What to Wear to Officiate A Wedding

Suzi Chin for Maggy Boutique Ruched Faux Wrap DressWhat should one wear if you’re officiating a wedding? Reader W has a unique question, so I thought I’d tackle (even if it is a bit farther than our usual topics)…

I suppose because I’m an attorney and all-around upstanding citizen, I’ve been asked to officiate the wedding of a very good friend this summer! I’ve actually performed one wedding already and I wore a somber black suit that was appropriate for the occasion. However, this time around the wedding and reception will be held during the day at a Northeast yacht club in July (meaning WARM) and the dress code is more of a summery semi-formal. Probably not a black wool suit occasion! I was hoping for your advice on what would be appropriate dress. Naturally, I’ve asked the bride what she thinks and was no help at all (“Wear whatever you want!”), but I still want to be respectful of the bride with NO possibility of upstaging/distracting and taking into consideration I will be feature in the ceremony photos. My initial thoughts are no wacky colors, sleeves or a blazer which can be removed after the ceremony, and minimal accessories. Does this mean I should wear a shapeless beige sack? Your thoughts would be greatly appreciated!

First, congratulations; I think that’s quite an honor. I might first ask what the wedding colors are, and if the bride wants you to work within those parameters. Here are my tips:

1) Wear black. Here in NYC, most women wear black for everything, including weddings, but I know in other parts of the country it’s poor form to wear a black dress to a wedding.  I’d talk to the bride about it if you feel uncomfortable — considering that the groom and his men will likely be in black tuxes, it will be a nice visual for all the pictures.

2) If not black, go for a sedate, dark color. If you’re really not comfortable wearing black to a wedding, think navy or gray.  You’re doing something serious and studied, and I think your clothes should reflect that.  Another reason to go for a somber color: as the officiant, you should blend into the scenery. It is the couple’s day, after all — all eyes should be on them when they’re standing before you. Ask the bride what the bridesmaids are wearing and try to choose a color in that family — if you can get a swatch of their fabric that would be best to make sure it doesn’t clash.

3) Wear a dress. This is my $.02, but you do want to be festive! If possible I would stick with a pencil or straight skirt, versus a wider, fuller skirt, but that’s me. A sheath dress would be great, or the Nordstrom faux wrap dress by Suzi Chin (pictured in black above; available in other colors and plus sizes also) would be a great one to wear to officiate, provided the cleavage isn’t too low. (See above re: all eyes should be on the couple.) Maybe I’m crazy but a knee-length dress sounds better than a floor-length dress, but the bride will know better.  If the bridesmaids are wearing shorter dresses, I would particularly consider a knee-length dress.

4) Consider a sparkly wrap in a matching sedate color.  This can be a great investment, as you can reuse it for black tie events — but this way if you have a sparkly wrap with you and feel underdressed, you can wear the wrap around your shoulders.  I’ve pictured a gorgeous one by Armani (for $535 at Saks), but there are much less expensive ones, such as these solid-colored sparkly ones at Yoox for $118, or this lace and sequin one at Macy’s for $38 (available in black and champagne).

5) Wear a pair of sparkly shoes.  If you’re wearing a sedate dress, your accessories can be a bit more on the fun side — sparkly shoes that you can dance in will be fine.

6) Don’t wear satin or other bridesmaidy type things.  Maybe I’ve been a bridesmaid too often, but I always think of the bridesmaids and groomsmen as being the couple’s best drinking buddies.  That is, of course, a high honor as well — but as the officiant you should be a bit more than that.  More serious, more reserved, more respectable.  In other words, no shots until after the wedding ceremony.

If none of this sounds right, think “mother of the bride” type dresses.  I went to one wedding recently where a family friend, a female judge, performed the ceremony, and she looked festive yet serious in a dark navy or black MOB-type sheath dress with a sheer beaded jacket.  For your money, I think you’ll get more mileage out of a simple non-MOB sheath dress plus some great accessories (as recommended above), but it’s up to you.

I’m curious, readers — what would you wear to officiate a wedding?  If a girlfriend were officiating your wedding, what would you want her to wear?

