What colors can you wear to a wedding

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bride and guest in white
Which one is the bride?
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Wondering what colors can you wear to a wedding to be appropriately attired

When the wedding invitation arrives, there's lots of information included. What day is the wedding? Is it formal or casual? How far away is it?

But when it comes to the more difficult questions, like what kind of gift should we buy, or what colors can you wear to a wedding like this, you're not likely to find the answer on the invitation. I'll leave the ideas for great wedding gifts for another article; the issue of choosing the color for your dress is a big enough question to present a quandary to many guests.

To white or not to white

When it comes to clothes for wedding guests, it's an accepted "rule" that wearing white or off-white is a no-no for any of the guests.

Why? Well, there's the issue of letting the bride stand out. It's her day, and no one should have to look twice to determine which woman is tying the knot.
How awkward would it to have great Uncle Joe think you're the one who just married his nephew ... as the bride stands by and fumes!

This is even more true for outdoor and other casual weddings, where you might not have other bridal accessories like veils and fancy fabrics.

Another reason is that white is a tough color to wear. It's just not flattering for many women. If the bride falls into that category, while a guest looks absolutely stunning in a white dress ... well, you can imagine the rest!

Bad in black

The answer to wearing black at a wedding is a resounding ... maybe. It all depends on the cut of the outfit, the time of day, and the formality of the wedding.

A stunning black evening gown can be a wonderful choice for a formal nighttime wedding. But choosing a severe black suit or a very funereal dress to wear to a wedding any time of day is verboten. It signifies that you wish bad things for the marriage, even if you don't.

Red, red - whoa that's red!

The general rule for wedding guests is to not outshine the bride. And red can do just that.

If you decide to wear red, try to break it up with other colors. Adding something like a cream jacket, a grey skirt or a taupe blouse with red items tones down the outfit and takes the focus off you, while still letting you wear a favorite color.

So what color DOES work?

This is one of those great big "it depends" questions. But there are some general guidelines.

Summer weddings

Consider "Sunday best" dresses in light colors, especially if the wedding is outdoors. Pale pastels, soft taupes, and light icy greys are good choices. Patterns are a wonderful option, too. This is also a great chance to add a ladies hat in a matching or coordinating color to complete your outfit.

Or you can select a bolder color, like a bright clear turquoise, hot pink or lemon yellow, especially if it's part of a pattern.

More formal summer weddings might require more subdued tones, with beiges, greys and pastels dominating.

Spring weddings

This is the season for softer pastels and subtle prints. Consider a tone on tone material in a delicate peach or soft robin's egg blue.

Formal spring weddings are a good chance to bring in gentle color with light overlays of tinted chiffon or tulle over cream or light grey.

Winter weddings

Jewel tones are perfect for winter weddings. Select from rich garnets, jades, sapphires and other intensely-hued fabrics for a warm look against the icy outdoors.

For formal winter weddings, evening wear in pure black, accented with a bit of silver or white is an acceptable choice, too.

Autumn weddings

Take your cue from nature for fall weddings. Selecting tea-length dresses in warm earth tones like sage, cinnamon or a deep pumpkin is a wonderful choice.

Formal autumn weddings can also work with the black evening wear of winter weddings. Or you can carry daytime colors through to more formal designs.

Other wedding color factors

Consider the culture

In some cultures, certain colors besides black are associated with mourning, while colors other than white are reserved for the bride or groom. If you're attending a wedding where you are not sure about traditions, ask specific questions before you select your outfit.

If you know the theme

If you're aware of the theme of a wedding, selecting a color that won't clash with the decor is a nice gesture. Likewise, if you know the bridal party will be wearing a certain color, omitting that shade from your choices is a polite option.

No matter what you select, just remember that you're a guest and not the bride. So keep it tasteful (no clubwear, please!) and in line with the wedding's formality, and you'll be just fine.

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