Reader Mail: What to Wear to the Wedding of a Colleague

What to Wear to a Colleague's Wedding | CorporetteWe are seriously behind in answering this poor reader’s e-mail — our sincere apologies!  Here’s the question:

I am a mid-level law associate and my husband is a teaching physician at a local hospital. His boss is getting married in DC in April. It is the bride’s first marriage and it will be a huge event. The wedding is at 5 and then dinner and dancing at 6 at a country club.  I have NO idea what to wear. Can I wear a black cocktail dress? I am so bad at these things and I want to make a good impression for my husband and look professional for my own benefit!  This may seem like an elementary question, but did I mention I am fashionably challenged?  (One more thing:  I am barely thirty, but my husband is a good ten years older. I don’t want to look like a airhead, but I don’t want to look old for my age either!)

Weddings, in general, are fraught with chances for fashion errors.  What is appropriate — or inappropriate — tends to be very region-specific, as well as wedding-specific.  Take your cues from the invitation — the wording of the invitation (are middle names used?  does she call her groom a “Mr.”? is “honor” spelled with a u?) and the style of the invitation (is it entirely in script?  was there an inner/outer envelope?  are there any quirky touches to it?) will give you an idea of what the bride is aiming at for the wedding.  In general, avoid wearing black or white to a wedding — we know a lot of places where black is still seen as a color of mourning.  D.C. walks a fine line between being a cosmopolitan city on the East Coast, and a Southern city — we’d avoid black if at all possible.  (If all you’ve got is a black cocktail dress, be sure to wear a very colorful, happy wrap, as well as bag and shoes.)

That said, look for a dress that isn’t too short, too low cut, too frothy, too shiny, or too bedazzled — because your husband is slightly older you may even want to go for a more demure, knee-length dress.  Note that Rent the Runway has a whole “Weddings” section, including Black-Tie Affair-appropriate dresses; we like the Midnight Glamour Dress by Badgley Mischka (pictured above), available for retail at $395, or rental for $75.


  1. Anonymous :

    I live in DC and wear black to everything, especially formal events. I think it looks clean and classy and unless you are wearing a gown, will look appropriate if you are unsure of formality. If you have a nice black cocktail dress, I say go for it.

    • NeverWearBlackAtAWedding :

      Oh, dear me. You’ll look like the wicked witch of the west if you wear BLACK at a five o’clock wedding. Just don’t do it. Five o’clock is still in the afternoon, so wear a non-cocktail style non-full length dress or silk suit. COlors are fine, although solid red is a bit iffy. Hats are worn at afternoon weddings, but not evening (after six) receptions. Gloves are not commonly worn nowadays, though.

  2. Instead of black, try navy. Navy is a great spring color option and you can pair a bright bag or shoes with it to dress it up or down. The key will to be simple and chic, not prom-like.

    • If you’re pasty like I am, I’d endorse plum as an alternative to black and navy!

  3. Having attended several weddings in DC I would say that unless the invite says formal or black-tie only the reader is probably fine in a cocktail dress. I would try to steer away from black though – I got a dark chocolate strapless dress for just those situations, and it’s nice and looks slimming but has the distinct advantage that it can be made springier with a paler shawl (I like chocolate with blue or pink personally).

  4. Black is never appropriate at a traditional wedding. While many people don’t care about that any more, some brides (and, perhaps more importantly, mothers of the bride or other older family members) will look down on / be offended by anyone wearing black. That may seem ridiculous in this day and age, but it’s true. So unless it’s someone you are close to and you know it’s ok, absolutely avoid black at all costs.

  5. thank you so much for answering this! and for the comments . . . apparently, my boss’ bride-to-be is from a very traditional family – so I am definitely following the no black advice. I actually looked and picked this dress out in navy (and glad I did as it looks to be no longer available). I loved this beautiful turquoise, too, but that just looked too bright!

    thank you!

  6. Another thing to think about–if you can find out what color the bridesmaids’ dresses are, that would be a color to avoid. More and more brides are choosing tea-length or knee-length dresses for the bridesmaids, and it’s not fun to either be 1. mistaken for a bridesmaid when you aren’t or 2. (worse?) look like you’re actually trying to be a bridesmaid.

  7. Dressing for weddings is always tricky. Personally, I like to consult this great guide I found online. The dresses are elegant and sophisticated, which sounds perfect for this occasion.