There’s a lot to love about red. It’s bright, cheery and, during the holidays, very festive. As such a celebratory color, red may seem like a natural choice to wear as a wedding guest.
But can you wear red to a wedding? Although donning this hue as a wedding guest used to be frowned upon, it is no longer considered a faux pas for most Western and secular weddings. If you have an elegant red dress that looks great on you, then you can likely wear it as a wedding guest without concern.
Red is largely considered appropriate in Western cultures, but you still shouldn’t choose a fire engine red dress that could steal attention from the bride. Red is also a major no-no if you’re attending an Indian, Chinese, South Asian or Muslim wedding where the color has cultural significance.
Knowing what shades of red are appropriate for a wedding doesn’t have to be confusing. Our guide will help you choose a gorgeous shade of red that won’t raise any eyebrows at the next wedding you attend. So, read on for all of our must-know tips on dressing in red as a wedding guest.
Can You Wear Red to a Wedding?
Red can be a real showstopper— and no one except the bride should be commanding the attention of the entire room. So, while crimson, scarlet and poppy may be gorgeous, they probably are not the best choice for a wedding unless they are being worn in moderation. More muted hues of red such as cranberry, wine, merlot, garnet, burgundy and berry are best if you’re wearing a solid shade dress.
You should also be mindful of your shoes and accessories, if you plan to wear a red dress. Keeping your shoes, jewelry and handbag neutral, elegant and low-key ensures you won’t be seen as attention seeking. Choosing subtle makeup is also wise. Opting for a neutral lip color rather than red lipstick, for instance, ensures your look isn’t too dramatic.
If you have any doubts about the shade of your dress, you have two options: check with the bride or look for a different outfit.
Understanding Dress Codes
If you love red, and are looking for an appropriate way to wear it to a wedding, the first thing you need to do is determine the dress code for the event. After all, you don’t want to show up wearing a velvet evening gown if the ceremony calls for sundress.
With appropriate attire ranging from long gowns to casual dresses or jumpsuits, knowing where the wedding falls on the formality scale is crucial to choosing an appropriate outfit. To help you find the perfect red dress, let’s take a look at the six main dress codes you can expect to see on an invitation.
White tie wedding
A white tie wedding is all about formal elegance — and that means a floor-length evening dress in an appropriate hue. Choosing a red dress that is too bright or glittery is a major blunder as is wearing plunging necklines, high side slits or figure hugging fabrics.
While there’s nothing wrong with wanting to look your best, wearing an ostentatious evening gown like this is always in bad taste. All eyes should remain on the bride — not on you. Instead of choosing bright hues like scarlet or ruby, opt for more muted reds such as wine or garnet like this stunning gown.
Black tie (or black tie optional) wedding
Although not as strict as white tie weddings, black tie still requires a refined, elegant look. You do, however, have more choice when it comes to your hemline. While you can still rock a traditional evening gown if that is your jam, you can also show some leg, if you prefer. As long as the hem of your dress remains below the knee, you can wear a cocktail dress to a black tie event.
You can choose from tea length, midi, high-low or just below-the-knee hemlines. Like a white tie affair, it’s wise to avoid bright reds and revealing designs like this gown. Instead, opt for a tasteful dress like this in cranberry, burgundy and other similar shades.
A formal event allows guests to wear either a floor-length evening gown or a cocktail dress. Slightly less conservative than a black tie wedding, your hemline can be shorter for a formal affair as long as it’s no more than a few inches above the knee.
If you opt for a red dress, be sure to choose a more muted shade of red like this so you’re not stealing the show from the bride.
A consistently popular dress code, a request for semi-formal attire offers you a wide range of wardrobe options. Cocktail dresses, garden party dresses, dress and jacket ensembles, jumpsuits or fancy pantsuits are all acceptable attire for a semi-formal affair.
If you want to wear red, it’s important to choose a gown that exudes elegance like this dress rather than flamboyance like this frock. If in doubt about your outfit, always err on the side of modesty and conservative colors.
Dressy casual weddings
Similar to semi-formal, a dressy casual dress code is slightly more relaxed, allowing you to choose between a garden party dress, a semi-casual dress or a skirt and top ensemble. If you’re not a dress kind of gal, you can don a jumpsuit or pantsuit as long as they’re not too casual.
Another popular dress code, dressy casual means you don’t have to worry quite as much about bright colors. As long as your outfit is sophisticated like this dress rather than flashy like this one, your dress is unlikely to compete with the bride’s dress.
If you’ve been invited to a casual wedding, you may already have something in your closet that would be wedding-appropriate. When giving your wardrobe the once-over, look for a pretty sundress or maxi dress, a cute skirt and top or a chic jumpsuit. Even though this dress code is relaxed, you should still make an effort to look pulled together.
Red is a great color for a casual wedding, but always avoid skin tight or revealing outfits like this mini. Instead, keep your outfit light and breezy with pretty prints and soft materials like this above-the-knee dress.
What to Wear When No Dress Code is Stated
Now that you’re a wedding dress code expert, let’s look at how you can wear red successfully as a wedding guest even if your invitation didn’t request a particular dress code.
While wearing a knee-length cocktail dress is typically a safe choice, you can often determine wardrobe expectations from your invitation. Time of day and location are always the biggest clues when it comes to wedding guest attire. So read on for some crucial etiquette rules based on both the time and the location of the ceremony and reception.
Morning and afternoon weddings are rarely formal. Daytime wedding dress codes typically range anywhere from semi-formal to casual. If your invitation doesn’t specify a dress code, always err on the side of being overdressed and choose a semi-formal outfit unless the location of the ceremony indicates a more relaxed vibe.
