This past weekend I had the privilege of attending my dear friend’s wedding in NYC. It was an extraordinary event – so beautiful and tasteful and full of love – with a formal wedding attire requirement. My most favorite part of attending any wedding is the dress code! When I saw ‘formal’ on the invite, I was so intrigued and ran straight for my sister’s Emily Post etiquette books to learn more. Would Evan need to wear a tux? Did this mean I needed a gown (yes, please I hope it meant a gown!!)? What about hair, makeup, shoes?! Oh boy – this was going to be fun.

Here’s what I learned from Emily Post for formal evening wedding attire (6pm onward):

  • Men: Tuxedo or a dark suit
  • Women: Long evening dress or dressy cocktail dress

Here’s why you should care about following wedding etiquette when it comes to dress code. The bride and groom and their families have gone out of their way to host you at an enormously expensive event, with an aesthetic and ambience they have carefully and delicately chosen. In response to this, you should wear the attire they’ve requested – out of respect and gratitude for being included in this special day. 

In New York City, of course, anything goes. There were folks in cocktail dresses, hats, crazy glasses, you name it. But that’s New York, and I don’t normally recommend a wedding to be the place to let your freak flag fly – unless that is called for. Last year I went to a ‘black tie optional, dress to impress’ wedding, which actually meant ‘anything goes, so go for it’. 

For Evan, we decided a dark three-piece suit would be best since he already owned a perfectly-cut one, and since we were not able to spend money on a tuxedo. We paired it with a dark bowtie and shoes, and it worked perfectly! Most men at the wedding wore suits, as well. I chose a gown (rented from Rent the Runway) that was a fit and flare (my most flattering silhouette) and a mix of tea and floor length in order to land somewhere between ‘long evening or dressy cocktail dress’. My friend (the bride) almost always wears black and has an edgy side, so I knew a black gown with a hint of red would be acceptable. A dark floral is also a great way to go during fall and winter months, but make sure you give thought to the bride’s personal aesthetic to guide your choices. You don’t want to stand out too much! 

As for accessories, vintage rhinestones, sparkly stilettos (Steve Madden) and a simple black clutch (Banana Republic) will never fail you. I wore my hair in a hollywood glamor-curl and went all in on a deep red lip (MAC and Georgio Armani) that matched the flowers of the dress. 

Good luck with your fall and winter wedding seasons! Trust your gut, call on the bride’s aesthetic and err on the side of Emily Post when guiding your attire choices. You won’t be sorry, and the bride will be grateful.

P.S. Check out my post on dressing to flatter your silhouette with wardrobe classics and my black tie wedding post!