With so many modern couples opting for all-in-one venues, church weddings simply aren’t as common as they once were. And that leaves many guests feeling uncertain about appropriate wedding attire.
When deciding what to wear to a church wedding, be sure to take into consideration the couple’s religious affiliation as well as the church where the ceremony will take place. Not all churches have the same dress code, so familiarizing yourself with the place of worship can be helpful before deciding on an outfit.
Still feeling unsure? We’ve put together a guide to help you find the perfect outfit for any church wedding ceremony. Read on for all of our helpful tips and tricks to look your best.
Figuring Out the Dress Code
First things first, have a look at your wedding invitation. Is a dress code stated? If it is, follow it to the letter and always err on the side of modesty.
If your invite doesn’t list a dress code, consider the type of church where the wedding is taking place.
In general, Catholic churches have a fairly strict dress code that prohibits short hemlines, plunging necklines and open backs. Depending upon how conservative the priest is, you may also be required to cover your shoulders. Keep in mind too that Catholic wedding ceremonies are quite elaborate and will require a minimum of formal or semi-formal attire.
Ceremonies at Protestant churches tend to be a bit less formal, but guests should still wear semi-formal or dressy casual attire. Ladies should steer clear of minis, plunging necklines or outfits that reveal the lower part of the back.
As a rule of thumb, guests should always avoid casual dress unless the invitation specifically says the ceremony is casual.
Understated is Best
When deciding what to wear to a church wedding, always err on the side of simplicity. Choosing a suit or a dress in colors that don’t draw attention is best. That doesn’t mean you have to stick to a neutral palette, however. Simply avoid super bright colors, outfits with a lot of bling and too much jewelry.
While wearing makeup is fine, avoid extreme looks like punk or goth, even if that is your preferred style. You should also stick to classic hairstyles and accessories.
Common Church Dress Codes
Most church weddings will fall under one of three categories: formal, semi-formal or dressy casual. Although it’s rare, a casual dress code is also a possibility — but only if your invitation expressly says so.
Let’s take a look at the different dress codes and some appropriate outfits for each style.
Formal Dress Code
Formal attire typically means a dark suit for men. If the wedding is at 6 p.m. or later, then it’s time to break out the tuxedo. For ladies, an evening gown or cocktail dress is the way to go. This style of wedding is common at fancy venues.
Formal women’s attire examples:
Sophisticated evening gown
A pretty lace bodice paired with a high neckline and sweet cap sleeves, make this evening gown from Oleg Cassini the perfect choice for a formal wedding. Despite having some ornate details, the dress is still underrated and modest.
Simple evening gown
This v-neck, flutter sleeve gown from Azazie is modestly graceful with its empire waist and soft, flowing skirt.
Pro-tip: If you’re quite busty, you may need to wear a lace cami underneath to ensure the neckline stays modest.
High-low cocktail dress
Gorgeous for a fall or winter wedding, this classy, deep green velvet dress from Ever Pretty is perfect for a formal, conservative wedding. With its three-quarter sleeves, high, rounded neckline and modest below-the-knee length, it’s sure to work at even the most conservative of churches.
Formal men’s attire examples:
If you’re attending a formal, evening ceremony, a tuxedo might be your best bet. This set from Fine Tuxedos is stylish and modern and looks great with a long tie and vest.
If the ceremony is before 6 p.m., you can get away with wearing a suit as long as it’s dark. Black, charcoal or dark navy are ideal choices as is this subtle black pinstripe suit from Sean Astin.
Semi-Formal Dress Code
Semi-formal is one of the most popular wedding dress codes. Male guests should wear a suit or dress pants and sport coat with a tie.
Women can wear a cocktail dress, a garden party dress, a dress and jacket ensemble or a jumpsuit. Remember, church weddings mean hemlines should not be shorter than an inch or two above the knee and necklines should be conservative. If you’re attending a Catholic ceremony, you should also keep your shoulders covered.
Semi-formal women’s attire examples:
Pretty yet proper, the knee-length Barron lace cocktail dress from Tadashi Shoji is sexy yet modest with it’s long sleeves and high neckline.
Garden party dress
This lovely Kaye Dress from Reformation is perfect for a church wedding. It has a modest hemline and neckline and keeps the shoulders covered. It could be paired with a sparkly cardigan or a shawl if the church is cool.
Dress and matching jacket
A classic, tailored dress with a matching jacket is always a great choice for a church wedding. While this matching dress and jacket are conservative, embroidery gives it the extra touch it needs for a semi-formal affair.