Comments

  1. Reposting from the TPS thread, which seems kind of dead now

    So does anyone else watch Hart of Dixie, and if so, was Wade not smoking hot last night? But my main question is where can I get a red jacket like the one Zoe was wearing in last night’s episode? Seriously, I love that jacket.

    I found a picture of her wearing it:

    http://www.cwtv.com/shows/hart-of-dixie/photos/00655910d3e

  2. Is the wedding outside? If so, you may want to dress accordingly. My wedding was on a FL beach in March. A good male friend officiated in a white button down and white pants. My dress was an ivory/gold color, and the groom was in a khaki suit. My friend’s white outfit looked lovely in the photos.

    • These colors seem much more appropriate to me than black. Summer, outdoors, yacht club = linen blazer in a neutral color, serious and tailored but appropriate. With whatever calm dress/pants/skirt work. I am no expert in this situation but can’t imagine that black is expected. Sparkly stuff seems like it might interfere with bride/pictures. I was at a wedding in Burlington Vermont last summer somewhat similar setting, and have no idea what the officiant wore- which I think is good. Remember too that many people associate the officiant with religiousness or what not, so conservative is probably best in cut/coverage.

    • These colors seem much more appropriate to me than black. Summer, outdoors, yacht club = linen blazer in a neutral color, serious and tailored but appropriate. With whatever calm dress/pants/skirt work. I am no expert in this situation but can’t imagine that black is expected. Sparkly stuff seems like it might interfere with bride/pictures. I was at a wedding in Burlington Vermont last summer somewhat similar setting, and have no idea what the officiant wore- which I think is good. Remember too that many people associate the officiant with religiousness or what not, so conservative is probably best in cut/coverage. I’d think any muted blue, neutral, gray, etc. in a summer fabric would be nice and blend in.

    • I agree – white or beige. Priests and ministers wear white robes or “aprons” when they officiate weddings.

    • I agree, black would seem weird for the outdoor wedding the OP described. I’d go with something gold-ish or similar

    • White is what occurred to me first, but check with the bride. If her dress is simple, maybe a sundress, then you can’t go anywhere near that territory. Still, you could do white tank, pants, and open blouse. A stole might be nice, but no sparkles–talk about distracting from the wedding party. Btw, the officiant is not part of the wedding party, so you don’t want colors to look matchy.

  3. Slight-TJ on the topic of what to wear to events: Please help me decipher what “business elegant attire” means. The event is a c-tail reception and dinner hosted by a local chapter of a women’s bar assoication. It’s going to be on a weeknight, and it is near my office, so before I saw the dress code, I was just planning to walk over after work wearing whatever I happened to be wearing that day (almost always a suit). I still think this would probably be just fine, but I would appreciate any outfit suggestions.

  4. Anne Shirley :

    If I were called, I think I’d wear a navy dress with matching blazer, and a pretty corsage pinned to it. But that’s because I am a rather formal person. I think this would be a lOvely time for a colorful lady who lunches suit, or a garden party-ish dress. If it’s outside, I would seriously contemplate a hat. Obviously this is a know your bride situation, but I think the posted dress is a bit grim for an outdoor summer wedding.

  5. I think you should think about what the officiant in other weddings would wear – a judge would wear black, a religious leader would probably also wear black (with white over it, I suppose) so I think something black, a simple dress with clean lines would be perfect!

    • TurtleWexler :

      A judge whom I clerked for while in law school officiated at my wedding and she asked me whether I wanted her to wear her robes or not. I saint it was up to her, she should wear whatever she was comfortable in. She ended up wearing a navy skirt suit with white trim and looked fabulous. We had a fairly low-key, garden-type event and I think she nailed it with her outfit. I never really thought to have a preference at the time, but in hindsight I’m very glad she chose navy over black — it’s a bit softer and fit better with the venue/vibe of our wedding.

