There comes a time in every man’s life when summers become a seemingly endless succession of other people’s nuptials. If you haven’t reached that point yet, then rest assured: the summer wedding season is coming. As is the constant deliberation over wedding attire.
Sometimes, in the case of stricter dress codes, there’s a right answer. Sometimes there’s no one definitive right answer, but definitely a lot of wrong ones. And sometimes there’s a grey area the size of greater London that you have to navigate blindly.
Don’t worry. If the invitation doesn’t tell you in as many words, then the other information therein – like location and time, of day and year – can give you a steer. As will this guide to what to wear for every summer wedding you have lined up.
5 Expert Summer Wedding Style Rules
These aren’t just pretty little pieces of paper. A wedding invitation is the first clue when it comes to pulling together an on-point look for the occasion. Make sure you pore over the details and check to see if the soon-to-be-wed couple has specified dress code.
“The most important thing to bear in mind when attending a wedding is that you respect the dress code on the invitation,” says celebrity stylist Joe Ottaway. “I’d suggest erring on the smart side, too.” Mind this man’s words – his past credits include dressing the likes of David Gandy and Jude Law.
Review The Venue :
No, not on TripAdvisor. Before deciding on what to wear to a wedding, it’s worth considering where it’s taking place.
“If it’s a beach ceremony in the Bahamas then a light-coloured suit, white short-sleeved shirt and loafers are worn sockless are ideal,” says style writer Miriam Boutell. “Not so, however, if the nuptials are scheduled for Birmingham in May, where a darker look offering more coverage would serve you better.”
Keep It Personal :
Just because a wedding’s dress code is strict, doesn’t mean you have to shed all personality. “Whether formal or informal, you need to ensure you’re suitably dressed but still remain true to your personal style,” says style expert Jo Harris, who has worked with the likes of Harrods and Burberry.
Add a neatly folded printed pocket square or a contrast-sole brogue, subtle touches to customise your look with something personal and memorable.
Never Upstage the Groom :
While ‘doing you’ is sure to win style points, it’s only polite to stop short of stealing the spotlight from the main man. “The most common rule for female wedding guests is to refrain from upstaging the bride – and the same applies to men,” says Farfetch menswear editor Tony Cook.
That means no full morning dress for relatively informal weddings and definitely stowing away that neon pink suit for another soirée (or, perhaps more fittingly, a fancy-dress party).
Pick Your Fabrics Wisely :
Choosing the right suit fabric is one of the most important considerations any time of the year, but it becomes particularly important for summer weddings when rising temperatures and sweat patches can conspire to undo your hard sartorial work.
Breathable materials like linen, cotton and blends of the two serve well for weddings in hotter climes, while merino wool and cotton-wool blend styles are preferable if the marriage is taking place somewhere where summer heat is relatively moderate.
The Traditional Wedding :
Morning or formal day dress is the pre-6pm equivalent of white tie, and not something that you can mess with. The non-negotiables are: a black or grey morning coat with tails, a light-coloured waistcoat, a white or light-coloured shirt with a turn-down collar and double cuffs with cufflinks, a tie or cravat, grey or grey-and-black-striped trousers, and black shoes. A black or grey top hat is optional, outside of the royal enclosure at Ascot. A grey topper is, amusingly, considered ‘less formal’.
“Ties are preferred,” says etiquette guide Debrett’s, with no explanation necessary but a quick Google search to see the alternative: cravat, matching pocket square and beige waistcoat horror shows. “I prefer a black herringbone morning coat with a dogtooth trouser, paired with a double-breasted pink waistcoat,” says Oliver Spencer, who when not designing his eponymous fashion label is the founder and creative director of Favourbrook occasionwear.
Whatever you do, don’t put a foot wrong. “It’s key not to wear brogues: opt for Oxfords instead,” adds Spencer, who also insists on an off-white or sky-blue shirt.
The Modern City Wedding :
Many weddings fall into the vague category of requiring ‘a suit’. If the ceremony’s in the city though, then it’ll likely be on the slicker end of the spectrum. ‘No brown in town’ might no longer be binding, but the sentiment lingers. “To keep things smart, opt for a dark suit, but you can spice things up with your tie and handkerchief,” says Spencer. (Coordinate them, by all means, but never exactly match them – which is naff.)
“Either way, the guiding principle is to not look like you came from work,” says Simon Holden, senior menswear designer at John Lewis. In the case of a three-piece, a waistcoat also helps you look vaguely put together when the jackets inevitably come off later in the evening, plus covers sweat. A reason to stick with a safer and smarter white shirt as opposed to perspiration-showing pastels.
Silhouette-wise, double-breasted is another viable alternative to your everyday two-piece, as is switching up the fabric from ubiquitous wool to something snazzier like mohair or less stuffy like linen, depending on the desired vibe. And the temperature.
The Black Tie Wedding :
AKA dinner suits (or jackets), tuxedos or cravate noire, black tie is less formal than white tie, in the same way that a grey top hat is less formal than a black one. It’s still pretty damn formal.
Your checklist: a dinner suit with contrast lapels in a fabric like grosgrain or silk and trousers with braiding down the leg (yes, even if the invitation just says ‘jackets’); a white dress shirt with turn-down collar (wing is for white tie), double cuffs and cufflinks, plus some kind of fancy front and often studs or concealed buttons; black shoes (Oxfords or other unadorned lace-ups). Oh, and a well-tied bow tie (not clip-on).
“Avoid wearing black and opt for midnight blue, which is far more interesting,” says Spencer. It’s also historically correct, and looks blacker under artificial light. The point of black tie is to create a uniform effect among the menfolk, but you can still subtly distinguish yourself through texture such as velvet, adds Spencer. Or just peacock in a cream dinner jacket, but note that if you’re not the groom, his feathers will be ruffled.
The Country Wedding :
It’s possible to have a very formal rural wedding, of course. But generally speaking, you’re outside the city limits in more ways than one – and free to wear brown shoes with no fear of a dressing down. Maybe even brogues or Derbies rather than Oxfords.
“For a country wedding, there’s more scope to wear separates rather than a full suit,” says Holden. “However, don’t break the boundaries too much. Adhere to a smart jacket and trousers with a shirt and tie. You can incorporate a waistcoat that matches your jacket or trousers for an added element.” Just remember the venue isn’t Toad Hall.
You’ve also got leeway if not quite carte blanche to expand your palette beyond the conservative metropolitan standards of navy and grey. “In terms of colours, opt for warmer, more neutral tones with texture,” continues Holden. Mattified fabrics feel more casual and country-appropriate (and will stand up better to chunkier footwear), as do patterns like checks – not to mention florals.