The When, What, and Why of Dress

The all-important decision regarding the formality of your wedding influences all other planning decisions. The formality of the wedding is instrumental in completing the look and achieving the vision you desire. Traditional guidelines will get you moving in the right direction, but this is the twenty-first century and modern brides and grooms are forging their own paths.

Traditional Guidelines for a Formal Wedding

What are the guidelines for a formal wedding? The traditional guidelines for a formal wedding are as follows.

  • Ceremony held in a church, synagogue, or luxury hotel • Reception held in a luxury hotel, private club, or private estate

  • 100 or more guests

  • Engraved or printed invitations with traditional wording

  • The bride wears a floor-length gown with a chapel-length or sweeping train, fingertip veil or hat, and gloves

  • The groom wears cutaway or tails

  • Bride and groom each have between three and six attendants

  • Bridesmaids wear floor-length gowns

  • Male attendants wear matching cutaway or tails

  • Guests wear formal attire or eveningwear

  • Sit-down dinner

  • Live entertainment

  • Elaborate floral and event design

  • Luxury transportation

  • Fact

    Very formal weddings follow the same guidelines as formal weddings but with a heightened sense of formality and drama. Expect that a very formal wedding would have 200 or more guests, between four and twelve attendants each, and a white-tie dress code. The bride's dress, the wedding party's attire, and the guests' attire should reflect this very formal style.


    What constitutes a semiformal wedding? The traditional guidelines for a semiformal wedding are as follows.

  • Held in a church, synagogue, private home, or outdoors

  • Reception held at ceremony location, club, garden, restaurant, hotel, or home

  • Fewer than 100 guests

  • Invitations may be printed with traditional or personalized wording

  • The bride wears a floor- or cocktail-length gown with a fingertip veil or hat

  • The groom wears a tuxedo, sack coat, or a suit and tie

  • Bride and groom each have between one and three attendants

  • Bridesmaids wear matching floor- or cocktail-length dresses

  • Male attendants wear matching tuxes or suits and ties

  • Guests wear evening or business dress

  • Meal can be anything from sit-down to buffet to light refreshments

  • Live band or disc jockey

  • Scaled-down floral arrangements and event design

  • Informal

    What constitutes an informal wedding? The traditional guidelines for an informal wedding are as follows.

  • Daytime ceremonies held at a home, community center, hotel, or in a judge's chambers

  • Fewer than fifty guests

  • Printed or hand-written invitations with personalized wording

  • The bride wears a simple gown, suit, or cocktail-length dress with no veil or train

  • The groom wears a dark business suit and tie

  • Bride and groom each have one attendant

  • Maid/matron of honor wears a street-length dress

  • Best man wears a suit and tie

  • Reception usually held at a home, ceremony site, or a restaurant

  • Simple meal or light refreshments are served

  • Simple floral designs

  • New Rules for Weddings

    Do I have to follow these traditional guidelines when planning my wedding? With these traditional guidelines in mind, you must remember that this is the new millennium and originality reigns supreme. A meticulously planned reception with crystal chandeliers, amazing floral arrangements, the best photographer money can buy, and a $7,000 gown can easily take place on a rustic ranch. Do you call that formal or informal? That's the beauty of the creativity today's brides, wedding planners, and designers bring to the table. Let your wedding speak for you and be a reflection of you.

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