Why Guys Have It Tougher When Dressing for Wedding Season

Ideally, your ensemble will excite nothing more than quiet admiration.

The wedding scene in the 1940 film Philadelphia Story, starring James Stewart, Cary Grant, and Katharine Hepburn.

Photographer: Courtesy Everett Collection

Ah, wedding season, such a vibrant phase of the year: the joy, the jubilation, the Marriott security staff politely but sternly objecting to the racket of the post-reception after-after-party. And a time devoted to scrutinizing one’s own impulses about clothing. 

With respect to that last matter, I daresay the bride’s got it easy: She’s got a go-to uniform. According to the ridiculous dictates of tradition, as long as it’s white, it’s all good, and anyone who tells her otherwise deserves to be summarily terminated.

Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe on June 29, 1956.
Photographer: ullstein bild/ullstein bild

Dangerous though it is to say, I suggest that wedding styling is far more hazardous for the guys. The first force to reckon with is the question of the wedding colors. All bourgeois American adults are burdened with the knowledge that weddings tend to feature themed colors these days, as if they were sovereign nations or NHL teams. Retailers report a trend toward groomsmen who follow the lead of many bright squads of bridesmaids by wearing suits and accessories that, while not identical, hang out in similar color fields.

This is a welcome development, as it spares guests the pain of witnessing what seems to resemble a boy band at the side of the altar. Dudes afforded such freedom—operating under instructions simply to find a lilac necktie, for instance—sometimes get anxious about this responsibility. Buck up, fellas. Take the bride-approved swatches to a good store and seek the counsel of a patient sales assistant. But be ready to walk out if the sales assistant's advice provokes a bad gut reaction. 

But, OK, let’s say you’re not in the wedding party. Heck, let’s imagine you’re just the plus-one of a guest you met in a bar. You’ve still got to wear something. Question is: what?

If the invitation indicates formal dress, you can do this on autopilot. Just avoid violating any cardinal rules of evening wear, and you’re good to go. White dinner jackets are debonair in summer; the catch is, you don’t want them actually to be white. Aim for ivory or ecru or another shade that will complement your alabaster tuxedo shirt.

Solange Knowles and her fiancée, music video director Alan Ferguson, do white right as they arrive for their rehearsal dinner at the Felicity Street Methodist Church on November 15, 2014, in New Orleans.
Photographer: Josh Brasted/WireImage

If you are wearing a suit, you want the look to be appropriately celebratory—festive but not clownish. Resist the urge to pile up accessories: You don’t need tie bars, bright pocket squares, complicated socks, lapel pins, and a walking stick to do the trick. But do pack some extra handkerchiefs in case someone needs to dab away tears of joy during the vows or blot away barbecue sauce at the rehearsal dinner. 

Ideally, your ensemble will not excite any comments beyond quiet admiration. If you want to wear shorts with a blazer or sports jacket, great, just make sure that mother doesn’t catch you drinking. If you are self-made at a daytime wedding, feel free to wear your loudest tartan pants, as seen recently and infamously by two annoying-looking guests at the wedding of Pippa Middleton. If you are Scottish and in Scotland, wear a kilt, fine, but please deviate from tradition and wear an undergarment, lest you accidentally flash the groom’s grandmother on the dance floor.

These are not the plaids you’re looking for: Guests seen arriving at St Mark's Church for the Wedding of Pippa Middleton and James Matthews on May 20, 2017, in Englefield, England. 
Photographer: Neil P. Mockford/GC Images

The worst thing in the world is taking off your tie for the reception. If you never put on a tie in the first place—fine, that’s your right, and you never pretended otherwise. If you loosen your tie after the ceremony, I won’t carp; odds are, I never tightened mine up in the first place. But if, before enjoying the overdone fillet of grilled salmon, you remove your necktie and begin roaming the premises in your boring suit with your point-collar white shirt, then you have removed not just your tie but a bit of your dignity.

Still, I heartily endorse other prereception costume changes, such as slipping into dance-floor court shoes. After the ceremony, and if the venue’s dress code and the bride’s sensibilities allow, it’s also fun to go for broke and exchange your church suit for a high-end track suit and matching fur-lined slippers. 

Many groomsmen these days find themselves wearing cloth flowers at their lapels, perhaps custom-made in the wedding colors. But remember that boutonnières are cheerful to wear even if you’re not a member of the wedding party. A fertile pop of flora on the lapel conveys conviviality and gives you something about which to make small talk when cornered by boring, overbearing cousins.

Any half-decent tailor can sew a loop on the back of your lapel to steady the stem. If you’re a normal guest, give the local florist advance warning that you want a cornflower or carnation; roses are corny. If you forget to plan ahead, unshyly snag a bud from a centerpiece. If you are the groom, do whatever the mother of the bride tells you. 

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