The Best Dresses to Wear to Every Kind of Wedding

Whether you’re off to a gorgeous day ceremony under a white tent, a tropical beach getaway or a fancy evening soiree, we’ve got your outfit sorted.
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Whether you’re off to a gorgeous day ceremony under a white tent, a tropical beach getaway or a fancy evening soiree, we’ve got your outfit sorted.
Wedding appropriate. Photo: Laura Lezza/Getty Images.

Wedding appropriate. Photo: Laura Lezza/Getty Images.

Wedding season is upon us. That means free booze, free food, catching up with our nearest and dearest (maybe that order should be flipped?) and, ack, deciding what to wear. Few sartorial challenges are quite as vexing, save for maybe a job interview. But having gotten gussied up for our fair share of spring and summer nuptials, we’ve narrowed the process down to three primary concerns: 1. You don’t want to upstage the bride; 2. You want to seem appropriate; and 3. You want to look pretty.

As far as the upstaging the bride thing, which kind of smacks of mean girl nonsense, we’ve interpreted that to mean just don’t wear white. While that may sound old-fashioned, you’ll run the risk of wondering if people are judging you for making such a move. Even if they’re not, the paranoia isn’t worth it (white mixed in with a print is fine, though). In terms of seeming appropriate, that’s just simply being mindful of how much skin you’re showing -- you want to go with tasteful skin. No plunging necklines or super high hems that will give any great aunts the opportunity to clutch their pearls. And looking pretty -- that’s more about being comfortable in whatever you choose to go with. If you’re a Sofia Coppola type, don’t feel like you have to do a princess-y makeover and show up in a floral print tea dress. Plus, economically speaking, it’s smart to pick out something you like enough to wear again.

To give you some ideas, we’ve rounded up the best guest dresses to wear to all the upcoming save-the-dates on your calendar, broken down by ceremony type: traditional, beach and evening. If you’re not a dress kind of girl, we’d suggest a tasteful jumpsuit for day, or maybe even a pair of trendy gauchos, like these, a classic silk tank and full skirt to hit the sand, and a tailored trousers with fancy top combo for after dusk.  

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A day wedding is easily the most conservative of the bunch. If you’re lucky, it’ll be held on a grand estate with white tents on a sprawling lawn of bright green grass, complete with waiters in crisp white shirts offering champagne. To that end, you want to coordinate with the adjectives this scene conjures: pretty, fresh and fragrance-commercial-ready. Now’s the time to break out spring’s best prints -- from floral to gingham -- as well as finally take lace for a spin. Silhouettes can be all over the map, but should ideally share a simple sensibility: flowy cocoons, streamlined sheaths or structured shirtdresses are all a good bet. One thing: Go for block heels or wedges -- stilettos on aforementioned idyllic lawn are a hazard.

J.Crew Collection dress, $450, available at Net-a-Porter; Marni oval stone bracelet, $295, available at Nordstrom; Layne cuff bracelet, $69.50, available at Club Monaco; Erin Considine Sky Pom cuff, $268, available at Anthropologie; Selima Olivia sunglasses, $145, available at Club MonacoA.L.C. Davenport clutch, $545, available at Revolve; See by Chloe sandal, $360, available at Neiman Marcus. 

Silk Lucy dress, $455, available at A.P.C.; Apiece Apart Merida Fan dress, $395, available at Les Nouvelles; Collette by Collette Dinnigan Fields of Daisy dress, $465, available at Matches Fashion; Diane Von Furstenberg Zarita dress, $345, available at Net-a-Porter; J.Crew Collection dress, $450, available at Net-a-Porter; Rachel Comey Popcorn dress, $552, available at La Garconne; Tanya Taylor Matilda dress, $550, available at Moda Operandi; Floral embellished dress, $200, available at Topshop; Ines de la Fressange x Uniqlo, $49.90, available at Uniqlo; Split hem midi dress, $145, available at Whistles; YMC paintbrush dress, $295, available at Matches Fashion; Printed dress, $59.90, available at Zara.

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A destination wedding is to the special occasion world what Coachella is to music festivals: a chance to let your inner bohemian out of the closet (within reason). They’re also great because you can stock up on things you need for the season anyway: a great sun hat, cool sunglasses and a killer pair of sandals. Color is the big story here, with pastels and vivid hues both set to “pop” against a gorgeous blue sky. Look for anything with embroidery or embellishment, preferably on a tunic or maxi dress.

Rag & Bone Cubana dress, $550, available at Blue and Cream; Sequin bracelet set, $18, available at Macy’s; Airy summer straw hat $32.50, available at J.Crew; Braided sandals, $59.90, available at Zara; Ray-Ban extra large aviators, $150, available at Singer22; Lark & Wolff K501 bag, $110, available at Steven Alan.

3.1 Phillip Lim raffia patchwork dress, $795, available at Nordstrom; Wilfred Sonnet dress, $150, available at Aritzia; Charlie by Matthew Zink kaftan, $375, available at Net-a-Porter; Chelsey dress, $249, available at Club Monaco; Collette by Collette Dinnigan Ramie dress, $360, available at Matches Fashion; Isabel Marant Olan dress, $520, available at Forward by Elyse Walker; Jack by BB Dakota Rayna maxi dress, $80, available at Urban Outfitters; Needle & Thread embellished mini dress, $425, available at Net-a-Porter; Ellen dress, $311, available at Otte; Rag & Bone Cubana dress, $550, available at Blue and Cream; Rebecca Taylor floral lace dress, $595, available at Matches Fashion; Clerke dress, $108, available at Trademark; Striped dress, $59.90, available at Zara.

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A nighttime ceremony is a double-edged sword: The expectation is to look like you’re headed out to, say, fancy cocktails on a Friday night but not appear too sexy. A good rule of thumb is to nix anything that requires any special undergarments other than a strapless bra (those boob adhesives? No.). Feel free to wear black without abandon (which is actually fine at all types of weddings but especially on-point here); jewel tones work well, too. Tip: a shortcut to looking fancy is choosing a fabric with a high sheen, such as silk or satin. Most importantly, wear flats -- these nights tend to go late and get tipsy.

Maxi dress, $17.95, available at H&M; Skinny metal belt $37.63, available at ASOS; Vince Camuto Onyx minaudiere, $142.99, available at Zappos; Givenchy magnetic ear stud, $399.70, available at Farfetch; Darla tassel sandal, $198.50, available at Club Monaco 

3.1 Phillip Lim dandelion embellished dress, $650, available at Nordstrom; Alexander Wang belted dress, $745, available at Barneys New York; DKNY Illusion V-neck dress, $295, available at Shopbop; Elizabeth and James Angelina dress, $375, available at Matches Fashion; Maxi dress, $17.95, available at H&M; Isabel Marant Yann dress, $685, available at Forward by Elyse Walker; Kylie dress, $250, available at J.Crew; Echo draped watercolor dress, $485, available at Opening Ceremony; River Island beaded dress, $122.99, available at ASOS; Goodall dress, $198, available at Trademark; Vanessa Bruno Athe dress, $394, available at The Corner.