Where Do You Draw the Line Between Wedding Wear and Office Wear?

Where do you draw the line between wedding wear and office wear?I was looking at a major department store’s “Wear to Work” dresses and found myself negging rejecting half of the dresses because they looked like wedding wear to me instead of workwear. And it occurs to me: this topic comes up a TON — what is cocktail attire, what is office attire, what is wedding attire — and do any pieces straddle the line so successfully that you can honestly wear them to multiple situations? I’m not going to pretend to be innocent, either, as I’m sure many readers will note — sometimes we’ve made some workwear recommendations a little too closer to the “wedding wear” line. Still: what are your thoughts? Where do YOU draw the line between wedding wear and office wear?

For my $.02, from my own personal experience and everything I’ve learned in doing the blog, this is my sense of the line between wedding wear and office wear:

NOT Office Wear:

  • stiff crepe / polyester fabric that has a sound to it
  • too short, too tight, too low-cut
  • Anything shiny (I’d make a slight exception for shimmery thread details in a tweed jacket, but that’s me)
  • Anything involving tulle

QUESTIONABLE Office Wear (Probably Closer to Wedding Wear):

All of these things come down to “know your office,” but if a specific dress or outfit ticks off two or more of these categories below (or above) the default answer is a no…

  • mesh or lace details, particularly in “flirty” spots on the dress, like a slit, cutout, neck detail, or overlay
  • super girly colors like hot pink (for this one in particular I think the “two factors or more” consideration is important — there are lots of pink dresses that are just fine for the office and are probably NOT festive enough for a wedding)
  • Jacquard or other unusual fabrics for work
  • Cutouts (I like them sometimes but I know many readers do not — I think the question comes down to whether you can wear a regular bra with the dress or if you need a “special bra”)
  • Jumpsuits – know your office

How to Turn Office Wear Into Wedding Wear (Desk to Dinner Style!):

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — sometimes it’s better to just get different outfits for different purposes. Still, if you’re trying to get more costs per wear out of an item, you’re traveling and trying to make a limited wardrobe work, or you’re gaining or losing weight and don’t want to buy or borrow something your current size…

  • Add sandals in summer — particularly metallic or shiny patent leather sandals
  • Add sheer black hose / fancy shoes (think sparkly or a fun texture you wouldn’t wear to work)
  • Add blingy jewelry
  • Add a sheer, shimmery, or festive wrap
  • Remove any office trappings – for me this would be my Apple Watch; you might also be sure to switch your bag from a big tote or shoulder bag to a smaller clutch or going-out bag
  • Switch to party makeup (even if you’re just doing desk to dinner makeup)

Readers, what are your thoughts? Where do you draw the line between office wear and wedding wear? Do you regularly buy dresses or outfits hoping to be able to wear them to work and for dates, cocktail parties, weddings and more? 

Stock image: Deposit Photos / ArturVerkhovetskiy.

 Kat asked the readers: where do YOU draw the line between wedding wear and office wear? How do you know if something is cocktail attire vs. work attire? Are there any dresses or jumpsuits that can be worn to BOTH a wedding and to work (that mythical "desk to dinner" category)? Kat's noticed it while shopping in different stores' "wear to work" sections there are a lot of going-out clothes masquerading as workwear (or better yet "desk to dinner" outfits!)!


  1. Anonymous :

    I’m actually a bit curious about this, as I have a friend getting married at 5 on a Friday, and I’ve been thinking this probably means working from home and logging off early to change and get ready, but I’m also wondering if there’s something I can wear to the office and the wedding, although I’d still need to leave work early to get to the wedding.

    I’ve been leaning toward the latter, since the dress I’d like to wear is definitely not office attire, but seeing this has made me re-visit things a little . . .

  2. I think that you don’t know what negging means. But that’s okay.

  3. I feel like confusion about the differentiation between wedding wear and office wear is….not a thing. This was a stretch post. Some things double as a wedding or office dress (ex. sheath dress with conservative but interesting details), most things don’t. The average woman knows not to wear tight, sparkly, flouncy dresses to work. What’s ore interesting conversation is the difference between date wear and work wear.

    • Anonymous :

      Yeah, I was going to say if I can wear it to the office it’s not wedding wear, and if I can wear it to a wedding it’s not office wear. I don’t feel like there’s really an overlap….