A dress or a skirt and top with dressy heels or flats is always your best bet. If you don’t like wearing dresses or skirts, an elegant pantsuit or jumpsuit is also a good choice. No matter how casual a ceremony, jeans, t-shirts, flip flops, sneakers and activewear are always off limits.
When it comes to color, a daytime wedding is perfect for a red dress as long as it is tasteful and not too showy. Here are some lovely ways to incorporate red into your daytime wedding attire:
Semi-formal daytime wedding attire:
Dressy casual daytime wedding attire:
Casual daytime wedding attire:
More formal than daytime ceremonies, evening weddings require a more sophisticated look. Most evening weddings are black tie, formal or semi-formal, although white tie is also an option.
White tie is the most formal of all the dress codes, requiring female guests to wear a floor-length gown in more conservative colors. It is also the least common of the four formal dress codes and, typically, if the couple expects you to dress for white tie, the invitation will say so.
Black tie or black tie optional is slightly more relaxed and permits female guests to wear either an evening gown or a cocktail dress as long as it’s not above the knee. If dresses aren’t your thing, you can wear either a formal jumpsuit or a women’s tuxedo.
A formal affair requires either an evening gown, formal jumpsuit or cocktail dress, while appropriate semi-formal wedding attire is either a cocktail dress or jumpsuit.
If you’ve been invited to either style of wedding you can wear an above-the-knee dress as long as it passes the fingertip rule. If it’s longer than your fingertips when you hold your arms straight down at your sides, then it’s not too short. Be sure to avoid dresses that are short and snug, however. Tighter fitting skirts always ride up when you sit down, making them inappropriate for a wedding.
If your wedding invite doesn’t list a dress code, a fancy cocktail dress that is knee-length or longer or a formal jumpsuit are your safest choices.
When it comes to choosing the right red for an evening wedding, it’s best to shy away from any shade that is too bright. Muted and deep reds, like the dresses shown below, work best for a formal affair.
White tie evening wedding attire:
Black tie evening wedding attire:
Formal evening wedding attire:
Semi-formal evening wedding attire:
If you’ve been invited to a church wedding ceremony, stylish yet modest attire is always best. Plunging necklines, figure-hugging fabrics and short skirts are a huge faux pas for church ceremonies. Instead, choose dresses that show no cleavage and have hemlines no more than an inch or two above the knee.
A sundress, a maxi dress or a skirt and blouse is perfect for a casual church wedding while semi-formal ceremonies will require a cocktail dress, garden party dress or a fancy skirt and top. Formal daytime weddings will require a cocktail dress while evening ceremonies typically call for an evening gown or a midi cocktail dress.
While not all churches have a strict dress code, it’s better to err on the side of modesty. If you’re attending a Catholic ceremony or a wedding at any conservative church, for instance, it’s important to cover your shoulders with a cardigan or jacket if your dress is sleeveless.
A church is also the wrong place to wear loud colors. Instead, opt for deeper, richer reds and neutral accessories.
Here are some lovely dresses to serve as inspiration.
A beach ceremony tends to be a relaxed and laid back affair with either a casual or a dressy casual dress code. If no guidance is offered on your invitation, you can’t go wrong with a pretty, red maxi dress or sundress. While you can typically wear brighter colors at a more casual wedding, you should still steer clear of anything that takes attention away from the bride.
Here are some adorable dresses to have you beach ceremony-ready.
When choosing a dress for a garden wedding, think ladylike and ultra feminine. Usually semi-formal or dressy casual, a garden wedding is also the perfect time to choose a pretty floral pattern. While garden weddings are typically a time for brighter colors, you still shouldn’t appear in a fire engine red dress. A darker red or a floral print with splashes of bright red ensures you won’t steal the show from the bride.
Here are some good examples to get you started.
Does a country wedding mean casual attire? Not always. While you might associate jeans and cowboy boots with a rural setting, a country-style wedding is not always casual. Whether the ceremony is being held outdoors or in a barn, the dress code can still range from casual to semi-formal.
A pretty red floral or lace dress is perfect for a semi-formal affair while a floral or gingham dress is ideal for dressy casual and casual nuptials. And don’t forget to choose shoes that are comfortable for walking over uneven ground.
Here are some lovely red dresses for a wedding in the country.
Red Wedding Attire FAQ
If you need some help choosing or styling your red dress, our answers to these most frequently asked style questions will steer you in the right direction. Read on for all of our style advice on accessorizing your look as a wedding guest.
What shade of red is best for a fall wedding?
Red with undertones of brown or orange always look fantastic at a fall wedding. Brick, mahogany and maroon have lovely brown undertones while rust and dark coral display hints of orange. While Burgundy, merlot and wine have undertones of purple, they won’t look at all out of place at a fall wedding.
What shade of red is best for a winter wedding?
A December wedding is the perfect time for a cranberry or garnet-colored dress, but only if the wedding party isn’t wearing a similar hue. More muted reds like wine and burgundy are lovely choices for weddings in January and February.
What shoes match a red dress?
No matter what shade of red you’re wearing, you can’t go wrong with a neutral pair of shoes. Gold or nude heels look great with any shade of red and can be worn at any time of the year. Black shoes are also a safe bet and look best for fall and winter weddings. If you’re wearing a red and white dress, white shoes are also a stylish choice — but only at a warm weather wedding.
What jewelry goes with a red dress?
The warmth of yellow gold jewelry always looks stunning against any shade of red while white gold jewelry is the perfect foil for a red and white dress. If you like wearing gemstones, diamonds and pearls are always lovely. If your dress is a true red, rubies are a great choice while garnets work well with a deeper shade like wine or burgundy.
No matter which metal or stone you choose, the key is to use understated pieces so your jewelry isn’t competing with the color of your dress.