Things have changed a lot in Ireland since our parents tied the knot. The typical Irish wedding has gone from traditional, formal, predominantly church affairs to more casual celebrations, true to the unique style and taste of the couple getting hitched.
Irish wedding ceremonies are also more laid-back than they have been in the past, with more relaxed, civil or humanist ceremony set ups and receptions. You can now get married abroad and at home in more casual, outdoor settings, from cliff tops and walled gardens to rustic barns, old theatres and historic houses.
The etiquette rules of wedding guest attire
Of course, this also means that choosing what to wear to an Irish wedding (and what not to wear) can be a difficult task for guests. No one wants to put on something they don’t feel comfortable in or shell out on a dress they’ll never wear again (especially when multiple wedding invitations are coming your way over the course of the season). But you don’t have to dread wedding guest shopping – seriously.
The good news is wedding guest outfit etiquette, once restrained by rigid rules, now have more options than ever to wear to a wedding. But just what are the latest guidelines? Well, that’s what we’re here to explain.
1. Don’t stray from the dress code
While not every couple will specify a dress code, like black-tie or casual, check for one on the invitation anyway. If in doubt, it’s always best to ask the couple directly for clarification.
2. Don’t wear white
This won’t be the first time you’ve heard this particular piece of advice, but it still bears repeating: NEVER wear white to someone else’s wedding.
Wearing white is especially bad form if your dress has delicate lace detail or any other bridal materials. The last thing you want is the holy mortification that will inevitably ensue if you’re somehow mistaken for the bride on the big day. While you’re at it, you should probably err on the side of caution and steer clear of white-adjacent colours as well, like cream, champagne, light gold, silver or ivory.
Exercise caution while shopping for pastel-hued dresses too – these can often end of looking white in flash photography. If you’re dead set on choosing a light colour, stick to a non-bridal silhouette and material and opt for colour-contrasting shoes and accessories to keep things from looking too bridal.
On a semi-related note, if you can, try to get details on the style and colour of the bridesmaids so you can pick something that’s not quite as similar.
2. Think understated elegance
You can look like a bride upstager by not wearing white too, you know. Of course you want to look your best, but try to ensure your outfit won’t detract from the bride. Bright or neon-coloured maxi dresses with long trains “look at me (and not at the bride)”.
Likewise, overly short hemlines, sheer dresses, dresses with plunging necklines, sequined dresses and animal-print dresses are all likely to be steal attention away from the bride.
3. But don’t dress too casually
We all know jeans and a T-shirt is off the cards for all but the most casual weddings. But sometimes it’s not quite as black and white as this. The fabric of your wedding outfit is a good cue – something like a breezy cotton sundress is likely not appropriate for a wedding. After all, you want to look like you put some effort into your ensemble.
Also, choose materials that are durable enough to make it through the night, and won’t crease if there’s a car journey between the ceremony and reception.
4. Wear comfy shoes
As a wedding guest, you’re going to spend much of the day and evening on your feet, whether walking, standing or dancing. Be sure to find a pair of comfortable heels that are up to the challenge.
Shoes that are too high, dig into your toes and rub against your heels will leave you limping by dinnertime. Look for heels with padding under the ball of the foot and a block heel and an ankle strap to give you more support as you tear up that dance floor.
5. Avoid buying something you’ll wear once and never again
There will be lots of dancing, kids running about and walking around the venue, so you might want to rethink floor-length chiffon or satin as well as prints and ruffles that might date over time.
And hey, if you go full maxi and the bottom three inches of your dress does all torn up, don’t despair, you can always have it tailored to make a cute below-the-knee look that is still wedding appropriate.
6. Invest in a few choice accessories
There will come a time when you’ll be invited to at least four weddings a year. In one exhausting July, I actually had four weddings in one month! Gifts, accommodation and babysitting expenses alone can set you back up to €500 each time. And that’s before you even consider what you’re going to wear. My advice is to get some wardrobe staples and create a new outfit every time by changing your accessories, hair and makeup.
Hey, if Kate Middleton can get away with a bit of outfit recycling, so can you and I!
7. Use a small bag
Lugging around an oversized tote like you’re on the way to run some errands doesn’t exactly scream “special occasion”. Go for an embellished or floral clutch to lift a block-coloured midi dress dress and amplify your overall look.
8. Fascinators aren’t so fascinating anymore
I’m sad this day has come too, but unless you’re the mother of the bride, fascinators aren’t in the wedding-guest style arsenal anymore. Civil and outdoor ceremonies tend to be a little more casual, so a feather headpiece can look a little OTT. Look for more current, youthful accessories like an on-trend colourful necklace to jazz up your look. Jewelled and velvet headbands can still complete an outfit though, and don’t underestimate statement earrings either.
Still looking for inspiration? Our occasionwear section will help you decide what to wear to your next Irish wedding!