Fall/Winter Fashion
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What To Wear to a Winter Wedding

There’s been a lot of chatter in my Facebook Group lately about weddings coming up this winter, so I thought I’d update this old post about what to wear to a winter wedding.

similar gown

I generally think of winter weddings as dressier than summer weddings, but of course the formality of a wedding depends on the venue, time of day, and whatever dress code the bride and groom designate. Because they vary so widely, I’ve come up with winter wedding guest outfit ideas for four basic levels of formality: formal/black tie, black tie optional, cocktail, and dressy casual.

Wedding Guest Dresses: Formal/Black Tie

dress // wrap // shoes // bag // necklace // earrings

Weddings labeled formal or black tie require a floor-length gown. Darker colors and richer fabrics are nice for winter weddings, but there are lots of nice pastels and muted shades available this time of year as well.

In the formal outfit above, I selected a beautiful shade of cocoa, but that dress also comes in navy, burgundy, and black. It used to be that wearing black to a wedding was taboo, but not anymore. You just want to accessorize in a way that looks festive, not dour.

The shoes I paired with this dress are by Naturalizer, and they have a lower heel so they should be comfortable for dancing all night long. You could certainly wear a closed-toe shoe, if you prefer, but I have no problem with open toe shoes in the winter for a formal event. Just make sure to get a pedicure!

In the winter, some type of wrap is essential. I like a faux fur capelet because it adds a luxe element to the ensemble, and it also provides a bit of warmth.

Finally, don’t forget accessories. An evening bag is a must for a formal wedding, and sparkly jewelry to complement the dress is appropriate as well.

Shop Formal Wedding Guest Dresses:

Wedding Guest Dresses: Cocktail Attire

dress // wrap // shoes // bag // earrings

Cocktail attire generally indicates a knee-length dress, or a dressy midi dress works as well. You want something more glam than what you would wear to church or work, so think dramatic details or sparkle and shine.

I chose a sleek navy scuba sheath with a dramatic shoulder detail for this sample outfit. Navy is a classic choice for a wedding guest dress, and it’s less harsh than black.

I like to accessorize a navy dress with metallics, either silver or gold or pewter. I chose dramatic statement earrings and left the neckline bare, so as not to compete with the shoulder. I also chose closed toe pumps, but in a jute fabric that has adds some texture and shine to the outfit, since the dress is more of a matte fabric.

A pashmina or silk wrap will help keep your arms warm. Have your significant other drop you off at the door, if it’s a cold night. Of course, you may prefer a dress with sleeves during the wintertime, so I rounded up a bunch of other options below.

Shop Winter Cocktail Dresses:

Wedding Guest Dresses: Black Tie Optional

dress // wrap // shoes // bag // bracelet // earrings // lipstick

Black tie optional is in between formal and cocktail attire, and you will likely see a mix of both. If in doubt, it’s best to err of the side of being overdressed. In a situation like this, I usually ask around and see what others are wearing so I can ensure I don’t feel totally out of place.

I attended a black tie optional wedding a few years ago, and I looked high and low to find something that felt right to me. It was fall, not winter, so I didn’t really want to go all out with a lot of sparkle or a heavy velvet fabric. I finally settled on a black cocktail dress with a dramatic bow on the side.

Of course, that was fall. For a winter wedding, I might wear sheer black hose and pumps with that dress. And I would swap out the light wrap for a faux fur capelet, as in the graphic above.

Shop Black Tie Optional Dresses:

Wedding Guest Dresses: Daytime/Festive Attire

dress // similar coat // shoes // bag // necklace // bracelet // earrings // lip gloss

Typcially a daytime wedding or an event in a more casual location like a barn or at the beach is a dressy casual affair. For this look, I picked a dress that I might wear to church. I typically don’t wear colors that are super bold or bright to a wedding, as you don’t want to distract from the bride, but I think this magenta is pretty for winter.

Because this is a winter look, I went with a closed toe pump with so you have the option of wearing pantyhose if you wish. I would go with something very sheer and close to your skin tone.

When picking accessories for a dressy/casual wedding, you don’t want to go as blingy as you would for a more formal evening affair, but you definitely don’t want to overlook this part of your outfit either.

I chose some pieces with gold and pearl accents that complement the style and formality of the dress, and I went with a classy crossbody bag. You don’t need a fancy clutch for a daytime event, but you also don’t want to carry your everyday shoulder bag. And for outerwear, a dressy wool coat is most appropriate for this outfit.

Shop Dressy Casual Wedding Guest Dresses:

 

Complete the Look

I addressed appropriate coats and wraps, shoes, and accessories with each outfit, but these are important components of any wedding guest ensemble. Beware of focusing so much on finding the right dress that you forget to complete the look.

