Wedding Wear, Vol. 16, Issue 48

Dear Etiquetteer:

Went to a wedding this afternoon at 3 PM. Had asked family what dress code was - they said whatever you want. I arrived in a pretty flowered frock, pearls - afternoon tea type attire. My husband wore tie, navy blazer, etc. We were astounded to see a guy in dirty jeans and shirt with ripped-off sleeves, accompanied by a young lady in a chiffon dress.

More to the point, though - more than half the women in the group were wearing black, and many of them were in evening clothes. Is it me? Did things change somewhere along the way? I thought black was supposed to send an unhappy message to the couple in question . . . remember hearing never to wear black to a wedding. (So I bought a new dress, even!) I look forward to your advice, dear Etiquetteer, for future occasions!

Dear Dressed:

First, Etquetteer has a message for anyone giving a Party of Some Ceremony like a wedding: don't be surprised when you tell people "Just wear whatever you want" when they actually do show up in whatever they want. It will be quite an education in some cases, to discover who does and doesn't have a Sense of Occasion! People really do want to be told what to wear; please provide appropriate, easy to understand instructions about what to wear. "Festive attire," for instance, is far too vague. It could mean anything from a Hawaiian shirt to a tuxedo with a colorful vest.

But to return to your original questions, no, it isn't you, and yes, things did change somewhere along the way. Along about 25 years ago, brides wanted bridal parties that looked more like what they considered sophisticated and less, well, bridal. Their unimaginative solution was black, conveniently forgetting (if they ever knew or cared in the first place) that black's traditional meaning in the West is that of mourning - or evil, you choose. Back in the day, wearing mourning was so ingrained in Society that etiquette writers had to specify that the one and only exception to it was to attend a wedding. Because to wear black to a wedding would indicate disapproval of the marriage it Simply Wasn't Done. Now, ladies don't care about symbolism; they just want to look sophisticated - or slim - and don't even hear Etiquetteer's plaintive cry to Consider Navy Blue instead.

Evening clothes before 5 PM have never been Perfectly Proper, but there's more than one wedding party that chooses to breeze right by this if the reception is going to begin after 5 PM.

And Etiquetteer is mighty tired of hearing from Compassionate Souls "Oh, it doesn't matter what people wear as long as everyone is treated with respect." What one wears is how to treat other people with respect.

In conclusion:

  • A dress code should be on the invitation.
  • If they tell you "Wear whatever you want," ask what they are wearing and be guided by that.
  • Consider Navy Blue instead of black.
  • Remain confident in your own choices even when you see others dressed differently.