My Dad has a tuxedo he just loves complete with multicolor print furnishings that he looked forward to wearing to my wedding. I have dragged my reluctantly tux-clad husband to many black tie openings and benefits so knew I would have to let my Dad down gently. This costume designer was not having them walk down my aisle in a mix of semi- and formal.
There are no longer many rules about what-to-wear-when for anything except weddings. Many Brides avoid deciding on the dress for their weddings, allowing the groom to choose for his men and the guests to fend for themselves. Believe me, no one wants to show up at a party incorrectly dressed. Your guests will appreciate knowing what is expected, then deciding if they want to comply, Rules are made to be broken, but it is still nice to be familiar with the etiquette of dress to know what tradition you are ignoring.
Formal Dress for Evening
If you want your Wedding party and all of your guests dressed to the max you want to note that your wedding is formal. A formal wedding can be in the daytime or in the evening. There is a popular tux line called “After Six”. That is because a tuxedo is evening wear, to be worn only after 6 pm.
Tuxes are a black or midnight blue (very dark navy) suit with satin lapels and satin stripes down the pant leg. It is worn with a vest or cummerbund and a tux shirt with lay down or wing collar and bow tie or necktie (either tie works for both collars).
A great vintage-y alternative is black tux pants with a dinner jacket, usually in winter white wool ( even in summer). Dinner jackets are worn with a lay down collar or spread collar shirts.
If you watch Downton Abbey you know that a tuxedo is the least formal of a man’s evening wear options. White tie and Tails gives a more formal look and a shot of Fred Astaire panache. A tailcoat is worn with a wing collar shirt, bow tie and vest all in white cotton pique.
Wearing a wing collar and white tie with your tuxedo is a modern way of adding formality. Obama donned this look at both inaugurations.
Whether tux, dinner jacket, or tails the Groom and his men should be dressed at the same level of formality.
Bridesmaids at a formal wedding, day or evening, should be in gowns. Fabrics with sheen rather than shine like satin or tafetta in graceful silhouettes like a-lines or trumpet will look appropriately grand with their escorts.
Daytime Formal Wear
A 5:00 ceremony with evening reception can still be formal. A morning or afternoon church wedding with an evening reception may be in tuxes, though not tails, to keep the groomsmen from needing two looks.
As the British know well there is a daytime version of formal wear. It is the morning suit – picture Kate’s Dad in his gray cutaway coats, dark gray striped trousers, striped ascot and top hat. It is a great look for daytime weddings in churches or less formal venues like gardens. There is a great modern take on the morning suit called a stroller- the gray striped pants with dove gray sports jacket and gray striped 4-in-hand tie. You can rent them nationally from jimsformalwear.com, who also rent traditional morning suits.
While a Black tux at an afternoon wedding is wrong, there are now gray tuxes that have become the American variation of the Morning Suit. White tuxedos have become popular for summer evening, tropical destination and theme weddings but look best at Prom, as do those hybrid long jacket tuxes unless you are having a western theme.
And the Guests?
You should not expect your American guests to rent a morning suit, but if you put Formal Dress or Black Tie on your invitation then the men coming to your wedding should be in one of the looks above, or at least a dark suit with a solid tie. Few events beyond Debutante Balls are “white Tie” denoting men in tails and women in ball gowns. Formal for women can be a ball gown, evening gown, a sparkly cocktail dress. Dressy suits or floaty chiffon dresses work well for dressy daytime weddings, with a change for a formal evening reception.
If you want to give guests more leeway a popular dress designation is “Creative Black Tie”. That means your cousin Stan can wear a turtleneck with his tux suit and your hipster nephew can wear jeans with his vintage dinner jacket and your girlfriend can wear her favorite dress. A variation on this is Texas Black Tie – a look I first saw on opening night at Houston Grand Opera: . This is the only place besides Prom where those long jacketed tuxes look appropriate.
If your Wedding Party will be in formal dress and you do not expect all of your guests to arrive in tuxes Black-Tie optional or Semi-Formal or After Five means that tuxes are not required, nor are long dresses. For men that means a tux or a dark suit for evening. Women can still wear long or short party dresses or that LBD with your dressiest accessories. Not often used at Weddings Business Formal is the same as Semi-Formal for him, but for women it suggests that women opt for more tailored dressy suits and dresses – nothing too slinky.
The rise in Destinations weddings brought the appellation Resort Formal. It does not mean white tuxes. Light colored suits and linens for men, women in colorful light dresses. Many couples use simpler designations like Festive Dress, or Party Dress for guests like my friend Arnie who always looks smashing in a bright silk vest, braces and trousers.