Although the etiquette surrounding weddings is complex, we rarely get a chance to use it. The question “can you wear red to a wedding?” is one of these areas that no one seems to be sure about.
We aren’t going to weddings every day, after all, so it’s no surprise that our knowledge of what’s appropriate at a wedding and what’s not can be full of gaps and misunderstandings.
The day’s importance to the bride, the groom, and their families means that there are incredibly high stakes to making sure that one’s wardrobe won’t offend anyone.
We’ll go over the reasons why the “rule” of not wearing red to a wedding exists, whether you have to follow it, and how to break it tactfully.
With this knowledge, you won’t need to have any doubts about what you’re wearing to someone’s special day.
Is It Bad Etiquette To Wear Red to a Wedding?
Much like the old, now obsolete convention of not wearing black to a wedding, the controversy over red dresses comes down to the perceptions of the other people at the wedding.
Black is associated with funerals and mourning, so a lot of people didn’t like to see the shade at joyful events like weddings.
In the case of red, our cultural associations don’t have anything to do with sadness but rather with too much exuberance and attention-seeking.
If the dress or outfit you want to wear to a wedding happens to be red, however, most modern brides should not mind.
It’s Okay To Wear Red
Despite the stodgy old rules that are still kicking around, there’s nothing wrong with wedding guests wearing a red dress to a wedding in all but a few circumstances (which we’ll talk about below).
When you think about it, red is a beautiful color that can represent the passion and happiness of the day.
The most important thing is that you don’t look like you’re trying to upstage the bride, which would be very, very rude. Happily, red dresses won’t give off this impression unless they are the brightest of scarlet or otherwise too flashy or “too much”.
Reasons You May Want To Avoid Wearing Red
Like I said above, the main reason you want to avoid wearing red is to avoid making the bride feel like she and her outfit are being upstaged by a wedding guest.
However, there are some other reasons you might want to avoid wearing red. Not all cultures have the same perception of colors, nor do all weddings have the same conventions surrounding them.
While wearing white is the standard for most western brides, in some cultures the bride wears a red wedding dress. Just like you wouldn’t wear white on the bride’s day, you shouldn’t wear something red if that’s the wedding dress color.
In Chinese weddings, for example, the bride is the only one who can wear red, which represents luck and happiness. In this case, the answer to “can I wear red to a wedding” is definitely no—you wouldn’t want someone to think you’re the bride in a red wedding dress by accident!
You might also want to consider the personalities of your friend or family member who is getting married. Someone who is very traditional and prone to take offense might react poorly to even a muted red dress.
On the other hand, there are brides who we know won’t care very much about what wedding attire the guests wear, even if it’s red. You’re the best judge of the people in your life.
How To Wear Red Without Stealing the Show
Perhaps the best guide to whether a specific color dress is appropriate for a wedding is an imaginative exercise.
Put on the dress and pretend that you’re standing beside the bride. Would the eyes of everyone in the room jump directly to you?
If so, your red dress may overpower the bride’s white and distract from her. Just about anyone would be angry at such treatment on a day that’s so important to them.
Here are some more specific tips and tricks for wearing red without looking like you’re trying to make the day all about you.
Weddings can have dress codes with many different levels of formality, which adds another factor to consider when thinking about wearing a red dress.
First of all, to even consider it, you want to make sure that the dress you want to wear is consistent with what’s written on the invitation. It can add insult to injury if you wear a red dress that’s also inappropriate for the dress code.
For instance, at a black-tie wedding, wearing a red ball gown that would be appropriate only for a white tie event is a sure way to look like you’re trying to upstage everyone in the room, including the bride.
The same goes for dressing down. Wearing a red evening dress that shows a lot of skin will be received poorly if the dress code discourages such a thing. Or, wearing a dramatic red gown at a cocktail attire wedding would steal the show as well.
If you’re attending a couple’s big day, be sure the check the invitation for rules about appropriate guest attire.
It’s important to consider what colors are inappropriate, as well as what style and fashion fits the formality of the event.
Check with the Couple First
Reaching out to the bride or groom and just asking whether they’d be okay with you wearing red is perhaps the best way to avoid any awkwardness on the wedding day.
All that it takes is sending a text or making a phone call to ask what is acceptable fashion for the ceremony and reception. We’re sure that the bride, whatever her preferences for wedding guests style and colors, will appreciate that you were concerned enough about how she would feel to reach out.
If the couple suggests that maybe red is not preferred, respect their answer! Whatever you want to wear to a wedding, the day is still about the happy couple, so anyone attending as a wedding guest should adhere to their wishes.
Keep It Subtle
The key to pulling off a red dress at a wedding is not looking like you’re vying for attention or distracting from the focus. Drawing attention from the bride is a faux pas, but you can still wear red as a wedding guest if you do it with subtlety.
While wearing a beautiful outfit enhances the day as a whole, you don’t want to be over the top. So, one more time: don’t wear bright red colors like scarlet or firetruck red. You’ll stand out from everyone else in bright tones and attract more attention than is due to you.
You should also consider the cut and style of what you wear to a wedding. A darker red dress may work well, but if it’s extremely revealing, or if the color is covered in bright sequins, that may also be inappropriate.
Here are a few ideas for choosing a red dress that looks great but doesn’t steal the show.
- More muted red colors
- Classic, dark red hues such as cranberry or maroon
- Wearing a patterned red dress
- Choose an elegant rather than revealing shape
- Account for formality!
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