Lulu’s elegant emerald halter neck jumpsuit is a great choice for ladies who aren’t comfortable wearing dresses. Conservative in the front, the jumpsuit dips low to show off the back, but a shawl, fancy cardigan or silk blazer would make it ceremony appropriate.
Semi-formal men’s attire examples:
This conservative and elegant Hemsworth navy suit from Indochino will have male guests looking dapper and ceremony-appropriate for a church wedding.
Dress pants and sport coat with tie
While a suit isn’t a necessity, a coat and tie are a must for a semi-formal church ceremony. This check sportcoat from Jos. A. Bank will have men looking handsome in their Sunday best.
Dressy Casual Dress Code
Dressy casual is the second most popular wedding dress code. While it is slightly more relaxed than semi-formal, guests still need to make an effort with their appearance. Men can don a sports coat or blazer with trousers while women can choose to wear a garden party dress, a skirt and top ensemble or a semi-fancy jumpsuit.
Dressy casual women’s attire examples:
Garden party dress
With its high neckline and flirty yet modest hemline, the Zahara dress is perfect for a dressy casual wedding. If the church where the ceremony is being held is ultra-conservative you can add a pretty cardigan to your outfit to cover your shoulders.
Skirt and top ensemble
A full, below-the-knee skirt, like this one from Hunter Bell, paired with a modest silky top is perfect for a dressy casual wedding, especially when paired with the right shoes and minimal accessories.
The silky material and balloon sleeves elevate this simple and modest jumpsuit, making it wedding-appropriate. Even if cobalt blue isn’t for you, it can also be worn in black or rose pink.
Perfect for spring, fall or winter, the long sleeves might be too warm for summer nuptials.
Dressy-casual men’s attire example:
Blazer with tie and trousers
While a tie isn’t absolutely essential at a dressy-casual service, it is a symbol of respect both for the couple getting married and the church itself. This blazer looks casual but elegant with lighter trousers and a tie.
Sport coat and trousers
Unless you love wearing a tie, you can forgo that particular accessory at a dressy-casual wedding. A smart sport coat like this one from Tommy Hilfiger, paired with a nice dress shirt and trousers is always appropriate.
Casual Dress Code
While a casual dress code isn’t the norm for a church wedding, if the bride and groom have indicated the ceremony will be a casual affair on their invitation, then you can dress down a bit.
Men can go without a jacket and tie. Instead, opt for a nice button down dress shirt paired with khakis or trousers. Women can wear a pretty sundress, a maxi dress or a jumpsuit.
Casual women’s attire examples:
Despite having a halter neckline, the wide straps and almost fully covered back combined with the full a-line skirt of this dress from Mod Cloth will have you church ceremony-ready. Add a shawl or cardigan for a Catholic ceremony or wear as is for most other church nuptials.
This maxi dress does have a slit, but it ends just above the knee, making it appropriate for most churches. The flutter sleeves and v-neckline are both modest but the dress does feature an open back, so consider taking a cardigan or shawl to wear for the ceremony.
This comfy yet stylish jumpsuit from Reformation is perfect for a casual church wedding and can be worn year round. Wedges or heels look great for spring and summer while boots are ideal for fall and winter.
Casual men’s attire examples:
Button-down shirt and trousers
This subtly-patterned BOSS shirt paired with dark trousers is casual yet tasteful and would look fab at a casual wedding ceremony.
Button-down shirt and khakis
A well-cut dress shirt, like this one from Macy’s, paired with khakis is just the ticket for a casual yet conservative church ceremony.
Do You Wear the Same Outfit to the Church and Reception?
In most cases, yes. You will wear the same outfit to the church and reception. Unless there are a few hours between the end of the wedding ceremony and the beginning of the reception, you simply won’t have time to change outfits in between.
Ladies can bring a shawl or cardigan to the church to cover any skin bared by their dress and then remove the extra layer for the reception. You can also bring another pair of shoes to change the look of your outfit for the reception.
Men may have the option of removing their jacket and tie at the reception, but take your cue from the groom and groomsmen. If they keep their jackets and ties on, you should too.
Wedding Attire Faux Pas to Avoid
No matter what type of wedding you’re attending, there are certain points of etiquette that you should never breach. Keep these important point in mind when choosing your outfit to avoid offending the bride and groom:
- Never wear white to a wedding. It is always bad form to upstage the bride.
- Jeans are not appropriate for a wedding unless specifically stated in the invitation.
- Shorts, sandals, t-shirts, sneakers and sports wear are never suitable for a wedding of any kind let alone a church wedding.
- Skimpy clothing such as mini skirts, low cut tops, backless dresses or cut out features are tacky at any type of wedding, but especially at a church wedding where a bit more modesty is expected.