a way to “dress up” whatever outfit you wear, as a gesture to show how special the occasion is.
This can be something very minor. A fresh flower boutonnière is always a good option. They are easily available at almost any florist with a day or two’s notice. Most florists can even create one in a pinch from whatever they have in stock.
Other small bits of jewelry or adornment also work well: your grandfather’s watch, a colorful pocket square, French cuffs with gold cufflinks — the specific gesture is going to vary from man to man and wedding to wedding.
But the point is always the same. Wear something nice that you wouldn’t normally wear, even with the particular outfit or dress code you’re using. That way even a good business suit or a casual shirt and jeans can become a special outfit just for the wedding, rather than something you’d wear to work.
At the risk of sounding old-fashioned, overly competitive wedding clothes are usually more of a problem on the bride’s side of the aisle. But that doesn’t mean men can’t get involved in it, and it’s always bad taste.
As a wedding guest, what you wear should not be centered around how to stylishly stand out. You should look good, not fancy. The bride and to a lesser extent the groom and their respective parties should be the center of attention. Don’t wear something that’s going to compete with that.
That means erring on the conservative side unless you are an important figure in the ceremony. Knowing what to wear as the father of the bride is very different. As a standard guest, avoid anything that’s obviously very expensive or a “luxury” item. Wear a nice watch; don’t wear a diamond-encrusted Rolex. Wear a good silk tie; don’t wear cloth-of-gold or hand-woven Moroccan spider silk. And so on.
As a general rule of thumb, if you can rely on it to be a conversation piece (“Oh, where did you get that amazing…?”), it’s probably a little tasteless to wear it at someone else’s wedding.
So, what should a man wear to a wedding? Well, there's no one answer. There are gray areas. Feel around for the right balance of looking nice without showing off. But, err on the side of caution. It’s someone else’s day when it is all said and done.
Knowing how to dress for a wedding can make it a day to remember. Click here to discover my ultimate guide to wedding attire for men.