      • Okay, this is not really appropos to anything, but your mention of your judge officiating at your wedding and the comments (yesterday?) about living “common law” reminded me of this story. When I was clerking in the late 1980s for an old school southern gentleman judge he pretended not to know that my then fiancee and I were living together without benefit of marriage (and in violation of the laws that were still on the books in that state). He was not only happy for us when I told him we’d set a date but visibly relieved — he said he’d been wanting to offer to perform the wedding for us (which would have taken a special act of the state legislature, since he was a federal judge without authority to officiate) but he thought that might seem presumptuous. Well, yes.

  6. You need to know what the bridesmaids, bride, MOB, groom and groomsmen are wearing (color, length, fabric, style, etc.). Your first priority would be to fit in with what all of the other women are wearing in terms of fabric and style. I would not wear the bridesmaids’ color (unless it is black)- which could easily be a navy or gray for a yacht club summer wedding. If the groomsmen are all wearing linen shirts and kakhis, for example, a kahki or tan suit (dress with a blazer) would be appropriate for you, and you could jazz it up with a belt or fun shoes after the ceremony. That woulc coordinate with the groom in the pictures, and you would not stand out. If things are a bit more formal, I think a navy suit would go well with any yacht club event, and you could pair it with preppy shoes or sandals. Your goal should be to not stand out, and coordinate with the rest of the VIPs. I think that black would be a too safe and too boring choice. Who wants to wear black to a summer yatch club wedding? Unless, of course, the bridesmaids are wearing dark-colored/black floor length gowns, but it does not seem to be that vibe from what you wrote. In any case, your arms should be covered at least to the elbow for the ceremony- no one wants to see your skin in the pictures of the vows.

  7. I totally agree with wearing black. The focus should be on the couple at all times so wearing a dress with a pattern, etc would be very distracting. Black will also look awesome in the pictures.

  8. You will be in many pictures for the ceremony, and you want to minimize your presence. There’s no reason you can’t change into a sundress or something more festive after the ceremony to better fit in at the reception.

    I think a navy dress would be nice too or perhaps even chocolate brown or deep charcoal – depending on the wedding colors, but I agree that simple and dark is the way to go.

  9. I actually think you can wear a lot other than black. I have seen lots of female officiants in lots of different colors, including purple. I think maybe this is an occasion that calls for one of those dressy blazers. Agree that you should keep everything simple. Wear comfy shoes so you don’t fidget.

  10. Been There :

    I agree with Kat’s advice 100%. I wore a black sheath dress to the wedding I officiated. The dress had an asymmetrical detail at the neck line, but was otherwise plain.

  11. I recently purchased this dress and I actually think it might be perfect for what you need, either in the black or in one of the more sedate colors, with a nice wrap and perhaps pearls or other sedate jewelry (link posted in next post to avoid moderation).

    Its pretty without being remotely scandalous. I love it.

  12. IMHO: daytime wedding + yacht club + outdoors says navy and not black. But then again I’m firmly in the black is for funerals, not weddings camp.

  13. at the risk of sounding greedy... :

    Please forgive the threadjack, but I need some fresh perspective. I got married a few weeks ago, and was fortunate to have a group of my law school buddies make the trip to my hometown to join me. This is a group I was very close with, and we have seen each other as a group at least once a year since law school at either one of our weddings or a group vacation. Four couples and two single people in addition to myself and my husband. One of the single people sent a wedding gift ahead of time, which was very nice of him, and one of the couples e-mailed a gift card a week after the wedding. None of the other people brought or mailed a card or any other gift. I know that they all spent quite a bit of money to come to the wedding, and that absolutely is gift enough, but I would really have appreciated a card…in part so that I don’t feel like I am awkwardly waiting to see if they get me something before using my 20% registry completion vouchers. It just seems strange because two of these people were my roommates, were ushers at the wedding, and I was an usher at each of their wedding’s within the past few years. I gave them gifts, and I know they both gave gifts at the last wedding in the group. All in all, more than a quarter of the guests who attended the wedding did not give a gift or card… I know that it would be completely wrong to expect gifts, people’s presence is truly the best gift, but a heartfelt card would have meant a lot to me. Am I stuck in stereotypically self-centered bride mentality, or does this seem odd to other people? I probably need a good kick in the seat of the pants for even counting (I swear, the program I used to track gifts and thank you cards did the counting). Please (kindly) tell me to grow up and stop thinking about it (but do be gently – I got four hours of sleep after my first newlywed fight, which will be the topic of another request for advice another day.

