A few weekends ago a friend called with a style question. (I am still utterly tickled that people in my real life think I know enough about style to give them advice.)
She and her wife have a family wedding to attend in the near future and needed help re: the dress code. The save the date for the wedding, to be held indoors at a winery, listed a more casual attire advisory, but by the time the invitation came around it had upgraded to “cocktail/semi-formal.” Her wife is not a dress/skirt kind of person and had planned to wear the lovely light tan suit she had worn to their own wedding – something similar to this:
Lengthen the sleeves, though, and nix the big handbag; makes the look too daytime/officewear. Source
At her wedding she wore it with a dressy black shirt and shoes and a pearl necklace. But that was her wedding, where she was, indeed, supposed to wear whatever she wanted. What about for someone else’s celebration?
So today on Ask Leah, the question is:
As a woman, can I wear a suit to a cocktail-attire wedding?
If you have already imagined my response including some remarks about sexism and how men get to wear suits to weddings all the time without anyone giving them the side eye, you’d be right. If women can wear pants in pretty much every other venue in American life (see: the Pantsuit Revolution), why not a wedding?
Just because something is unjustly -ist (sexist, racist, ableist, ageist, heteronormative – okay that’s not an -ist…), though, doesn’t mean you don’t still have to deal with people’s -ist reactions when you go against the norm. Uncle Bob or Grandma Sally might still make a passive-agressive comment about how nice you would have looked in a dress or a just-plain-aggressive comment that suits are for men. So some amongst us might choose the path of least family snark and just put on a damn dress.
In my personal opinion, though, the two most important factors in wedding dressing are:
- Feeling comfortable in your skin. Not wearing things that are uncomfortably tight or too far outside your normal sartorial expression means you can feel like YOU and enjoy the celebration – particularly important if tense family relationships mean you’ll be anxious no matter what you wear.
- Showing respect for the couple/event. You want to be comfortable, yes, but not at the cost of looking like you don’t care that this is one of the most important events in someone’s life. Luckily it’s 2016 and there’s considerably more variation than there used to be as to what’s considered dressy for such events. For example, if a cotton romper or sundress is your normal go-to but this is an evening affair, a shift dress with a little shine or sparkle keeps the comfort level A+ while stepping up your style a bit.
With those parameters in mind, let’s address the question at hand: if you haven’t seen the inside of a dress since your toddler years and would feel completely out of character wearing one, simply put together the pants equivalent of “wedding smart” using a lovely suit (ex.: above) and some jewels/heels.
Avoiding boxy cuts and stiff fabrics in favor of clean, fluid lines will help it look less corporate America and more festive function, as will skipping over cheap material and that weird light grey color that screams “I got this in the juniors section for my very first interview.” (You know the color I’m talking about?)
Another option for those not excited about the traditional suit: pair dress pants with a blouse/shell and top off with a statement jacket – think bolero, sequins, metallic fabric, textured silk, velvet, etc.:
source / source / source / source
What if the wedding is a truly formal occasion? Plenty of women now wear a feminine version of a tuxedo to fancy events:
source / source / source / source
Here’s a great article on how to select one. And yes, I have seen jackets like this (and definitely vests!) at thrift stores in the women’s section, and you might be able to find tux pants with the stripe in the men’s section and get them tailored.
Back to my friend’s wife and her upcoming wedding conundrum. I told her I thought it was perfectly acceptable to wear her lovely suit with a little jewelry and some dressy shoes (whether heels or not) and call it good. After all, they invited HER to the wedding, so shouldn’t she show up as a respectfully fancy version of herself, not somebody else?
What do you think, Thrifters?
5 thoughts on “Ask Leah: Wedding Attire When You’re Not a Dress/Skirt Kinda Gal”
I think you’re spot on with your idea of the more fluid pantsuit fabric. I think fabric is the key, in general. You want a drape and optionally a color that is not sober enough for an office. And then an accessory or two (shoe, jewelry, bag) that is a bit giddier than office wear. I think this is the opposite situation from all those desk to dinner ideas. You want something that is at least just this side of not meant for a workday.
I love the point about suit color, Vildy! And your point about not desk-to-dinner is well taken – I imagine you could have a “dressy” suit set aside for just such occasions and then change it up with accessories and shell/blouse to keep it from feeling exactly the same each time.
I haven’t worn skirts or dresses for decades; lace and sequins aren’t my thing either. My “wedding uniform” is usually a pants and unmatched jacket combo (different textures look less “officey”) with appropriate pumps (not too high though). Worn with a silk or satin shirt and pearl necklace and earrings, the look is complete! Who could complain about that?
Carol – oooh, the unmatched textures! Something that obviously didn’t come off the rack as an ensemble but that pairs together beautifully. And yes, silk and satin make great base layers which I think help make the silhouette more fluid/dressy per Vildy’s point above.
Thanks for sharing your real-life go-to wedding outfit – I think it will help others envision how to do it themselves!
Leah, I forgot to mention carrying a small purse (perhaps beaded or metallic – something quite “dressy”) which would also elevate the outfit a notch. This accessory might be the only part of the “wedding look” that is not often used for daily wear on it’s own! (I really prefer clothes that function in multiple settings . . .)