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Howard County Shopping Bag: What to wear to the wedding

Honoring the bride and groom at their wedding celebration requires suitable attire to reflect the importance of the day. Whether you are the mother of the bride or the second cousin once removed, your ensemble should be flattering, and thoughtful to the hosts.

When trying to decide what to wear, one needs to first determine the level of formality. The answers lie in the invitation. Usually an invitation will not state "casual" or "formal," so the guests need a little invitation savvy to glean the clues to appropriate dress. Dressing appropriately will allow you to fit right in and let the attention be drawn to the happy couple. Anyone who has ever dressed inappropriately for an occasion knows how embarrassing it can be and how drastically it can affect your confidence. Here are a few clues to help you choose an outfit.

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A day wedding is considered the most informal. Read your invitation carefully. If held outdoors, even more so. Bright colors or floral dresses are perfectly appropriate. An adorable example is AGB's large floral sheath dress in black, white and yellow with a matching yellow cardigan (found at Macy's). A mother of the bride or groom would be overdressed in a long silk gown. Feminine linen or shantung suits are quite perfect for these women of honor. For outdoor affairs, wedged heels are most desirable, as spiked heels will sink right into the soil or sand. Flat shoes are also a good choice. Men can get away with a shirt and tie for an informal wedding, but a blazer will definitely jazz it up. Ed Hyatt of Hyatt & Co. in Fulton says, "For daytime weddings, you may have more flexibility. In the summer, tan or off-white suits, pinstripes or other patterns are fine. Add colorful ties, handkerchiefs and accessories to complete the look."

Evening weddings after 6 p.m. are more formal than day weddings, and sophisticated apparel is generally expected. Cocktail-length dresses are most appropriate. Dancing is customary — make sure that the dress is not too confining by being too tight or fussy. Mother of the bride or groom will be stunning in the vibrant Donna Ricco rhinestone button taffeta shirtdress (found at Nordstrom). Gentlemen should wear a dark suit. Hyatt says, "With a black, navy or charcoal suit, stay with solid ties in white or silver. The suit should also be primarily solid. Cuff links can add character to your shirt, so look for a unique design to stand apart. The best dress shirt ideas are white on white with detail and texture, French cuffs, and a spread collar."

The most formal weddings have invitations engraved and printed in black script on a cream-colored stock. If you are unsure whether it is engraved, turn the invitation over to see if an impression is revealed. At formal weddings, ladies would be expected to wear glamorous long dresses. Ahmad Kabiryousefi, co-owner of Venus Bridal in Ellicott City, says, "2011 brings forth many new styles and colors for the spring and summer seasons. We are seeing a lot of one-shoulder styles in hues of orange, purple and teal. The new mothers' gown selection includes cascading ruffles in beautiful pastel satin-faced chiffon and ruched luxe taffeta in jewel tones such as midnight blue and platinum." Gentlemen should wear a tuxedo to a formal wedding. Hyatt suggests, "Add color to your tux outfit with a bright vest and tie with subtle patterns."

Rules of dressing for weddings have evolved, but a few basic do's and don'ts remain:
• Honor the hosts with appropriate dress.
• Aside from the bride, women do not wear white to a wedding.
• Men never wear a tux before 6 p.m.
• If you happen to do a "don't," remember to wear a great big smile. It covers a multitude of sins!

Jeannette Kendall is president of Success In Style, a nonprofit with locations in Ellicott City and North Laurel that provides free business attire to disadvantaged women and men seeking employment. successinstyle@verizon.net or 410-750-6475.

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