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So it’s Springtime and wedding season is in full force. My boyfriend’s sister is getting married this summer and I’ve been going back and forth for weeks over what to wear. To be honest, I haven’t been to many weddings during my adult years and the puffy floral dress with matching dyed shoes I wore to my aunt’s wedding when I was 5 years old doesn’t do much for inspiration today.

Weddings are touchy subjects for many women (have you seen the show Bridezillas?) and the last thing you want to do is either a) under dress or b) over dress. If you’re heading to a wedding this summer, I put my own guest attire hunting skills to the test and pulled together some great BurdaStyle patterns and fun styling ideas that will hopefully help you make a great look to get you through the season in style.

There are really only two strict rules when getting dressed for a wedding and they are:

1. Do not wear white
2. Do not outshine the bride

Easy enough, right? Well, you would think so but when it comes right down to it, figuring out what to wear to a wedding is tough. Much of it depends on what time of day the wedding is, where it is and the family’s background (you don’t want to show up to a super-religious ceremony in a low cut dress and spike heels). Once you have your invitation in hand you can figure out what level of glam you need to aspire to and go from there. If dress isn’t specified on the invite, check the time of day and where the ceremony is located to get a better idea of how to outfit yourself.

There are three standard breakdowns for wedding attire: Casual, Cocktail/Semi-Formal, and Formal/Black-Tie.

Casual/Outdoor – A casual wedding would seem like the easiest to dress for, however don’t be deceived by the word “casual”. There are no flip flops and tee shirts allowed (unless specified, of course) so think more along the lines of a chic outdoor party than couch surfing on a Saturday afternoon. Cute, summery dresses in bright colors or bold florals are always a good choice. And definitely check the ceremony’s location when choosing your footwear because 4 inch heels on soft grass is just a disaster waiting to happen. Repeat after me: wedges and flats are my best friends.

From left: Dress – Marc by Marc Jacobs, shoes – Pour la Victoire, bag – Tiffany; dress – Urban Outfitters, shoes and bag – Debenhams; dress – Steven Alan, shoes – Marais, bag – BCBG; dress – Topshop, shoes – Marc by Marc Jacobs, bag – Kara Ross; dress – Tibi, shoes – Diane von Furstenberg, bag – Mulberry.

Patterns from left: Tank Dress with Gathered Skirt, Ruffle Back Dress, Knee Length Dress with Pockets and Low Back Dress.

Semi-Formal/Cocktail – Late afternoon and evening (indoor) weddings can be classified as a semi-formal/cocktail affair. Get dressed up as if you’re going out to a really nice dinner or drinks with friends at a swanky club. Remember to keep it classy, no plunging necklines or micro minis, and keep the colors darker – think jeweled tones, silvers and of course, black. You can have a bit more fun in this category so experiment with interesting shapes, cool accessories and, since you have nothing more treacherous than a dance floor to contend with, killer shoes.

From left: dress – Maison Martin Margiela, shoes – Isabel Marant, bag – Hunting Season; dress – ALLDRESSEDUP, shoes – Christian Louboutin, bag – Diane von Furstenberg; dress – Notte by Marchesa, shoes – Giuseppe Zanotti, bag – Fab; dress – Asos, shoes – Rubert Sanderson, bag – Judith Leiber

Patterns from left: Dress with Asymmetrical Collar, Ruched Front Evening Dress, Bustier Dress and Bow Back Dress.

Formal/Black-Tie – This is when you get to pull out all the stops: sleek gown, sweeping up-do, and a serious dose of sparkle (whether with your shoes, bag or jewelry) – it’s like your own night on the red carpet. Long gowns are usually best for Black-tie occasions, but you can get away with a dressy cocktail frock or even a sleek pantsuit in a dark color. And fabric is key – I would stay away from cotton or linen for a formal affair.

From left: dress – Roberto Cavalli, shoes and bag – Gucci; dress – Matthew Williamson, shoes – Jimmy Choo, bag – Bottega Veneta; dress – By Malene Birger, shoes – YSL, bag – Jimmy Choo; dress – Maxmara, shoes – Jimmy Choo, bag – K Wick; dress – Elie Saab, shoes – Guiseppe Zanotti, bag – Shop Fris</span

Patterns from left: Sleeveless Column Dress, Criss Cross Halter Dress, Drape Dress, and Jeweled Evening Dress.