Wraps & Outerwear

Outerwear is an important consideration, especially for winter weddings. Nothing ruins a gorgeous dress faster than a big puffy parka. A wool coat will work over all but the most formal outfit, and a faux fur jacket is a really nice option to have.

If your dress is sleeveless, you may want a coat for getting to and from the car as well as a scarf or wrap to drape around your shoulders and arms during the event. Most venues will have a coat check for bulky outerwear that doesn’t complement your outfit.

Shoes

Sandals or strappy shoes are appropriate with more formal looks, even in the wintertime, but only go that route if you’re willing to bare your legs to the elements. If you want to wear hose, go with pumps or slingbacks. A d’orsay style is also a good option, as it tends to look a little more special than a basic pump, but it allows you to wear hose.

The color and level of formality will depend on your dress, but here are a bunch of options. Many of these come in other colors than what is pictured.

Bag & Accessories

I usually prefer a clutch or evening bag with cocktail dresses and formal gowns, and a dressy crossbody or shoulder bag with the dressy casual looks, but you can mix it up depending on what you have. It is not necessary to match your bag to your shoes, but it is certainly okay to do so.

Over the years, I’ve built up a small collection of bags such as the ones below, so now I almost have what I need for a dressy event. Metallics like silver and gold are the most versatile, but it’s nice to have a black option as well. This is also a good time to borrow from a friend, if you don’t have something and don’t want to go out and purchase something you may not use again.

I didn’t do a shopping widget for accessories, but I did link up some good options with each of the outfits above. The point here is to be intentional and don’t let your jewelry be an afterthought. It really can make or break the look. I usually choose one statement piece that doesn’t compete with a feature of my dress, and then the other pieces can support the statement piece.

So if the dress has a big shoulder detail or it’s really busy in the neckline, go with statement earrings and either a small pendant or no necklace at all. And then definitely add a bracelet.

If the dress has an open neckline and you feel like it needs a statement necklace, go with smaller supporting earrings and a complementary bracelet.

Also, leave your clunky smartwatch at home. If you don’t have a delicate, dressy watch that goes well with the rest of your jewelry, it’s best to go without.

Pantyhose: In or Out?

Finally, the great debate! Women tend to feel very strongly about pantyhose, and it tends to be a regional thing.

I maintain that pantyhose are a classy and appropriate choice for a dressy winter event, as long as you wear closed toe shoes. I generally recommend matching your skin tone, but you could potentially wear sheer black hose or fishnet stockings with a black dress and black shoes.

Quality definitely matters here, and I always recommend the Donna Karan line called The Nudes that are designed to give the look of bare skin. I also hear good things about Wolford, and they seem to have more options for darker skintones.

Whew! This is a long one, but I hope it’s helpful!

I am not an expert with any professional qualifications, but I do pay attention, and I think my advice here is pretty reliable. That said, a lot of these topics depend on your region of the country and the culture of your area, so take it all with a grain of salt. If in doubt, ask around, and see what others are wearing, but most of all, wear what makes you feel most comfortable, and have fun!

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photos: Alison Cornell

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34 thoughts on “What To Wear to a Winter Wedding

  1. What a happy post! I wish I had a winter wedding to attend. I will be attending a wedding in August though– my own! We’re both widowed so we’re having a casual outdoor wedding. It’s going to be informal, as in a son is roasting a pig in the ground and we’re having picnic-type foods, but we’ll still have a tent and dance floor and restroom facilities. My sweetie and I are trying to decide what to call our “dress code”. I want everyone to be as comfortable as possible in the August heat but I don’t really want cutoffs on my grandchildren. I envision men in shorts and aloha or linen shirts and women in dressy shorts, linen pants or casual dresses. I was thinking “Dressy Informal”. Is there a better phrase for this, Jo-Lynne? Didn’t know you’d become a wedding consultant, did you??? I hope you can do this type of post for spring and summer. I know lots of people will be attending weddings in the coming year.

    1. Oh my goodness! That is super exciting!!!!! So, so happy for you. There are all kinds of creative dress codes for weddings these days. I would Google and find some thing that sounds cute, but then tell your grandchildren what you want them to wear.😂

  2. Thanks for this great post! I’m hoping to get back to Australia for my brother’s wedding in March. It’ll be early Spring there but much of this is still relevant. Have a great weekend!

  3. This post is so great. I don’t have a wedding to attend until next fall but I’ve already started looking. It is SO hard to find dresses, shoes and etc. My daughter and I frantically looked for dresses last summer for an August wedding. The woman at DSW actually apologized to us for the lack of dressy shoes in stock. As a word of advice to anyone who has a wedding coming up – plan ahead!

    1. We just got my daughter’s prom dress at David’s bridal and saw they have quite a good selection of dressy shoes there and at reasonable prices too. I hate spending a lot on shoes they may only wear once or twice!

