Brides and grooms have it easy when it comes to wedding dressing. They set the tone. They set the code. It is understood, going in, that the hems of their clothes will get ruined and that, seeing as they’re getting hitched, there’s no one…shall we say, from their pasts to whom they must send a clear and direct “fuck you I’m hot” message. For everyone else, especially all the single laypeople, selecting a wedding outfit is a stressful endeavor.
Since I’m one wedding away from being the guest version of Katherine Heigl in that Academy Award-winning movie where she’s a formal dress hoarder and am therefore an expert, I have taken it upon myself to bestow some knowledge. Below, a list of variables to consider when selecting what to wear to a wedding.
1. Do you want to wear a dress or pants?
I’m of a wild west mentality when it comes to fashion rules but shorts are basically never a wedding option. Wear shorts whenever, just not today. Besides, for your own sake, it’s easier to narrow your choices so pick one and stay dedicated. Sure, pants can include a jumpsuit situation.
2. How formal is the wedding?
Dress codes make no sense these days because people make dress codes because of Pinterest. “Tangerine Sporty Formal!” is not a helpful outfit guideline. In fact, it means nothing. “Summer black tie” also means nothing, so play it safe and ask a mom. I’m not sure why but they just know these things.
3. Will grass be involved?
Sinking heels ruin everything. Consider this now and plan your outfit around your footwear. In the words of Matt Little’s bachelorette itinerary that he designed for his sister and her friends, “Now is not the time to be a hero.”
4. Do you need to make any important first impressions?
Will your ex’s new significant other also be attending? What about your date’s sister? What about a potential future parent-in-law? What about someone’s famous and cool aunt who you’ve been dying to meet? Dress for yourself, but let this guide you in your general aesthetic.
5. Who’s your audience?
As with number four, “dress for yourself” is always key. You will never be comfortable if you spend the whole time hating a weird mask you’ve chosen for the evening. That said, what I’d wear to a college friend’s wedding is different from what I’d wear to a fashion industry friend’s wedding is different from what I’d wear to a parental-packed wedding.
6. What’s the venue?
I always like for my outfit to make sense among the decor. Makes for excellent Instagram opportunities.
7. How hard do you plan to party?
If the answer is “hard” then I wouldn’t wear anything delicate, expensive or that your breast could pop out of (if you care about that sort of thing, which you may not).
8. Will someone with whom you used to have a thing and wouldn’t mind rekindling said thing be there?
Hmm? What? Oh I thought you said something.
9. Has this group seen your outfit before?
If yes (either because they are prolific Instagram engagers or because you’ve been on the wedding circuit together), and only if you give a damn, consider buying/borrowing/finding a new dress for this occasion and doing the re-wear next time you have a more anonymous party to attend.
10. Two unrelated questions with the same answer: Will the ceremony be conservative, and at night, will you be cold?
No one wants to, I know, but even in the dead heat of summer, just bring the fucking pashmina, okay?
And with that, I swear, you’ll be golden.
Collages by Edith Young; Photos by Edith Young and Horst P. Horst via Getty Images.