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Wedding Wear Conundrum

Monday, January 23, 2012
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From funerals to weddings, I'm glad my first week as an advice columnist is covering the range of life-cycle events. I'm expecting questions on naming ceremonies and Bar Mitzvahs any day now. Keep the questions coming, and if you like what you see, send your friends to the site, too. 

Dear Miriam,

I recently received an invitation to a wedding in Florida, and at the bottom of the invitation it said "formal attire required." I know what to wear for "black tie required" events, and I know my sweetie can wear his black suit when it says "black tie optional," and I've even figured out what to wear to a party when the evite says "casual chic." But what is "formal attire required?" And, if you'll permit me a second question, don't you agree that whatever "formal attire" is, I should go buy a new dress?

P.S.  I'm not sure if it matters, but the wedding is for a Jewish guy marrying a non-Jewish woman in a non-denominational ceremony.

Signed,
Wedding Wear Conundrum

Dear Wedding,

The last time I went to an event that specified "formal attire," I think it was my high school prom. It's not a classification I'm used to for weddings, but I think that also gives you some leeway to determine what makes you comfortable. I'd recommend a fancy dress, possibly sparkly and possibly floor-length, but neither of those are imperative. You can (almost) never go wrong with a black dress. Whatever you wear has to feel special and should be something you wouldn't wear just on a night on the town. Or, if it is, dress it up with special occasion jewelry. If it were your wedding, would you be happy to see a guest in it? As for your sweetie, either a black suit or tux would both be appropriate.

On the other hand, my husband points out that this is a question you could google and get a very specific answer, even including pictures of "formal attire."  Since you chose to write to me instead of doing that, my guess is there's something else going on here.  Perhaps it's more difficult than a google search because it's an interfaith wedding, or perhaps because it's in Florida (and who knows what they wear down there?!).  It might be because, as my own quick google research indicated, categories of dress and standards of dress code have been consistently relaxing for the past half a century, and more varied standards can sometimes mean too many options. Regardless, I feel confident in saying that as long as you wear something that covers you and is in good condition, there will be other guests there who are dressed more extreme on both the casual and formal ends of the spectrum.

Speaking of being covered, though, while it might not apply for this wedding, in general, for weddings with any sort of religious nature, modesty is another factor to keep in mind.  Particularly if the dress is strapless, many women will choose to cover up with a wrap during the ceremony.

Finally, weddings are a great opportunity to buy something new, so if your budget permits, by all means find a new dress for the occasion.  That being said, you're not the bride, and that means that a dress you wear to a wedding doesn't have to be retired after one use. If you have something in your closet that might work, you can also use this as excuse to indulge in some formal-attire-appropriate accessories.

Enjoy the festivities, and I'd love to hear how others interpret the dress code!

Be well,
Miriam

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