      • I wore a pale blue sheath I had bought for work to a wedding ceremony when the dress I ordered didnt arrive and changed into something more formal for the reception later in the evening. It was perfect for ceremony, though I agree it would be a bit daytime and conservative (though not terribly out of place) at a cocktail reception in the evening.

    • Anonymous :

      I work with a woman who has repeatedly worn things to the office that I thought seemed out of place in the office, but would be ok for a wedding. She wears a lot of inappropriate things, but it’s certainly a thing I’ve seen done. I also have a colorful short-sleeve wrap dress that I’ve worn to the office and also a casual afternoon wedding. It depends on the office and the type of wedding, but there could be at least some crossover.

    • Anonymous :

      I think this is a pretty common problem actually. Maybe just not for the more seasoned readers of this s i t e, but I pretty regularly see more junior women making this kind of faux pas. The most common I’ve seen is the lace sheath dress or pencil skirt. I’ve also seen sequins in the office (srsly why).

      Look if you’re a partner and you want to come to the office in the white sheath dress you wore to your rehearsal dinner, more power to you. But if you’re a first year, leave the lace and sequins at home.

      • Anonymous :

        Yup, it me. Well, not me now, I just gave my work wardrobe a major upgrade earlier this year. But in my early days, yeah, I had some classic work pieces but not a full week’s worth of “good” work clothes so I tried to get creative as I was building my work wardrobe, and at the same time I was sort of reinventing myself post-college when I was super into shows like Mad Men and Downton Abbey. In hindsight my coworkers and the higher-ups (when they saw me) were dropping very vague, subtle hints that what I was wearing wasn’t great for the office, but I don’t take hints well, and no one would give it to me straight about my clothing choices.

        Eventually I learned a good general guideline, which is that if I can see myself wearing it somewhere other than the office, it’s probably not good work attire. Crossover exists, but you really have to know what you’re doing.

    • Anonymous :

      I think some (many?) people grow up with exactly two categories of clothes you go out in: casual and “fancy” or “dressed up.” Work and weddings are both obviously not casual, and you can see how that can go wrong. (Source: my whole working class family pretty much thinks this way.)

      • Yes this. Also, websites will often sell things that I think are wedding or c*ctail party only in the “wear to work” section, causing additional confusion for younger women. A fit and flare with a flower pattern and cold shoulder sleeves (or whatever they’re called) might work at a casual, fashion forward place, but it will not do for your first (or any) year in biglaw.

        • Anonymous :

          Yeah, when I bought most of my clothes on ModCloth, I’d scour their “work” section and there’d be some very questionable stuff in there – they had good stuff too, you just had to look for it. My guess is these websites had some very basic guidelines to determine what was work appropriate, but you had to use your own discretion and understanding of your office to know if something was actually a suitable work dress.

      • Yeah I’ve seen this phenomenon. “I need to dress up for work! Let me put on my black sequins!”

      • Eleacoise :


    • Plot twist: what to wear to work when you’re a wedding planner.

      • Anonymous :

        Double plot twist: I’m a wedding coordinator at a botanical garden. I wear leggings and boots for setup and then change into a (usually floral) sheath dress and flats before guests arrive. Then back into my athleisure for the teardown.

    • Yes, this!

  4. Anonymous :

    I have a dark blue ‘origami’ dress from J Crew (asymmetrical neckline, crepey fabric) that I got perfectly tailored, and I’ve worn it to conferences with pointy flats and stud earrings, as well as to a casual wedding with big blingy earrings and strappy heels. The tailoring and interesting neckline elevate it for me.

    • I have this too! I wore it as a bridesmaid dress in my best friend’s wedding and I also wear it to work. I still can’t figure out what to wear as a topper for when I’m cold though. Everything seems to mess up the asymmetric neckline

    • Anonymous :

      Yes! Love this dress. It’s my go-to “professional evening reception” dress– as in, for events halfway between wedding and work.

      Guys have it easy– they just put on a suit for everything “dressed up.”

  5. I think wedding wear is not office wear. But office wear could be wedding wear. It won’t be the most festive, but is unlikely to be a problem.