From left: Kate Hudson, Mandy Moore, Michelle Williams and Jessica Alba. All photos via Hairdresser on Fire.
Products from left: Clinique True Bronze in Sunswept, Smashbox Blush Rush in Paradise, Shu Uemura Rogue Unlimited in 165m, Revlon Colorstay eyeshadow quad in Sultry Smoke. All photos via Allure.

For outdoor and casual weddings, keep your hair and makeup as fuss-free as possible. Don’t expect that there will be mirrors to check your lipstick, and the wind will undoubtedly whip whatever hairstyle you left the house with into a frenzy, so loose waves or up-dos and minimal makeup are the way to go. Tinted moisturizer (plus concealer if needed), bronzer and lipgloss will have you set.

Semi-formal and formal occasions require a bit more glam. Bold lips or smoky eyes should do the trick – separately though, put them together and you walk a very thin line between glamour girl and drag queen. As for your hair, you can either go super sleek or loose and a little mussy – it really depends on your style. However, I wouldn’t recommend straight up bedhead, so make sure to maintain your frizz!

AND since there were some lovely ladies out there looking for sleeved dresses and flat footwear options, I pulled together a few more ideas….

From left: Erdem, French Connection, Calypso, Charles Anastase and Lanvin.

Patterns from left: Dress with Peter Pan Collar, V-Neck Dress, Kimono Dress, Drop Waist Dress.

From left: 3.1 Phillip Lim, Jaeger, Eileen Fisher, Giambattista Valli.

Patterns from left: Peplum Jacket, Cropped Jacket, Wide Lapel Jacket, and Shirt Jacket.

Clockwise from left: Tulsi, Dolce & Gabbana, Musa, Sigerson Morrison, Valentino and Topshop.

Anyone else headed off to a wedding this summer? If so, do you plan on making your dress or ensemble? Or if there are any wedding guest veterans out there: share your advice for what to make/wear for the occasion!


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    Aug 18, 2011, 10.09 PMby Zuhl Kandi

    It’s really great show despite the simplicity femininity characterized by this patrens I like this post

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    May 18, 2011, 08.35 AMby apease1

    Love this post – just in time for wedding season!

    Has anyone made the Bustier Dress? I’m thinking of making it for my cousin’s wedding and wondering if anyone out there has any feedback/advice before I start!

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    May 18, 2011, 07.15 AMby Umaya Attanayake


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    May 17, 2011, 11.41 PMby adelitadb

    This is great, however I am a busty plus size gal….with a wedding to go to for my SIL. It is an outdoor end of July wedding in Michigan, which tends to be hot and humid…..I really am clueless what to do about a dress. I have looked everywhere and thought of sewing one, but can’t seem to find what I want. What about us big girls? Suggestions? (the wedding is apple green and chocolate….not colors that are good for me. I am bright, bold and colorful…how do I look good without standing out?)…

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    May 17, 2011, 07.40 PMby eccentric57

    A good rule of thumb for older female guests that has served me well…A great shawl and ballet slippers! A simple dress can be dressed up or down with a shawl. I love a little shine at night and something sheer for afternoon. Ballet shoes are simple, elegant, and you can dance all night, (if you are lucky!). Best of all they never hurt and look chic.

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    May 17, 2011, 06.06 PMby Shalyn McFaul

    I’ve barely been to any weddings before and am usually the jealous one when people tell of all the weddings they are going to. This year seems to have changed that for me as all of my friends suddenly got engaged. I will even be the matron of honor for one of them. I will definitely be making my dress for that role and probably throw together another dress to take me through the others.

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    May 16, 2011, 02.34 PMby themisslinds

    alright ladies, the jury has spoken! i’m working on adding sleeved options and some flat shoe suggestions to this post so keep an eye out!