    • You got married only a few weeks ago. These people traveled to your wedding. Although I personally believe in sending the gift at the time of the wedding or just before, tradition says you have a year. I don’t think most people wait a full year, but a little lag in time is widely acceptable. Perhaps the travel costs being what they were meant that your guests are waiting for the next credit card cycle to get your gift. I would not hold a grudge.

      As for completing your registry, by all means do it – this will take the items you get off the registry and they won’t get you doubles. If they do, just return for store credit. Seriously, no big deal :)

      Congrats on your wedding. Don’t sweat the small stuff.

      • Ditto on the year thing. Lots of people wait until after the wedding to send gifts.

        Also, some people are just forgetful or don’t think about the etiquette of gift-giving. Unfortunately.

    • I would stop thinking about it. Use your completion discount to get what you want, but make sure things you buy are marked as purchased (which I think they will be, if you’re using the completion discount), and if people want to get you a late gift, they can get something that you didn’t get yourself, give money/gift cards, or come up with something else. And congratulations on your wedding!

    • I had a few people who did not give me gifts at my wedding – one was a friend who gave me a gift after I got back from my honeymoon, and the other was my BFF. At first I was hurt that my BFF didn’t even get me a card (seriously), particularly since I had traveled (plane tickets required) to be in her wedding, took several days off from work since she scheduled her rehearsal on the Wednesday before her Friday wedding, bought an expensive dress, organized her bachelorette party, participated in her shower, paid for hair and makeup, AND gave her a gift. I probably spent between $1500-2000 to be in her wedding.

      But. She’s a really close friend. And I know she loves me. And I know that she has some pretty major life stuff going on (baby, new house, etc.), and money’s tight. And she was there in every sense of the word – organized my bachelorette party, came to my bridal shower when her daughter was only 6 weeks old, bought a dress, got ready with me the morning of the wedding, and arranged for her then-3 mo. old daughter to be watched by friends (overnight!) while she and her husband attended my no-kids wedding. When I thought about all of that, I was overwhelmingly grateful that she is in my life, and I do not care one iota that she didn’t get me a card.

      Don’t keep score – it will make you angry and resentful. Think about how much fun your friends had at your wedding – celebrating your new marriage – and how much it is a testament to how much they love you to have traveled to your hometown to celebrate with you.

      • Edited to add – I don’t think people who don’t travel to destination weddings don’t love you. But I think you get the sentiment.

    • Hey…if it makes you feel better, my parents still haven’t quite gotten around to the whole buying a wedding present.

      You *may* get a straggler gift or three from people. But for a lot of people, especially young people with law school loans, the cost of travel to a wedding makes a present cost prohibitive. Send them a thank you note anyway, thanking them for making the trip (IMHO this is just polite) and don’t worry about it so much. And finish your registry, if you get late gift cards, you can use it to get the random things you forgot to put on your registry.

      Also…on the card front. I think some people like cards and some people don’t (especially, I think some people feel like they can’t get a card if they’re not getting bringing a gift). But the truth is most cards are picked at random and just have people’s names signed in them, so you may not be missing to much. In a month or two, you wouldn’t remember them.

      So..you’re not being self-centered as much as you’re over thinking things. Just relax, finish your registry, and maybe take a nap.

    • at the risk of sounding greedy... :

      Thank you to all of you, that is exactly what I needed. I was thinking about doing thank you cards to the people who travelled, but then thought “maybe their gift just hasn’t arrived yet and I should wait”, which was really what led to my massively overthinking it all. I’ll get myself the things off the registry that I really want, send them thank you cards for coming, and if anything floats in later, a second thank you card never hurt anyone. Thank you thank you thank you for walking me there mentally. I think there’s some leftover emotional drain from the wedding.

