I’ve photographed my share of weddings over the years, and I’ve seen some pretty “interesting” attire on guests – overly formal gowns, shorts and tube tops, sheer, low-cut, or very short dresses. Really, I’ve seen it all. I’ve heard horrified and embarrassed brides say, “What is she WEARING to my wedding?!” More than once, Mark has had to avert his eyes in order to avoid seeing lady parts.
What WE wear to a wedding
To photograph a wedding, I wear a simple cotton black dress or black dress pants with a black shirt, and Mark always wears black slacks and a white, long-sleeved, button-up shirt. If McKenzie is working the wedding with us, she wears a dress as well. So basically, business casual. If we are shooting a very formal wedding, us girls wear black dresses and Mark would add a tie.
When we attend a wedding as guests, I wear a cute semi-formal dress (silk sundress or other party dress) and Mark wears a suit and tie. It’s pretty much “church clothes,” except I may wear something strapless or a little above the knee for a more “party” look.
We dress this way because a wedding is a nice event, and the bride and groom spent a lot of time and money planning the wedding of their dreams. (I also like having an excuse to buy a new dress.)
Before I offend anyone, in no way am I saying that my opinion is law, or that I know everything there is to know about weddings, but I do have a pretty extensive knowledge of wedding etiquette, and I’ve talked to a LOT of brides about this subject.
When deciding what to wear, take a few things into consideration.
1. What type of wedding is it? Is there a theme?
2. How formal is the wedding going to be?
3. What time of year is it?
4. Do you want to be comfortable so you can dance?
Ideally, it’s best to be dressed in a way that shows the bride and groom respect, and demonstrates that you appreciate what they’ve done for you as guests to feed you and celebrate with you.
I See London, I See France…
…I saw someone’s underpants (or lack thereof). On more than one occasion, I’ve seen too much. WAY too much.
Once, a female guest was squatting down to take photos of the bride and groom dancing. I went down on one knee to get a different angle, and I saw right up the guest’s dress. No underwear. I suddenly knew this woman WAY too well. So did the men standing behind me. They were laughing at her. Awkward…
On another occasion, we shot a very nice semi-formal wedding at a beautiful site on the water in Berkeley. Everyone was dressed wonderfully. Until the dancing started. Once female guest changed into tight jeans and short tee-shirt. She went out there and really boogied on the dance floor. With her bottom in the air. And her thong showing. And other things back there showing. My jaw wasn’t the only one on the floor.
One more story for you… We were shooting a wedding at a Catholic church in town, and the ceremony was going to start. I guess Mark was trying to get my attention, but I didn’t hear him or see him waving like a madman. I was busy staring at a teenage girl standing in front of a stained glass window. Mark grabbed my arm and said, “It’s almost time to start. What is wrong with you?” I had no words… I pointed to the young girl with my mouth hanging open. He said, “Oh my……” She was wearing a button-up, short jean jacket that only covered her chest and a completely sheer, hot-pink skirt with a belt. The skirt hung very low on her hips, exposing her entire bare mid-drift. Basically, the ONLY thing covering her lower-body was the large belt buckle. From behind, you could see she wasn’t wearing any underwear. The mother of the groom contemplated throwing her out, but the ceremony was supposed to start in minutes, and she decided it was too late.
I have many more stories, like the girl who showed up to a formal wedding in orange Hooters shorts (true story). I could go on and on about what I’ve seen over the past fourteen years, especially in the earlier years of my career.
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way Back From the Ho-Down
I have nothing against a good ho-down. Give me a bale of hay on the back of a truck and a beer any time! And if that’s the theme of the wedding you are attending, dress accordingly – pull out your boots and jeans and have a great time. But if the wedding you’re attending is a semi-formal or formal event, don’t show up in a tube top and cut-off shorts.
Put yourself in the bride and groom’s position: You have dropped $30,000 for a nice wedding in a church with a reception following in a ballroom – sit-down dinner, champagne, crisp tablecloths. You have spent months picking out flowers, music, and décor. Your gown is a dream-come-true, exactly what you’ve wanted since you were five. Then guests walk into your wedding wearing tube tops, cut-off shorts and flip-flops. Would you feel like those guests respect the time and money you put into your elegant wedding?
To be clear, I’ve photographed very casual weddings and wonderful country-themed weddings. The guests were dressed very casually, and some of them were wearing shorts. But they were dressed accordingly and appropriately, because the wedding they were attending was very casual. A guest wouldn’t show up to a picnic-themed casual wedding in a lavish ball gown. That wouldn’t be appropriate. It’s a matter of realizing that there’s a time and a place for every outfit, and figuring out what fits best with which wedding.
One of my brides had a close friend fly in from New Orleans to attend her wedding. When she showed the bride her dress from the wedding, she was a bit surprised, considering it was a bridesmaid dress purchased at David’s Bridal. This was a GUEST, not a bridesmaid. This guest’s dress was more formal than the maid of honor’s dress. Did the bride say anything to her friend who had traveled all that way? No, of course not. Was everyone a little uncomfortable that this guest was trying to out-do the maid of honor? Yup.
If this bride’s wedding had been a fancy black-tie affair, the gown would’ve been appropriate, but this was a semi-casual spring wedding. Most people were wearing spring dresses and light suits, and this guest stuck out like a sore thumb in her formal gown. She claimed that’s how everyone dresses at wedding in New Orleans. Guess what? She wasn’t in New Orleans. She was in Sacramento.
Years later, when discussing this situation with the bride, she said her friend was clearly trying to out-dress everyone else, including her maid of honor, and was offended by the notion.
So, just like being under-dressed can be inappropriate, being overdressed can also be inappropriate as well.
The Bottom Line
Avoid the following pitfalls (sorry if some of these seem obvious):
Tube tops or tank tops with shorts
Torn jeans or cut-offs
Very low-cut, see-through, short, or otherwise revealing clothing
Lack of bras and/or underwear
Overly formal gowns, especially in white (unless the invitation says “Black Tie Optional.”)
If you question what to wear, call the bride or one of the family members and ask, and err on the side of caution. It’s better to be slightly overdressed than recklessly under-dressed. Don’t end up in someone’s blog about what not to wear.