    1 Reply
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      May 17, 2011, 07.44 PMby eccentric57

      Depends on the cut…if it is flowing and you are going in the afternoon with flats, maybes some romantic sleeves…or how about very stark and chic with flats and make the sleeves 3/4 with an sharp edge???

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    May 16, 2011, 11.43 AMby mccit

    i love the line about weddings being a touchy subject. my (much) younger sister is getting married in a few weeks, and i lost so much sleep on what to wear. luckily i can sew my own dress, unfoutantlly i don’t have time to sew for one of my sisters and one of my sisters in law who wanted me to sew for them. looking for dresses for my other siblings weddings was always very difficult, glad i don’t have to deal with that… my dress is mainly black though, and after all the comments about wearing black to weddings i might have to re-think it!! its black lace though with bright blue satin underneath so i hope its ok… (most peopple around hear wear all black to weadings anyway) we all have to wear sleaves and modest necklines, so usually solve that problem by wearing eather a bolero, or a shirt under the dress. that works with most dresses, but definitly might ruin the effect of some of the dresses presented. oh well…

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    May 16, 2011, 01.30 AMby iamdaniela

    I attended a wedding where the MIL wore white… and thats the epitome of WRONG! I agree with no black at a wedding, but because its the perfect occasion to wear color. We wear so much black all the time that I always make an effort to wear color and definitely the highest heels I can dance in! Boleros and cardigans are a great way to cover (or hide, in my case) so lets no be so dramatic!! Buy a cardi!!


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    May 15, 2011, 12.34 AMby Andreyka

    I love this post!I loved the floral dresses! And for those that wanted sleeves, you can just make good use of a jacket, or a bolero, it s summer! Take advantage of it and show some skin, I used a bolero for my wedding which my mom made because our family is very religious and strict so I could not show my shoulders. I agree, with the only colour you should not wear is white, I had to tell my cousing to please get another dress when she told me that she would attend my wedding with a white far as black I think it s ok, black is a neutral and guys mostly wear black suits, I don’t think wearing black is bad for a wedding.. Great post!

    2 Replies
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      May 15, 2011, 02.31 PMby ruthw

      Good point about the boleros and the men’s suits, but they just make a nice backdrop to the women’s colourful clothes in the photos!

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      May 16, 2011, 02.49 PMby villeford

      I agree on the black thing. As a musician, I’ve performed at many weddings and have a standard modest black dress (with a touch of white) for those occasions. I prefer other colors if I’m a guest, but I feel if you have a role in the wedding you have the duty to fade into the background a bit.

      I’ve also been to several weddings where the color scheme was black and white. Since wearing all white would be a no-no, there were more than a few all-black dresses.

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    May 14, 2011, 11.54 PMby somethingcute

    I agree with the other posters: sleeveless isn’t appropriate for a lot of wedding ceremonies, for the most part if it is in a church, it is best to either at least have a cap sleeve or wear a shrug or stole until the reception.

    Beyond “all white” being on the “what not to wear” list up, I also agree that all black is tacky for a wedding as well, break it up with some color, add colorful accessories or find something more cheerful to wear than black. Also, unless it is the brides chosen color for the wedding decor, don’t do all red either, its just too attention grabbing.

    I try to choose something suitable based on the occasion though, I have had several friends who used red and black as their wedding colors; and I also had a friend who asked that people wear light blue.

    To me, the important thing is to dress well, dress to the correct level of formality, and keep it simple and chic. It is hard to go wrong that way :)

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    May 14, 2011, 03.11 PMby ruthw

    Not a single one of your suggestions has sleeves – that’s pretty bad. Some of us like our sleeves. Also, I would like to agree with queenvanilla and say that when one of my sister’s friends turned up to my sister’s wedding in a black dress, I was not best pleased. It seemed a sort of insult to me. A wedding is not a funeral so turning up in all-black is just as attention-grabbing as turning up in all-white.

    But I love all the colourful dresses. A wedding is a celebration so what better time to pull out all the stops and wear your brightest and best!

    1 Reply
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      May 14, 2011, 10.47 PMby zoby

      Beyond “some of us like our sleeves” is the fact that at many weddings sleeveless isn’t really at all appropriate. So it would have been nice to see suggestions that covered more options, I agree.