    • Exactly–no one’s going to side-eye a nice ponte shift dress at a wedding. I feel like for women over a certain age/under a certain clothing budget/at a certain level of DGAF that’s pretty much the go to.

      • Anonymous :

        +1. Everything my mom wears to weddings she could pretty much also wear to work. I feel as though the older you get, the more the line gets blurred.

      • I am (only) 37, my clothing budget is not huge, and my DGAF score is through the roof. Ponte shift dresses 4eva!!!!

  6. I’m really dwelling on that thread from earlier today about the child crawling into bed with the OP and her new BF… OP, if you’re reading this, PLEASE give some consideration to calling the child’s mom or even call CPS or some child welfare non-profit to get their take on it. Something is very, very, very off about that situation, and I hope some adult in that little girl’s life has the guts to speak up.

    • Anonymous :

      Omg stop. The child is not being abused. No do not waste CPS’s time on this.

      • Why is the child so comfortable w/ a stranger in her dad’s bed that he/she would climb right in?

        Why is the dad selfishly encouraging the woman to come back and sleep naked in his bed again when he clearly anticipates the child getting in bed with them?

        Do you have some kind of answers that will make this situation seem normal, or … ?

    • I agree with this. The poster can and should get herself out of the situation/relationship, but I am worried about that child. It is not normal and we can’t know just how bad it is.

    • Anonymous :

      Just read the thread and I’m really the outlier here. I grew up in a home where being naked wasn’t that big of a deal so I’m having trouble with the pearl clutching over this. A crucial fact wasn’t stated either – was the kid naked? If so, even from my naked house upbringing, I’d find it odd. But if the kid had clothes on, not so strange.

      • Nudity was common in my house growing up. With family!!! A father being comfortable with his child in a bed with a naked woman the child barely knows is a huge red flag.

        • Not even “barely knows”. Literally “has never met” if I read the post correctly. And even if OP and her BF were fully dressed, I still find it extremely odd that a 9yo child entirely ignored a stranger in bed and felt comfortable proceeding. Even if the child is very immature for 9 and was very sleepy at the moment, I just cannot see how this didn’t reflect weirdly on his/her day in retrospect – unless the child has been trained to think that this is normal, which makes this whole thing even creepier.

          • Anonymous :

            I can easily remember things that happened in my life when I was 9. This would be a. . . weird memory.

  7. I work in theatre and the head of our company would routinely wear a suit to opening night parties- not the celebratory company gets drunk kind, but the fancy fundraising with donors type of party. I always thought she was a little underdressed, but I guess for her these were work events, and heck, the men always wore suits, so there might be a double standard here.

  8. Anonymous :

    Can I wear my MM LaFleur Nisa dress (sans belt) to a 4:30 PM November wedding at a country club? I’m doing Project 333 right now and plan to make this dress straddle workwear and wedding wear. Shoes won’t be fancy, just nude-for-me pumps. Earring will be sparkly globes. Purse will be a simple red clutch. I’m not going for any fashion award here, I just don’t want to be inappropriate.

  9. I typically shop at different places for each, or my go to is Rent the Runway for cocktail/formal wedding guest dresses. I have a rehearsal dinner this Friday and am torn about the “Semi-Formal” dress code. debating between a lace cocktail dress or just jazzing up an Ann Taylor black sheath dress with fun heels and gold tassel earrings.

  10. What’s the perfect chic and yet professional work outfit?

    Literally something we struggle with every single time! Expensive formal wear doesn’t help curb the crisis at all.😓

  11. I think your guidelines are generally spot-on, but I also thing there are some dresses that are so versatile that they can work for both work and wedding. For example, I wear this lace shift dress (https://www.whatjesswore.com/2015/07/ann-taylor-loft-fitting-room-reviews.html) in a royal blue to work with conservative pumps and jewelry, and often a jacket or cardigan, but I’m also wearing it to a wedding this month, probably with a party heel and bigger jewelry. Yes, it has lace, but the dress has a modest sleeve, high neckline, and skims the knee, which I think still makes it work. I mostly wear the dress when I need a look that goes work-to-party, like for birthday happy hours or after-work cocktail parties, but it really does totally work for work.

    I also have the same dress in black, but sleeveless, that I’ve concluded is for cocktail parties only because the black lace is too festive for work and the lack of sleeves makes it a totally different silhouette.

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