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.
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
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
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
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.
Shop Black Tie Optional Dresses:
Wedding Guest Dresses: Daytime/Festive Attire
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.
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