Can You Wear Black to a Wedding?

Is it bad to wear black to a wedding? Some see it as a sign of mourning, but it's a common hue for wedding guest attire.

As more and more customs are seen as old-fashioned, it can be difficult to know which so-called rules are meant to be followed when it comes to weddings. Get answers to your question, "Can I wear black to a wedding?"

bride in vera wang wedding dress with bow detail in back bridesmaids in black dresses long slit
Photo: Valorie Darling Photography

As more and more customs are seen as old-fashioned, it can be difficult to know which so-called rules are meant to be followed when it comes to weddings. Some of the trickiest things to navigate are in regards to guest attire and dress code – and the levels of formality for weddings. Those getting married or members of the bridal party are likely spending time looking up all the various guidelines on wedding etiquette, and thus will feel well-versed on what is appropriate.

Wedding guests, on the other hand, will have a range of experiences when it comes to etiquette for your wedding. This can lead to misunderstandings about what to wear, which is why a dress code can actually be helpful for your friends and family. Stating the wedding dress code – or correct attire to wear – doesn’t help when the question regards color in most cases, and that’s the most debated aspect of what’s okay for a guest to wear. Some people are softening on the issue of wearing white to someone else’s wedding – though we tend to disapprove. But what about black? Is it disrespectful to wear black to a wedding?

is it okay to wear black to a wedding?

Photo by Carrie King Photographer

Can You Wear Black to a Wedding?

This, of course, is not a question men have to deal with. In fact, some wedding dress codes (like a black tie wedding) even require that the men attending wear tuxedos – which are generally black. For women, however, is it rude to wear black to a wedding? Especially in regards to what women wear, Western culture used to dictate that black and similar dark colors were a sign of mourning. As such, wearing black to a wedding actually indicated that you may have disapproved of the union!

Now the hue is seen as chic, elegant, and universally flattering. Black wedding guest dresses are growing in popularity, and black is even a popular color for bridesmaid gowns – even when it's not a very formal wedding. If you’re still wondering if it’s okay to wear black to a wedding, the short answer is yes! Although, we would still advise you make sure the black dress itself is appropriate for the setting – not all little black dresses are created equal when it comes to appropriate wedding attire.

When the Wedding Invitation Says Black-Tie Wedding

If you're attending a black-tie wedding, the event will be very formal. More often than not, it will start after 6PM and there will be a sit-down dinner involved, followed by dancing and other fun wedding activities. The black-tie dress code includes wearing black or darker colors. Men are encouraged to wear a dark-colored tuxedo, bow tie, cummerbund, and dark dress shoes. Ladies are encouraged to wear black by way of a long evening gown in dark (or neutral colors) and high heels. If you choose to wear black to a wedding, you'll fit right in!

When the Dress Code is Formal or Black-Tie Optional

Even if you're attending a formal or black-tie optional wedding, wedding guests are still encouraged to wear black. Typically, formal weddings refer to an evening affair wherein tuxedos are not required for gentlemen, but would be appropriate to don for this event. Men are encouraged to wear a formal dark-colored suit or a tuxedo, and ladies a dressy dark-colored or black suit, long gown, or a dark-colored formal cocktail dress (black dress included!) with high heels or dressy flats. Wearing black is very common.

When the Attire is Semi-Formal or Cocktail Attire

If you're wondering, "Can you wear black to a wedding that has a semi-formal or cocktail attire dress code?" the answer is yes. Especially if the ceremony starts after 5PM, darker colors are encouraged; while lighter colors are appropriate if the ceremony starts later. Wedding-guest attire for men is typically a suit and tie, while ladies should wear a cocktail dress or a formal blouse and skirt. Wear black if you want to!

When the Invitation Says White Tie

While not as popular in recent years as the other dress codes, this is the most formal of weddings. Think “state dinner at the White House” or award show attire – you’ll likely receive white glove service and you might need a refresher on proper dinner etiquette. Despite "white" being in the name, both male and female guests are encouraged to wear black as a wedding guest. A dark tuxedo, a suit jacket with tails, a pique vest, and a bow tie with black dress shoes is appropriate for men; white gloves are optional. Ladies can consider wearing black, with a full-length gown in a dark color of choice.

When Not to Wear Black to a Wedding

If you are attending an extremely traditional or conservative wedding – particularly with a ceremony hosted in a house or worship – and you know there will probably be an older crowd, you may want to avoid wearing black and consider a lighter color. Even though the majority of those who are considered a wedding etiquette expert agree that wearing black to a wedding is fine, there are some folks who perhaps didn’t get the memo and may give you a side eye. If you truly have nothing else appropriate in your closet and don’t have the time or money to buy or rent another wedding-attire option, we recommend bright accessories to keep the outfit from looking dour.

What About a Casual Wedding?

A wedding guest can certainly wear black at a casual wedding; however, these sort of events often call for colors or patterns. A casual affair places an emphasis on the bride, groom, and the ceremony and celebration, rather than the formality of tying the knot. Perfectly acceptable for men is a button-down shirt and dress pants, while women should don light-colored dress pants or longer skirt with a “business casual” blouse, or a summer dress. Even for casual weddings, we would advise against a white dress or outfit, unless the couple encourages their guests to wear white.

How About a Beach Wedding?

Some beach weddings are casual, while others may have the term "beach formal" associated with them. Though this type of wedding will presumably be on a beach and mostly, if not entirely, outdoors, remember that the word “formal” has still be employed, so expect the same level of formality as a “black tie optional” fête. Wearing black to a beach wedding or destination wedding is certainly appropriate should you choose to do so; however, the beach setting may encourage men to wear a light-colored suit with a linen shirt, linen pants or khakis, no tie, and comfortable beach shoes. Ladies could wear a black dress, or a formal summer dress that can range between knee-length, tea-length, and full-length with beach sandals.

Guests Walking Down Steps for Cocktail Hour

Photo by Natalie Watson Photography; Planning & Design by Evoke Design & Creative; From Real Wedding: Black-and-White Luxe Backyard Wedding with Modern Minimalism Style

No matter if you're attending a rustic or vineyard wedding, an opulent or ballroom wedding, or a destination wedding by the beach, there are certain faux pas when it comes to what to wear to a wedding. Is it ok to wear black to a wedding? While wearing black to a wedding was once a faux pas, it's now almost expected as weddings don't follow the same rules as they once did. Of course, you'll want to steer clear of wearing wedding-guest dresses that match the same color as bridesmaids (if you know what they'll be wearing ahead of time), and certain rules apply to guest outfits for most weddings in terms of the formality.

To summarize, we recommend wedding attendees avoid wearing white to a wedding; however, wearing black to a wedding is almost always appropriate nowadays. As a wedding guest, it's okay to wear black to a wedding! If you're concerned about wearing black to a wedding, refer to the invitation or the wedding website to confirm any wedding-guest concerns – often detailed on an information or FAQ page. If you have friends or family members also going, don't be afraid to talk to other guests! Find out exactly what style they're going for, look to the location for clues on what's appropriate, or ask the bride or member of the wedding party for advice before the wedding day.

For more advice, find out what questions wedding guests will ask about, learn how to get away with a "B list" for your big day, and find out which wedding "rules" you can break