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    May 14, 2011, 02.05 PMby wzrdreams

    Thanks for the suggestions! I’m still trying to decide on a dress to make for an evening semi formal wedding in a few weeks.

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    May 13, 2011, 10.51 PMby jacquipardue

    terrific thorough post! Thank you :) i’m currently making a dress for my sister’s bridal shower—a garden tea party. i’m tryin out chiffon for the first time!

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    May 13, 2011, 09.05 PMby queenvanilla

    In Sweden it’s not ok to wear entirily black either, since it is regarded as mourning attire. And a wedding is not often a place for mourning. :) So those dresses in the upper right photo certainly is out of order.

    I take weddings as an opportunity to wear a hat, though!

    1 Reply
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      May 14, 2011, 01.35 AMby rogue-cellist

      absolutely a hat! a wedding is one of the only opportunities we women have to wear a really glamorous hat these days.

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    May 13, 2011, 07.26 PMby 00nihila00

    dear fabric artists, please consider researching information on the sometimes horrific problems associated with non-organic/non-fair trade fabric production…..

    i was inspired to research cotton production issues after reading a Burda Style post on cotton prices……;feature=relmfu (a video on Endosulfan & cotton farming by The Environmental Justice Foundation)

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    May 13, 2011, 06.59 PMby lienepien

    Nice blog. This summer I am MOH at my friends wedding. So exciting! But not sure what to wear yet. I don’t think I do it myself. Love to do, but I don’t know what and the only thing I have finished by now is a marie skirt. So a dress for a wedding sounds difficult.. And I have only 4 months left.. (I think it can be made in 4 months.. but.. by me?) So maybe I will try.. but already looking for dresses in the stores… What I am planning to do, if I buy a dress, make some accesoires for in my hair or something. Or if I can’t find the right shoes buy some simple shoes and do something with that. Also need to organize a bachelorparty.. does somebody has inspiration for me?

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    May 13, 2011, 06.51 PMby bodicegoddess589

    Wedding veteran here! (So much a veteran that my brother-in-law gave me “27 Dresses” as a joke. What made it funnier is that the next day, my college roommate called me to tell me she was engaged.) I’ve been to pretty much every type of wedding, from “small ceremony followed by potluck” to “church wedding followed by everyone walking to a mansion for the reception.” My parents were the first to get married on both sides of the family, and have lots of siblings, so I’ve been around.

    Two Christmases ago, I made myself a vintage-styled dress. I was under the influence of “Mad Men” something fierce, and when I saw chocolate-brown-printed-velvet-taffeta on sale at Jo-Ann’s, I couldn’t resist. What resulted was this:

    And you know what? I got more mileage out of that dress than I ever imagined! I wore it on Christmas day, to a wedding in February, to a movie premiere in May, and to a June wedding. The simple, yet elegant cut translated easily to every situation. I paired it with a pair of bright pink flats and a green sweater for Christmas and a February wedding, blue heels and a peacock hair fascinator for the movie premiere, and busted out the pink flats when I wore it to the wedding.

    When it comes down to it, what you wear matters, but not terribly. Everyone will be focused on the bride. The thing you don’t want is negative attention, because most of the positive stuff is going to be directed elsewhere, and understandably so.

    2 Replies
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      May 13, 2011, 10.26 PMby stefanisarah

      A very very nice dress! I can easily imagine it worn with bright flats.

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      May 13, 2011, 10.39 PMby themisslinds

      ooo what a beautiful dress!

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    May 13, 2011, 06.45 PMby FabricUiPhoneApp

    No flats in your shoe suggestion list? I recently broke my ankle and had surgery, so there’s no way I’d wear any of these options right now although some are cute. I’m happy to report, though, I haven’t been invited to any weddings so far this year. It makes me happy because I don’t have to buy any presents!

    1 Reply
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      May 13, 2011, 08.31 PMby Dani Restercher

      Especially if it was outside – never know what terrain you’ll get!! I have my favourite heels and managed to find flats which are pretty much the same style in a ballerina for quick exchange!

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