Secret Dress Language


I’m visiting with family for my soon-to-be-cousin-in-law’s bridal shower. [Have I ever mentioned that I freakin' love my family?  It is true.]

While wrapping presents, my aunt and I got to talking about how hard it can be to find a dress to wear to a wedding.  The rules we follow1 are:

1. No black. (Not a funeral)

2. No white. (You are not the bride)

3. Don’t match or clash with the bridesmaids (this can be tricky for weddings of people you don’t know as well, but it helps to wear a dress that can’t be mistaken as a bridesmaid dress).

4. Nothing too revealing.

And then item 5 brought about a controversy.  My aunt said, “no fire engine red.”  I said, “Oh crap. I wore red to Karrie’s (cousin) wedding, orange to Jamie’s (cousin) wedding, and red again to Matt and Carrie’s (finlaws) wedding.”

My aunt Chris, having been to two out of three and having seen pictures from the third, said, “All those dresses were fine. It’s a particular shade of bright red that I think belongs in a club, not at a wedding.”

Then I remembered that at Matt and Carrie’s wedding, someone told me that wearing a red dress signifies having slept with the groom.  Has anyone else heard of that?2

Anyway, the fact that Chris follows a no-red rule, and I do not, makes me worry that I’m too old-fashioned in sticking to ruling out black dresses for weddings.  I just can’t get over the feeling that black dresses are funereal; not fitting with the celebration and joy of weddings. 

This is not to say you can’t celebrate in a black dress, look at New Year’s Eve.  But you know what else you are doing on New Year’s? Marking the end of another year gone.  Singing “Auld Lang Syne,” which is an effing depressing song.  Staring into the face of mortality, now that Dick Clark is finally aging. Black fits NYE.  It doesn’t fit weddings.

Anyone else in my anti-black boat?  Or do I need to hip to the new world order?

1Note I said “we follow.” I am not saying you are a bad person if you’ve violated any of these rules.
2To answer the begged question… MIND YOUR OWN BIZ MARKIE.


  1. I definitely get the no-black inclination, but I have to say that I have worn black to many weddings in the past couple of years. One reason is that I have a long and a knee-length black dress in a dressy jersey material that fit me in a range of sizes, so I’ve saved $ by being able to wear these a lot for the more formal weddings I’ve been to. The other is that I have been a soloist at most of these weddings (I’m a side-job singer with a normal 9-to-5). I always ask the bride or groom what I should wear and they generally don’t have a preference, so I feel like black is the safest bet since it’s neutral and I’ll be up front and don’t want to clash/match with the wedding party. Black is sort of the default musicians’ uniform anyway, so as a guest/musician this seems to be the way to go. I have worn black to weddings where I haven’t performed, but I always try to make it more festive with a colorful wrap and/or earrings. Honestly though, I’ve worn those dresses so much now that I think I need to retire them! The next round will probably be more colorful. I do love me some red!

    • A colorful wrap changes EVERYTHING. I just told my aunt, who was worried she’d want to take off her jacket at her daughter-in-law’s shower, but didn’t want to be wearing all black, to look for a colorful scarf. Thanks!

  2. Not a big fan of all black at weddings, but I did wear a black AND white dress to a wedding last month and got tons of compliments on it. It was a popular combination, it turns out. Several guests wore black and white dresses. So did the bride.

    No one seemed to mind a damn bit.

  3. Black is not fun for me. I think wearing bright colors shows you’re celebrating and thats what a wedding should be. A brightly colored fun party. I suppose if you know the bride is having something more formal, you can scale it back accordingly

  4. Personally I have no problem with white or black. If you think you are outshine me, you are severely mistaken. I’ve told people our loose colour scheme and said they can clash or co-ordinate.

    I really want people to feel comfortable and black is often a comfortable choice.

  5. I have got to admit, I wore a black dress to a wedding last weekend. I do know what you mean, it can be rather funereal and if I’d had something suitable in another colour, I would have worn that. But I thought it was ok, because I a) cleared it with the bride (a close friend) first and b) wore a lot of colourful accessories. I also felt, that for a late September, registry office wedding with a chic city reception afterwards, black was not wildly inappropriate. I probably wouldn’t wear black to a height of summer, church/country wedding though.

