There comes a time in every man’s life when summers become a seemingly endless succession of other people’s nuptials. If you haven’t reached that point yet, then rest assured: wedding season is coming. As is the constant deliberation over what to wear.
Sometimes, in the case of stricter dress codes, there’s a right answer. Sometimes there’s no one definitive right answer, but definitely a lot of wrong ones. And sometimes there’s a grey area the size of greater London that you have to navigate blindly. But if the invitation doesn’t tell you in as many words, then the other information therein – like location and time, of day and year – can give you a steer.
As will this guide to the five most common types of ceremonies. If there is any lawful impediment to the happy couple-to-be joining in holy matrimony, it won’t be your ungodly fashion crime.
The Traditional Church Wedding
Morning or formal day dress is the pre-6pm equivalent of white tie, and not something that you can mess with. The non-negotiables are: a black or grey morning coat with tails, a light-coloured waistcoat, a white or light-coloured shirt with a turn-down collar and double cuffs with cufflinks, a tie or cravat, grey or grey-and-black-striped trousers, and black shoes. A black or grey top hat is optional, outside of the royal enclosure at Ascot. A grey topper is, amusingly, considered ‘less formal’.
“Ties are preferred,” says etiquette guide Debrett’s, with no explanation necessary but watch any episode of Don’t Tell The Bride to see the alternative: cravat, matching pocket square and beige waistcoat horrorshows. “I prefer a black herringbone morning coat with a dogtooth trouser, paired with a double-breasted pink waistcoat,” says Oliver Spencer, who when not designing his eponymous fashion label is founder and creative director of Favourbrook occasionwear.
Whatever you do, don’t put a foot wrong. “It’s key not to wear brogues: opt for Oxfords instead,” adds Spencer, who also insists on an off-white or sky-blue shirt.
The Black Tie
AKA dinner suits (or jackets), tuxedos or cravate noire, black tie is less formal than white tie, in the same way that a grey top hat is less formal than a black one. It’s still pretty damn formal.
Your checklist: a dinner suit with contrast lapels in a fabric like grosgrain or silk and trousers with braiding down the leg (yes, even if the invitation just says ‘jackets’); a white dress shirt with turn-down collar (wing is for white tie), double cuffs and cufflinks, plus some kind of fancy front and often studs or concealed buttons; black shoes (Oxfords or other unadorned lace-ups). Oh, and a well-tied bow tie (not clip-on).
“Avoid wearing black and opt for midnight blue, which is far more interesting,” says Spencer. It’s also historically correct, and looks blacker under artificial light. The point of black tie is to create a uniform effect among the menfolk, but you can still subtly distinguish yourself through texture, adds Spencer. Or just peacock in a cream dinner jacket, but note that if you’re not the groom, his feathers will be ruffled.
The Modern City Wedding
Many weddings fall into the vague category of ‘a suit’. If the ceremony’s in the city though, then it’ll likely be on the slicker end of the spectrum. ‘No brown in town’ might no longer be binding, but the sentiment lingers. “To keep things smart, opt for a dark suit, but you can spice things up with your tie and handkerchief,” says Spencer. (Coordinate them, by all means, but never exactly match them – which is naff.)
Either way, the guiding principle is to not look like you came from work. “A full-three piece suit with peak lapels is more occasion-appropriate,” says Simon Holden, senior menswear designer at John Lewis. A waistcoat also helps you look vaguely put together when the jackets inevitably come off later in the evening, plus covers sweat. A reason to stick with a safer and smarter white shirt as opposed to perspiration-showing pastel.
Silhouette-wise, double-breasted is another viable alternative to your everyday two-piece, as is switching up the fabric from ubiquitous worsted wool to something snazzier like mohair or less stuffy like linen, depending on the desired vibe. And temperature.
The Country Wedding
It’s possible to have a very formal rural wedding, of course. But generally speaking, you’re outside the city limits in more ways than one – and free to wear brown shoes with no fear of a dressing down. Maybe even brogues or Derbies rather than Oxfords.
“For a country wedding, there’s more scope to wear separates rather than a full suit,” says Holden. “However, don’t break the boundaries too much. Adhere to a smart jacket and trousers with shirt and tie. You can incorporate a waistcoat that matches your jacket or trousers for an added element.” Just remember the venue isn’t Toad Hall.
You’ve also got leeway if not quite carte blanche to expand your palette beyond the conservative metropolitan standards of navy and grey. “In terms of colours, opt for warmer, more neutral tones with texture,” continues Holden. Mattified, beefier fabrics such as tweed, flannel or corduroy feel more casual and country-appropriate (and will stand up better to chunkier footwear), as do patterns like checks – not to mention florals.
The Destination Wedding
It’s contingent on the country in question but odds are it hasn’t been selected because there’s a high chance of rain. And unless the dress code is Hawaiian shirts, shorts and flip-flops, you’ll need to balance the requisite degree of formality with risk of heatstroke.
“A linen suit is the perfect option for a hot wedding,” says Holden. That in turn conjures images of old-timey southern gentlemen. “A fitted jacket with tapered trousers in grey or blue will keep the look modern. You can also explore cotton suiting to keep you cool.” Don’t discount seersucker, especially in a block colour rather than Colonel Sanders stripes. An unlined jacket will allow air to circulate – and sweat to evaporate.
Your cotton or linen shirt should have a softer collar to match your less structured tailoring. Accessories-wise, nothing overly silky or shiny that will reflect the sun – linen is a good choice for for ties and pocket squares too.