Wearing White to a Wedding 101 (Whether You’re the Bride, an In-Law or a Guest)

Find out when it’s fine (and totally not fine) to wear white to a wedding.
by Maggie Seaver

One of the golden rules of being a wedding guest is to avoid wearing white at all costs so you don’t upstage the bride(s). As a guest, when in doubt, your safest bet is to follow this etiquette rule literally to sidestep any awkward glances, hurt feelings or self-consciousness. But there are definitely some gray areas and exceptions that stump both guests and brides. What if the couple asks you to wear white? What if you’re super close to the bride and know she wouldn’t mind if you wore a cream jumpsuit? Is it still taboo if the bride is wearing lavender? Is a white dress with a colorful print okay? So many questions. Here’s a little 101 on what sort of white is acceptable and when.

It’s Okay to Wear White When…

You’re the bride.

Yep, we’re stating the obvious. As the bride, you set the tone. You’re entitled to be the only one in a dazzling white number, if that’s what you want. If you’re taking this traditional route and someone shows up wearing pure white, try to keep your cool. Hopefully it wasn’t done to annoy you, so do your best to rise above it. Honestly, it’s pretty impossible to take the spotlight away from the happy couple anyway.

That said, tons of brides are embracing the white-clad wedding party look or asking their mother or mother-in-law to wear something that coordinates with their wedding gown. And maybe you don’t even care if your guests wear white, especially if you’re not wearing white yourself (we’re obsessed with non-white wedding dresses, by the way). Sound like you? Give guests a heads-up on your wedding website to say you’re cool with anyone donning frosty hues—it might save someone from needing to buy a new dress.

You’re in the wedding party.

A wedding party in all white always looks chic and polished. If the couple wants you decked in a creamy shade, you’re definitely good to go. You might be allowed to choose your own dress based on a white palette, in which case it’s smart to run your first choice picks by the bride before you buy.

You’re an in-law or relative who’s gotten a thumbs-up from the bride.

Family members and in-laws don’t always get a free pass to wear white. Parents-in-law traditionally take their cues from the bride’s parents, but of course, this doesn’t always need to be the case. Ask the couple what hue they’d prefer you to wear to see if white is on the table. They may love the idea—but don’t get too ruffled if the bride says she’d rather you didn’t wear white. It’s ultimately up to her.

You’re a guest and the couple asked you to.

Does the invitation or wedding website ask you to dress for an all-white-attire affair? Go for it. You don’t want to be that guest who shows up in coral to a midsummer white-out bash.

You’re a guest and the bride has specified she doesn’t care.

This one can be tricky. You should never just assume your white ensemble is fine, but if you’ve heard from the bride herself that she’s cool with it, you’re in the clear. It’s possible the bride isn’t even planning to wear white. If you want to go the extra mile, find out what color she’s wearing and steer clear of that one. One thing to avoid is anything that looks too bridal. We know that’s a bit of vague guideline, but use your best judgement (think: no big white ball gowns, lace sleeves or headpieces).

You’re a guest, but white isn’t the primary hue of your outfit.

Again, use your discretion with patterned ensembles. Questioning whether your favorite white jumpsuit with pink and blue florals looks a little too white? It probably is. But before you buy a new outfit, try polling five friends to see what they think (bonus points if they’re engaged or married so they know what it feels like to be on the other side). If no one else seems to have qualms with it, you’ve got a winner. However, if you’re still on the fence, we’d suggest you look for something else.

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