    Personally, for my own wedding, I don’t really care if guests wear black or white. As Anna says, if they think they will outshine the bride, they are mistaken. My elder sister has already told me she is wearing a cream coloured suit she owns. If anyone mistakes her for the bride, given that she is 16 years older than me, has two small children and has been married for 10 years, and I will be there, swanning about in a wedding dress, they should probably not have been invited. My mother will be wearing an immensely chic black linen dress with a matching black and white floral coat and a black hat. I think she will look fabulous.
    I think if a guest told me she was wearing a floor length white dress, that would give me pause and I would probably ask her to reconsider, but other than that I don’t really mind what people wear, so long as they make at least a bit of an effort.

  6. I agree with many of the above comments.

    1. I have also worn black to sing at weddings. It’s “safe.” It’s like an unofficial uniform!
    2. I also tend to think that the cut/style of the dress AND the season & formalness of the wedding matter, as stated above. The more formal, the more OK black is (in my opinion). And wearing a black dress to an August wedding seems strange, but again the cut/style of the dress could make a difference.
    3. I also have a black AND white dress! It’s more like a white dress with a big black damask pattern on it. It’s my go-to for weddings no matter the season because it’s strapless, so I can wear it strapless in the warmer months OR throw on a brightly colored sweater and some tights with it in the colder months.


  7. I just read Miss Manners’ guide to weddings and she also includes a no white, black, or red attire. I was confused by why red was included but you’ve cleared it up with the ‘advertise I slept with the groom’ message ;)

  8. Wearing black was supossed to mean you don’t approve of the marriage

  9. Hmm. Two people wore white to my wedding (besides me). I was mad at the one I don’t like anyway. I didn’t care about clashing w bridesmaids, but that’s cool of you to consider.

    The one person there who had slept with the groom wore a black and white pattern. It was very pretty. I don’t mind red, either.

  10. I wear black to weddings a lot.
    And then I drink, dance, and party, so I’m definitely celebrating! No mistake about it!

  11. You know, slept with the bride and/or groom (or wanted to sleep with the bride and/or groom) could bring up a whole other category of wedding etiquette.

  12. I asked my bridesmaids to wear black cause I like it and think it looks classy. We had a night time fall wedding with an artsy vibe, so I think it worked great. And I wore black to my sister-in-law’s wedding, but I checked with her first before doing it. She said didn’t mind and the dress was comfortable and looked nice, so….

    I had NO idea about the red thing though. Good to know!

  13. @Mouse: I am a little surprised that two people wore white to your wedding. And after Labor day. Not that I care about the Labor Day thing at all, ’cause I would wear it when I feel like it (though NEVER EVER to a wedding!) but I thought a lot of people followed that. Anyhow….totally surprised about the white thing at your wedding. :(

  14. I wore a black dress with white accents to a wedding once. My mom was really irritated with me. I also wore red to a wedding once (and no, had not slept with the groom!). I had no idea how many rules of etiquette I broke.

  15. So funny! Maybe there’s a regional element to this too. I wore black to an NYC wedding last year, and I sure wasn’t the only one. (But it was also a September evening wedding with a cocktail party – just the type of thing I’d usually wear black to anyway.)

  16. I’m with you on no white, nothing too revealing, and trying not to wear the same color as the bridesmaids. But I’m not quite sure about the bright color thing. I guess it depends on the time of year. Never heard about red dresses meaning you slept with the groom! How horrifying.

    But I have to respectfully disagree about black. I don’t think of black as a morning color — sure people still wear black to funerals, but it is worn in so many different contexts now. Ever since Chanel introduced the LBD, black hasn’t been so heavily associated with death.

  17. I think it’s find for guests to wear black to a wedding, especially when accessorized with color. I do find it a little funereal when the actual bridal party wears black.

    White is a no no in my book. No, you won’t actually outshine the bride, but it’s nice to defer to her anyway. (white+other color is fine)

  18. I asked my mom about black to weddings. She said, “Well, we didn’t used to. And people my age just don’t.” (She’s 78, BTW) I said, “Mom, what would you think if you saw someone in black now?” She said, “I’d think they were younger than I am.”

    But we agree, why risk white? Red, however, go head.

  19. Pingback: I Love NYE | HitchDied

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