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Will You Upstage the Bride?

Sometimes, that stunning vintage dress you just snagged on The RealReal is better suited elsewhere.

Will You Upstage the Bride?
"Bridesmaids" (Universal Pictures)

I recently stumbled upon a video on my TikTok Explore page where Angela Pham posed an important question to her followers. She began by outlining her dilemma, saying: “Please help: I need your opinion on this very controversial matter,” then later pondered whether a newly purchased vintage Carolina Herrera gown would upstage the bride at an upcoming wedding. The gown had a black bodice and a cream-colored drop waist that flowed into a dramatic silhouette. This sparked a controversial debate, with some stitches in favor of and others firmly opposing the idea.

If you're gearing up for an upcoming wedding and find yourself wondering if your attire choice is appropriate, consider these expert-recommended tips from various wedding industry professionals. The last thing anyone wants on such a significant day is to deal with snarky comments about inappropriate outfits or the feeling that your look is upstaging the bride. While some brides may not be worried or bothered by their guests’ attire, that’s not always the case. A set of guidelines and expert advice can offer valuable clarity on this delicate subject matter.

Don’t Wear White Unless They Say It’s OK

Shelley Brown, bridal style expert and former senior editor at The Knot says, “The general rule of thumb has always been: don't upstage the bride (or the couple). Not wearing white is the most obvious guideline that falls under this umbrella, as white attire competes with the bride's gown (if she's wearing white, and if she's wearing a gown). And avoid light pastel colors that can look white in flash photography unless otherwise requested.” That said, the nebulous “rules” and wedding fashion traditions have become less strict and some couples even request guests to wear white or hues of white with a theme in mind. But if it’s not explicitly outlined in the couples’ invitations, steer away from white or any similar hues.

Be Mindful Of Other People’s Cultures and Religions

Before attending a wedding in a church or a different cultural setting, it’s important to do your research and determine which colors and silhouettes are considered inappropriate and/or disrespectful. Giselle Dubois, CEO at SPINA Bride has dressed and styled thousands of brides from all over the world and advises guests to stay informed and to embrace the cultural settings. “In some cultures, the color red is seen as an inappropriate choice as it is too captivating and competes with the bride who is trying to shine,” she says. “Also, avoid wearing any dramatic trains. The bride is the only one who should be wearing a train.”

Pay Attention to the Wedding Invite and Dress Code

A wedding invitation often offers insight into the expected vibe and setting of the day itself. Some couples even provide a dress code or lookbook to help their guests figure out what to wear. Giselle notes that wedding invitations play a crucial role in setting the tone, indicating the event’s formality. A recent trend involves incorporating dress code “themes,” which may include color palettes for guests to follow.

Put in Effort

Although it’s important to be comfortable in your look, there’s a fine line where being excessively casual or unkempt can be a concern. Do not wear sweatpants, jeans, t-shirts, or any casual outfits unless otherwise stated by the couple. Rachel Birthistle, the founder and CEO of The Lake Como Wedding Planner and Rachel Birthistle Events, has seen it all while planning luxurious global weddings and events. She mentions, “Thankfully, I haven't had to ask any guests to leave for dressing inappropriately or sloppily, but there have been instances where some guests were overly casual or wore white. In such cases, we've had to digitally edit those guests out of the photos."

When in Doubt, Just Ask

Feeling confused and overwhelmed about what to wear to a wedding is completely understandable. Especially if you’re a wedding guest novice or uncertain about the appropriate attire, don’t hesitate to ask the person who extended the invitation or their wedding planner. They will likely appreciate the effort you made about asking what you should wear, as it will help avoid any potential tension on the big day.

In Conclusion

The amount of thought couples put into their dress codes and looks has evolved tremendously over the years. Shelley explains that many weddings now are no longer than a simple evening soiree but multiday events (that come with various looks for all of the festivities) can be challenging and costly. “There's more pressure on guests to comply with the couples' wedding vision. I have mixed feelings about this: I think if you're an aesthetic person and fashion is very important to you, it can be easy to obsess over details like what your guests will wear. I also think that weddings can be very expensive for guests (especially if they're in far-flung destinations), and it's important to show your guests grace—especially where budget is concerned,” she shares.

Upstaging the bride should never be an intention as the guest. If that’s the case, perhaps you should evaluate the friendship or relationship to see why this could even be an issue—or debate whether you should even attend. While feeling confident and comfortable in what you wear is important, ultimately it’s about celebrating a significant milestone with the couple.

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