What Not to Wear to a Wedding as a Guest

All your questions answered.
tres dean Associate Menswear Editor
Tres Dean
tres dean Associate Menswear Editor
Tres Dean
Associate Menswear Editor
  • Tres writes and edits articles for The Knot, with a specialty in menswear and suiting.
  • He brings over a decade of expertise in the field garnered as a writer, editor, copywriter, and trend specialist.
  • Before joining The Knot he covered menswear for publications including GQ, AskMen, Men’s Health, Sharp Magazine, Highsnobiety, and Spy.
Updated Mar 28, 2024

No one wants to show up to a wedding wearing something that turns out to be a sartorial faux pas. If you've ever wondered what not to wear to a wedding, you're not alone. It's one of the most common questions for guests preparing for a ceremony. What's appropriate according to the dress code? Can you wear black? Can you wear white? Are hats okay at a wedding? There's no one-size-fits-all answer to these questions but we've got plenty of time-tested advice. Read on for everything you need to know about what not to wear to a wedding.

In this article:

What colors should you not wear to a wedding?

Let's touch on the obvious first: you probably shouldn't wear white to a wedding. Some rules are meant to be broken but this isn't one of them. If the couple specifies that it's okay that's a different situation, but it's best to assume that it's off-limits.

Other colors are situational. Black is an easy win when getting dressed for a black-tie or formal wedding, but it isn't the most celebratory color for anything less formal than that (plus you don't want to look like a waiter or like you're attending a funeral).

Red is another controversial wedding color as it can be seen as attention-seeking. There's a fine line between putting together an outfit that will garner compliments and one that will draw attention away from the couple. Stay on the side of the former. Red risks bringing you into the realm of the latter.

What makes a wedding guest dress inappropriate?

As with most questions about wedding guest attire, the first and easiest way to determine whether or not your wedding guest dress is appropriate is to consult the ceremony's dress code. Inappropriate can mean several things here and one of those is an outfit that doesn't align with what's expected of guests. You shouldn't wear an evening gown to a semi-formal wedding, nor should you wear a midi dress to a black-tie affair.

That said, the venue and the religious context of the ceremony also play a part here. Some religions may require guests to have their shoulders covered or to wear dresses that don't feature slits. Keep this in mind when preparing for the wedding.

What type of pants should you not wear to a wedding?

This is largely going to be determined by dress code but the simplest way to think about it is that a good pair of dress pants (meaning suit pants, chinos, or pleated trousers) is going to be perfect for any wedding. Denim is mostly going to be a no-go unless you're attending a Western-themed wedding. Shorts are seldom going to be acceptable, save for the case of destination weddings with very, very relaxed dress codes.

And speaking of pants, pantsuits are often a great alternative to dresses. If you want to wear one to a formal, semi-formal, or cocktail attire wedding you can go ahead. It doesn't violate any wedding dress code rules.

What type of jacket should you not wear to a wedding?

Let's talk outerwear first: if you're attending a wedding during a colder time of year or the date happens to fall on a rainy or snowy day, some sort of overcoat is totally fine to wear to a wedding. Nobody expects you to freeze and you don't want the work you put into your wedding look ruined by a little precipitation.

For anyone wearing menswear to a wedding, the sort of jacket you wear with your fit should be determined by the dress code. For formal weddings, you're going to want to wear a suit jacket that matches the dress pants you're wearing. For semi-formal and dressy casual weddings, a blazer or sport coat is acceptable as this is the point at which suit separates are dress-code friendly.

Is it okay to wear a hat to a wedding?

Let's start with this: regardless of the dress code or the hat you're wearing, if the wedding takes place indoors you need to remove it before entering the venue. At best it's poor etiquette, and at worst it's disrespectful to wear a hat indoors if the wedding takes place in a religious institution.

Beyond that, whether or not it's okay to wear a hat to a wedding is highly situational. Rules of etiquette, dress code, and venue will all come into play in determining not only whether or not a hat is permissible but also what kind of hat is a good fit. For white-tie weddings, a top hat is suitable for guests wearing coats and tails. Fascinators are appropriate for guests wearing gowns. Black-tie weddings likely aren't a great time for a hat, though a fedora (a nice one, not one you picked up at Target) could work with a tuxedo. The same goes for semi-formal and dressy casual weddings, and Western weddings tend to encourage cowboy hats. For ladies, semi-formal and dressy casual weddings may welcome a sun hat or a wide-brim hat.

Most importantly, a wedding is never the time for a baseball cap.

What type of shoes should you not wear to a wedding?

What shoes you should or shouldn't wear will be determined by the dress code of the wedding. For black-tie and formal dress codes, women should steer away from sneakers. Flats are okay regardless of dress code–it's more the formality of the flats that you're wearing that will determine whether or not they're an appropriate fit.

For guys, stick with lace-up dress shoes like oxfords for a formal dress code and tuxedo shoes for a black-tie wedding (or any wedding to which you're wearing a tux). You can wear loafers starting with cocktail attire and a nice pair of sneakers (this means a pair that isn't super beat up–leave your trusty runners at home and opt for a pair of classic kicks like Adidas Sambas or Converse Chuck Taylors) only to a dressy casual wedding.

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