      • Anne Shirley :

        I love the phrase “leftover emotional drain” and will be using it often. Sums up perfectly how big things can throw you for a loop.

  14. Another vote for basic black. A good friend officiated at my wedding (outdoors, in September, at an old amusement park), and she wore a sleeveless black sheath with an asymmetrical neckline. It was timeless, classy, and didn’t look funereal or out of place in the least.

  15. I officiated a wedding last summer (also outdoor) and my only guidance was to go with the 1930s theme. I ended up doing a black pencil skirt with a black and cream patterned blouse (and a 1930s style hat and shoes). It worked out really well. You might consider a black or gray pencil skirt with a top that coordinates with the wedding colors and bridesmaids dresses – that way you would be understated enough for the pictures, but would be a little more festive than all black. I also changed into a different outfit for the reception, partly to fit in a little better at the reception and partly because I had a little too much fun at the vintage sale where I bought my 1930s items.

  16. Original question asker, here! Does this mean I’m famous now?

    Thank you all (and Kat) for the advice. I was originally thinking a navy knee-length sheath with either a blazer or something similar to cover my arms during the ceremony. Wear plain for ceremony, then add an interesting necklace for the reception? Now I’m wavering between navy and Kat’s suggestion of black. Although this is a daytime summer wedding (which doesn’t scream black to me), I’m worried about the navy clashing with black suits. Perhaps a very dark purple instead? Thoughts?

    Btw, the bridesmaids are wearing fuschia and the bride’s colors are happy fun time orange, pink, aqua, etc. Which makes me lean towards a jewel tone (navy, purple) than black.

    Thanks all!

  17. Senior Attorney :

    I’m officiating at a wedding in a couple of weeks. The bridesmaids are wearing blue and the men are wearing black suits. I was thinking about wearing my Bailey 44 striped dress in cobalt and black: http://origin.kaboodle.com/hi/img/c/0/0/1b9/a/AAAADCPANLMAAAAAAbmlSw.jpg?v=1325055049000. What do you think? Appropriate, or too… too?

    • Awesome dress, and I am envious that you can pull it off (I cannot describe how bad I would look in it) but it does seem a bit too much for an officiant. The stripes would be a big distraction in the photos.

    • That dress is fantastic! Too distracting for a wedding, but can you post link to purchase it?

      My mom owns a dress that I think would be perfect–black linen with simple, non-fussy little cutouts around the square neckline. It’s a sundress, goes well with short jacket.

  18. Senior Attorney :

    Thanks, ladies! I guess I’ll stick to my trusty black sheath.

    JenK it was available at Anthropologie but it’s sold out now. There are a few on eBay in a couple of colors. It’s called the Bailey 44 Pieced Column Striped Dress.

  19. As an actual pastor who officiates at weddings often, I would agree that something muted and tailored is the best. Obviously if I am officiating in a church I am going to wear my clerical robes, but typically for an off site wedding I will not. I have two very simple suits- one black and one camel (Ann Taylor) that I wear depending on the season which are pretty formal. I also have a long black Eileen Fisher silk dress that I would typically wear with a shrug for a more casual setting. The real struggle is not having pockets since I often need them to hold onto the rings or even to bring along tissues to pass on to the couple during the ceremony.

  20. Lady Lutheran Pastor :

    Oh hi, Rebecca – glad to see I’m not the only pastor frequenting Corporette for the style and professional advice!

    I think the idea of a sheath dress with a jacket sounds perfect, OP. Navy is great, but if you think another color would look better with the wedding party overall, I say go for it – but keep it conservative and subdued. Imagine all the pics of you between the bride and the groom as they repeat their vows – something that won’t distract and clearly indicate that you have a professional role to play in the situation.

    Feel free to lose the jacket for the reception and even swap in a few fun accessories – but remember that people will still be remembering you for your role in the ceremony, so keep it a bit more conservative than you would normally as a wedding guest.

    Beauty Tips for Ministers is a fun blog written by a lovely Unitarian Universalist pastor, there is likely to be lots of great wedding-related advice in the archives: beautytipsforministers.com.

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