Quirky Wedding Dress Codes Don't Work for Me, or For Anyone

I don't know what "Pastel Formal" is. And I don't want to know.
IMAGE Getty Images Archive Photos

Hi, my name is Justin, and if you’re reading this, we’ve probably attended the same wedding. At least, it feels that way. 

Twenty-eight is just one of those ages, you know? Your friends are old enough to be getting married and it’s no longer charming to run a gambling ring out of the back pew, taking bets on when the couple is going to get divorced. (To be clear, I would never do that, but it wouldn’t be a bad way to make some extra cash. I’m averaging somewhere between five and seven weddings a year, and that ice cream maker from Crate & Barrel isn’t going to pay for itself, is it Janine?)

With nearly 15 weddings total in the last couple of years, I’ve learned there are a few things you can always expect. You are always required to cha-cha slide, and if there’s an open bar, you should also do The Wobble, which is the physical expression of a drunken thank you. You will be asked to assist the couple in exiting the ceremony in an inorganic way, probably with sparklers or something. But most predictably of all, you will always wonder exactly how you’re supposed to dress. 


Sometimes, this is because the rules of dressing for a wedding aren’t clear: Should I wear a blazer or not? (Always err on the side of more formal.) Is it chill if I wear shorts? (Never.) But sometimes, in the throes of being creative and in love, excited couples decide to further complicate the complicated. 

Be the face of cultural change: Stop with the cute wedding dress codes. I love that you’ve invited me to your barn-themed wedding, but unless you want me to do a reprisal of the scarecrow costume I wore for my elementary school's production of The Wiz, I’m going to need more of a directive than “Rustic Nostalgia.”

I went to a wedding last year and the attire listed on the invitation was “Resort Evening.” Guess what, cowboy? I’ve never been to a resort. I can currently afford exactly two twin beds at a Victoria's Court and a king-size bag of Peanut M&Ms from the vending machine down the hall. And, trust me, you don’t want my motel outfit at your wedding. And whose fault is it going to be if I wear it? Yours. As a bride or a groom, you owe it to yourself and the event to be as clear as possible when explaining how you want friends and family to dress.     

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There’s a whole list of attire themes out there, and it feels like such a good idea at the time because it’s your day. But you can’t be mad at me if you’ve listed “Mountain Casual” on your invitation and I show up looking like an alabaster Go Diego Go! with a pair of hiking boots and zinc oxide on my nose. Sun poisoning is real and it is scary. 

If you’re looking for suggestions on how to handle this sort of situation, look no further than right here. I typically write about television and alcohol; I’m not coming to you as a fashion expert. I’m coming to you as an everyman who is honestly trying to decide whether the blue suit, the black suit, or the khaki pants are the right option. There are so many ways to make your wedding day special, but none of them should involve me trying to play whatever sick ring-around-the-wardrobe game you’re peddling.


So, let’s take it back. All the way back to elementary school. I’m going to give you a word bank, and with it, you can create the world. 

Weddings generally fall into four categories: black tie, cocktail, dressy casual, or casual. There’s still some explaining to do here because most of the world isn’t hitting up cocktail hours on the regular. (Luckily, we made you a guide for those.) If you have the space (or a link), just guide people with words like “blazer,” “suit,” “tie,” or “khakis.” No one is going to be annoyed with the specificity. If you want to be a real peach, add in some words like “colorful” or “fun.” That says that you don’t have to wear only blue or black, but doesn’t leave you wondering what “Arctic Playtime” could entail.     

Have a color theme you’d like people to adhere to? List the colors. You can’t expect people to know your color palette. My definition of “sunsetty” could be entirely different than yours. 

And on the other side of this argument, if you’re sitting, looking at an RSVP, and wondering what in the hell “Desert Chic” means, then I’m going to tell you that you should dress like Faith Hill from her iconic 1999 music video “Breathe.” And once I’ve stopped laughing at my own stupid joke, I’m going to tell you to go with the old standard—no one has ever been too far off the mark in a nicely tailored suit, crisp shirt, and dress shoes. 


The point of the story is: There are more important things at your wedding than how your guests dress. Honestly, if you’re paying attention to the ensembles of those around you and not, you know, your spouse, then I might just set up that betting ring in the back pew after all.

This story originally appeared on Esquire.com. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.

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About The Author
Justin Kirkland
Justin Kirkland is a writer for Esquire, where he focuses on entertainment, television, and pop culture. Prior to Esquire, his work appeared in Entertainment Weekly, Hollywood Reporter, and USA Today. He is from East Tennessee and currently lives in Brooklyn, New York.
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