  4. Even though I don’t have any weddings to attend this year, I really enjoyed this post. It was nice to see the different dress codes broken down with examples of what to wear for each. The first picture in your post of the navy jeweled long gown actually inspired me to choose a similar style of navy dress for my daughter’s wedding a little while ago. And you are right about planning ahead. . . I had to order my shoes and it took 13 orders to finally find a cute, comfortable pair. It took four months to finally find the right ones.

  5. On the topic of pantyhose as I’m in Michigan, for me it’s all about the temperature outside and if my legs have any color so if I were to wear any skirt or dress right now, I’m wearing tights or pantyhose. Also with a good pair, you ca skip any additional shapeware as they smooth things out. Also an old dancers trick, if they are snug in the waist, gently cut halfway through the seam so you get an addtional amount of stretch. I don’t currently have any actual pantyhose but do have a pair of nude capezio tights that I’ll wear instead when I wear a longer dress with tall boots.

    1. Yes, good point about the shapewear. That’s the best part about wearing tights, IMO! Love that tip about the cutting the seam. I’ve always wanted to try that but afraid of messing up a good pair.

  6. Great post! I love all the selections and especially appreciate the accessories for different dresses. Really helpful and so many good options!

  7. Great post– so glad you emphasized the importance of the accessories!! Shoes , wraps, handbags– can all make or break a beautiful outfit.

  8. Even though I don’t have any weddings to attend, I enjoyed this post. I want to order one of those beautiful dresses! I enjoyed all the accessories and wraps, too, especially the Kate Spade bag and white fake fur wrap, and the white coat! Good explanation for the different types of dress codes too!

  9. This is such a helpful post – appreciate that you cover all aspects of the outfit, not just dress and shoes. We have a June wedding to attend this year so a spring/summer wedding post would also be helpful.

  10. Very helpful post! Thank you! Do you have any suggestions for mother of the bride dresses for a fall, outdoor wedding that will begin in the late afternoon? Do I look for knee length? Floor length? I’m already panicking especially after reading the comment below about how hard it was to find shoes. I thought the shoes would be the easy part!

  11. Great post! We have several weddings coming up this year, but not until spring and summer. I live in California and it can get very warm in the summer. I also would love a summer version of this post as two of my children are getting married this August! But I also am going to look at several of the dresses from this post! Thank you!

  12. Fabulous post with great information!! We just attended a Winter Wedding last weekend and have one more in February!! It’s such fun dressing up for these events! Love all your ideas and recommendations on the accessories!!
    Let’s celebrate!!

  13. I can’t agree more with all the comments about this great post!
    So true about the accessories and your comment about the puffer parka- we’ve all seen the puffer over a beautiful dress. If cost is an issue, there are great finds in thrift stores on gently worn wraps, nice accessories, etc

  14. I attended a “black tie optional” wedding in December. I wore a Illusion sheath dress that was similar to the one you shared and the sparkly naturalizer sandals. You did a great job os finding beautiful dresses and accessories for each dress code category

  15. Great post and so helpful. Glad to see the brand of panty hose if needed some day. I have a August wedding and need to try on dress I already have. Thought it had gold zipper but it’s silver so think I have a sandal too but not sure if the shorter kitten heel is still ok. They are a strappy silver sandal. I need to find a clutch next and check out my silver earrings. Thanks for reminding us to think ahead.

  16. So pretty!!!
    You helped me so much years ago when my
    daughter got married!
    I like that you explain all parts of outfit.
    Wrap, purse, shoes, hose and jewelry!

  17. It’s nice to know people are getting married and planning weddings! I don’t know anyone who is even close to it. My friends and I all have kids in their early to mid 20s and none of our kids are in serious relationships. My mom told my older son recently that she sure hopes he gives her a great-grandchild while she’s still young enough to “play with them.” 😄

  18. My wedding a few years ago was “cocktail attire.” Nearly every lady wore a black dress. The two that everyone remembers were a bright blue one and a bright yellow one. They were both fabulous. It made me think that next time I have an event to go to, I am going to go for color!

  19. Jo-Lynne,
    Thanks for all the great wedding attire info. I have a
    Spring and Fall wedding to attend this year so this will be really helpful!

  20. You look magnificent in that blue dress. Just beautiful. But all of these looks are really pretty. Great post!!

  21. Enjoyed the post, you look lovely in your dress. I recall when my son got married it was an evening wedding and I went to several stores trying to pick out a dress; I got so tickled at the sales lady that asked me if I was the mother of the bride or groom and when I told her she said her best advice would be to “wear beige and keep my mouth shut”. I ended up picking a longer navy sheath dress with a cap sleeve jacket and I found it at a different store.

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