You’ve just received a wedding invitation in the mail and, if you’re like most females, one of the first things you think about is what you’re going to wear.
If you’re a fan of wearing dresses that show a bit of leg, you may already have some great options in your closet. But wait. Can you wear a short dress to a wedding? When is it appropriate and when is it a major faux pas? And when is short too short?
If you’re a fan of short hemlines but want to make sure you look wedding-appropriate, our guide will walk you through acceptable lengths for the various styles of wedding as well as how short you can actually go with your dress or skirt of choice.
Can You Wear a Short Dress to a Wedding? Dress Hemlines 101
Outfit etiquette should always be on your mind when choosing a dress to wear as a wedding guest. The perfect dress isn’t too tight, too revealing or too short, but you also need to choose a frock that is suitable for the style of wedding you’re attending.
If you’re not up on your wedding dress codes, here’s a crash course on what type of dress is appropriate for each style of celebration.
Typically worn for white tie or black tie functions, an evening gown can also be worn to a formal wedding, although it is not a requirement. Evening gown hemlines are often described as floor length although, in truth, they tend to be about an inch above the ground.
A floor-length evening dress flatters most body types and can even make you appear taller, especially if you choose to wear high heels. When choosing a dress, don’t forget that the length of the hemline will need to be altered based on how high your heels are.
Tea length dress
Traditionally, a tea length dress boasted a fitted bodice and a full skirt with a hemline that hit women right above the ankle. More modern versions, however, may stop three to four inches above the ankle. Either variation works well for a black tie wedding.
Tea length dresses were a favorite during 1950s Hollywood, and were made famous by starlets like Grace Kelly. While this style of dress is indeed elegant and glamorous, it is not always flattering because of where the hemline hits on the leg. While tall women can really rock this look, shorter gals need to wear the right shoes or risk looking shorter than they actually are.
If you’re average height or below, stick with nude heels or strappy high-heeled sandals to elongate your legline. Choosing a tea length dress that bares the shoulders or has a deep v-neckline also helps to make you appear longer and leaner.
A midi dress, which falls anywhere from two inches below the knees to just above the ankles, is appropriate for casual and formal weddings alike. While not appropriate for a white tie affair, you can pull off a midi hemline at any other type of function.
Most flattering for taller women (5’8 and above), it is also a style that looks great on ladies with toned calves. If you don’t fall into either of these categories then a hi-lo dress or a hemline that hits just below the knee may be your best bet.
If you’re petite or have a curvy figure and have your heart set on a midi length, shoe choice is key. Wearing heels that are open-toed will elongate your leg and make you appear taller and leaner. If you’re attending a wedding that isn’t formal, a tall boot with a mid to high heel is also very flattering.
Also known as an asymmetrical or waterfall dress, this hem style is higher in the front, or side, than in the back. Like the midi, this hemline is appropriate for any style of wedding with the exception of white tie events.
Inspired by the fishtail silhouette from the Victorian era, high-low dresses are flattering for most figures and work equally well for petite and tall women. Match this style of dress with a pair of fancy, high-heeled sandals and your legs will look a mile long.
A flattering length for most women, a below-the knee dress is generally an inch or two below the knee. This length elongates the leg, particularly when worn with high heels. It is also the easiest length to wear because it is short enough to offer freedom of movement but long enough to not show too much leg when you sit down.
With the exception of white tie, a below-the-knee dress works for any style of wedding. Just be sure to match the formality of your dress with the formality of the wedding.
Another flattering hemline for most women, a knee-length dress skims the knee or sits just above for a leg-lengthening silhouette, especially when paired with heels. Like a hemline that hits just below the knee, this slightly higher hem is as practical as it is pretty, offering easy mobility but enough coverage even when sitting.
A knee-length dress is a no-go for white and black tie weddings, but is appropriate for formal, semi-formal, dressy casual and casual nuptials.
If you’re wondering if you can wear your favorite mini to a wedding, the answer is maybe. It all depends on what your definition of a mini is. Technically, a mini dress is any dress that is more than a few inches above the knee, but there are varying levels of hemlines anywhere from mid thigh to just covering the butt.
So what type of mini can you wear? The biggest thing to keep in mind is that stealing attention from the bride by flashing a lot of leg is tacky. That’s why the general rule of thumb for weddings is to ensure your hemline is at least as long as your fingertips when holding your arms straight at your sides. If it’s shorter than that it’s a no-go, no matter how informal the wedding is.
