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Can Guests Wear White to a Wedding? Experts Weigh In – Martha Stewart

4 minutes, 12 seconds Read

Wearing white to a wedding that’s not your own has been frowned upon for more than a century, with the snowy hue (and all its closest relatives) reserved for the bride alone.

“The tradition of the white wedding dress began when Queen Victoria married Prince Albert in 1840,” says Kimberly Lehman, wedding and event planner at Love, Laughter & Elegance. “Victoria selected a white satin gown lavishly embellished with lace that was handcrafted in England. After the photographs of the wedding were widely published, brides began copying Victoria’s style by wearing white gowns to their own nuptials.”

But as a guest, if you fall in love with a stunning cream- or ivory-colored dress that would be just perfect for the next event on your calendar, do you really have to avoid it? We asked wedding planners and style experts from across the country to give us their most unbiased and unfiltered advice.

What Not to Wear

Except in select cases (which we’ll cover below), the experts agree that wedding guests should still stay away from white dresses—and especially any that are long, that are lacy, or that read even slightly bridal.

“The bride may or may not wear white (maybe ivory, maybe champagne), but it’s her color for that day. You don’t want to be mistaken for the bride in a white or lace gown,” says Brandi Hamerstone, owner and wedding planner at All Events Planned. “You don’t want to stand with the bride and look as though you were attempting to look bridal on someone else’s day. Even if that wasn’t your intention, that’s what people (and possibly the bride) will think, and who wants to be ‘that’ person?”

Other Colors That Are Off-Limits

If you’re a stickler for etiquette, then you should also avoid wearing colors similar to white, says bridal stylist Gabrielle Hurwitz. “That means ivory and cream, of course, but to be extra safe, I’d also think twice about silver, champagne, blush, and pale blue, which can read as white in photos,” she says. “If you’re unsure of a color, take several photos of the garment in different lighting setups (natural daylight, dim light, candlelight, etc) to see how it reads on camera.”

Dresses that look darker in photos than they do in real life can help you skirt the no-white rule, she says, especially in knee-length cocktail silhouettes. “Depending on the dress code, you might be able to get away with a knee-length pale blush or ice blue dress for cocktail attire since its length won’t look like a wedding dress, but I would still avoid fabrics like lace and tulle that can read more traditionally bridal,” says Hurwitz. She offers one simple guideline: “If you have to ask if something looks too white, chances are, it probably is.”

Jessica Lorren


Can Guests Wear Patterns That Include White?

Knee-length gowns that include white elements as part of a larger pattern are, in most cases, fine—this likely won’t distract from the bride and her gown. “A colorful, cocktail-length dress with a white lace overlay is acceptable,” says Lehman. “A casual sheath dress also works well, but if the dress is white and floor-length or full-skirted, it won’t work.”

Also on the yes list: patterns that include white or ivory details, like stripes, polka dots, or flowers; a white camisole under a jacket; a white shrug over a colorful cocktail dress; and large-scale prints on a white background (look for frocks with a 75-25 ratio of color to white). If you’re still unsure, “add a bright pop of color like a belt, earrings, or chunky statement jewelry, and stay away from updo-style hair,” says Wendy Collins, catering sales and conference services manager at Stowe Mountain Lodge.

Exceptions to the No-White Rule

Every rule has its moments to be broken, says Atlanta-based event planner Megan Seaton. “In this case, I find only one: It is OK to wear white if, and only if, the couple has specifically requested that white attire be worn,” she says. “In this case, the attire will be specifically mentioned in the invitation. If it’s not on there, don’t risk it.”

Myriam Michel, owner of M&M Elite Events—who points to Solange Knowles’s all-white wedding as one (gorgeous) example of expanding the shade beyond the bride’s gown—says your relationship with the couple can also guide you. “For my wedding, I had a good girlfriend wear a brocade ivory dress, which, for November, was tastefully done, and I didn’t feel upstaged,” she says. “Use your best judgment as you really don’t want hurt feelings.”

Leah Weinberg, wedding planner, owner, and executive planner at Color Pop Events, has also seen brides who aren’t wearing white request the color from their guests. “A friend of mine planned a wedding where the bride wore a fuchsia dress, and the couple asked all of their guests to wear white,” she says. “I personally think that’s such a fun idea and a great way to flip tradition on its head. It also made for really striking photos.”

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