If your skirt passes the fingertip test but is tight, then it’s also a big no-no. Tight skirts hitch up significantly when you sit down so most tight, short dresses won’t be appropriate.
Your best bet for shorter lengths is to choose a dress with an a-line or full skirt. Not only will you be able to show off your legs in an suitable manner, but when you sit down, you’ll still look wedding appropriate. Just don’t forget to don a pair of sheer tights. Unless the wedding is casual, going bare-legged is a major faux pas.
If you’re on the fence about the length of your dress, always err on the side of modesty.
Can You Wear a Short Dress to Any Style of Wedding?
A wedding’s dress code is one of the main things to keep in mind when choosing a dress. What you can wear to an informal wedding is vastly different to formal wedding standards.
To help you choose a hemline worthy of the wedding you’re attending, let’s delve into the different dress codes you’re likely to find on a wedding invitation.
White tie weddings
White tie weddings always call for a long evening dress, no exceptions. If you want to show off your gams, look for a dress with an appropriate side slit. If the slit is more than a few inches above your thigh, it’s too revealing for a white tie event. Remember, when choosing a gown for any white tie affair, it should not show too much cleavage or leg and should skim the body rather than hug it like a second skin.
White tie dress example:
Black tie weddings
While white tie weddings most certainly require a floor-length gown, you may be able to get away with a tea length, midi or high-low hemline for a black tie affair. The key is to ensure your dress is below the knee.
If you’re looking for some shopping inspiration for a formal wedding, these lovely dresses ranging from tea length to just below the knee are just the ticket.
Tea length example:
Below the knee example:
Slightly less dressy than black tie, a formal wedding calls for either a floor-length evening gown or cocktail dress. While cocktail dresses can have brief hemlines, it’s best to err on the side of modesty and keep your dress no more than a few inches above the knee.
Here are some beautiful short dresses ranging from tea length to mini that are perfect for a formal wedding.
Tea length example:
Mini dress example:
One of the most popular dress codes for weddings today, a semi-formal affair offers female guests a wide range of wardrobe options. A cocktail dress, garden party dress or a dress and jacket ensemble are all great choices for semi-formal affairs. Even a jumpsuit or a fancy pantsuit are permitted.
Here are some gorgeous dresses to inspire your outfit.
Below-the-knee cocktail dress example:
Knee-length cocktail dress example:
Mini cocktail dress example:
Garden party dress example:
Dress and jacket example:
Dressy casual weddings
Another popular dress code, dressy casual is slightly more relaxed than semi-formal, allowing you to wear a garden party dress, a semi-casual dress or a skirt and top ensemble. A cocktail dress is probably a bit too fancy for this style of wedding.
Need some online shopping inspiration? These dresses are a good place to start.
Garden party dress example:
Semi-casual dress example:
Skirt and top example:
A casual dress code is typically pretty relaxed, although you should still make an effort to look your best. A casual ceremony typically calls for a pretty sundress or a skirt and top. Ladies who don’t like showing any leg can wear a maxi dress or a jumpsuit.
Here are some pretty yet casual outfits for a low-key wedding.
Skirt and top example:
What if There is No Dress Code?
If your wedding invite doesn’t indicate what type of dress is expected, you can often take your cue from the wedding venue itself.
If you’re attending a church wedding, modest, ladylike dresses are an absolute must. Hemlines should not be shorter than an inch or two above the knee and plunging necklines and body hugging styles should also be avoided.
For a casual wedding, a sundress, a maxi dress or a skirt and blouse are perfect while a cocktail dress, garden party dress or skirt and top are ideal for semi-formal affairs. Formal weddings mean a cocktail dress or an evening dress.
Church wedding attire example:
Garden weddings tend to be less formal and typically fall in the range of semi-formal to dressy casual. Pretty floral or patterned dresses are ideal for garden nuptials as are a pretty skirt and blouse.
Garden wedding attire example:
If you’re attending a beach ceremony, you can expect a more casual vibe, making a cute sundress the ideal attire. Here are some cute dresses to offer inspiration.
Beach wedding attire example:
Country weddings typically range from casual to semi-formal, so think ginghams and florals for a more laid back affair and florals and lace for a semi-formal event. Dresses or skirts and tops both work well and be sure to choose shoes that are comfortable for walking over uneven ground.