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Dress Code Debacle

I have been with my boyfriend over a year now.  So far, his close family have all been wonderful, loving, and inclusive of me at every turn.  I like them all and am looking forward to perhaps being a member of their family someday.

A few months ago, he and I had decided to accept the wedding invitation of his cousin in a far-away state.  The drive would be over seven hours each way, a car would have to be rented (we do not own one), and we also had the consideration of paying for the hotel room, food, gas, not to mention the gift!– all normal expenses for an out-of town gathering.

Now, just so we are clear, my beautiful boyfriend’s family and myself are all working class people.  There is not an over-abundance of wealth.  We are not in poverty, but are also not worry-free concerning finances, either.

After we RSVP in  the positive, having set aside over 600$ for a two-day event, we notice on the bride’s wedding website that she has stipulated “No black or excessively dark clothing”.  I was (and continue to be) appalled.  I had intended to wear “my best”, which would have been a black pair of dress pants and a lovely navy blouse I have.  As we are working-class, I haven’t owned a formal, floor-length dress since high school, and have always worn my very best dress clothes to weddings and funerals.  I have never had someone be snide to me concerned this.

It is also fair to mention that I am slightly over six feet tall and am no stringbean.  My dress clothes cost an outrageous amount of money.  My pants easily cost anywhere from 85 to 150$ a pair, are always altered, and there is no way on Earth I would ever buy light-colored pants!  Normal dresses and skirts are out of the question due to scarring on my legs (it is distracting to see and painful to be questioned about).  I checked around online with the tall-ladies stores and found nothing our already-strained budget could accommodate.  Thrift and resale shops also yielded nothing- women of my height and size simply don’t cast aside clothing that fits, apparently.

So, I rescinded my commitment and sent my partner off alone.  For two days, he was somewhat-alone and tagged along with his siblings and cousins.  When he returned, he showed me the photos.  I had expected to see a formal wear pageant depicted.  This was not the case at all.   There were men dressed entirely in black at this function- pants, shirts, and ties (no jackets were worn).  There were women dressed in navy and black as well.  Pants on ladies were also depicted.  I was crestfallen and felt very self-conscious about this.  I had been expected to be there to meet this branch of his family, and felt so embarrassed.

While I don’t imagine it was intended to slight me in particular, I found it in very poor taste to dictate guest dress code at a wedding.  When my best friend married years ago in a lovely church wedding, “your best” was all that was expected.  Should I ever have the fortune of marrying my man, rest assured, “your best” will indeed be the requested outfit should anyone inquire- even if “your best” is a pair of pressed khakis and a polo.  I certainly wouldn’t have the gall to post it on a website!  Isn’t one supposed to be more concerned with your guest enjoying your day with you, rather than ‘looking just right’ for the photos?!  What a joke.  I don’t think I’ll be concerning myself about such trivialities in the future, and keep those that are not close to us at arm’s length. 0627-10

{ 76 comments… add one }
  • Chelsey August 13, 2010, 3:10 pm

    I do think that the OP has no reason to be offended by this, though I will say that it is ridiculous for brides to stipulate what guests wear. I don’t care if etiquette says you don’t wear black to a wedding or a day wedding or whatever. Some people (believe it or not ladies!) can’t afford to go out and buy new clothes for YOUR wedding (I’m getting the feeling that some people don’t understand that $600 is a lot of money to set aside for someone else’s wedding and that some people really don’t make much money–in my area, $20,000 is about the average salary). Let’s say a black dress is all someone has (besides work clothes and casual things like jeans and t-shirts), then a black dress is what that person is going to wear. Like the OP said, it should be good enough that people wear the best that they have.

  • Babs August 13, 2010, 7:55 pm

    I think the couple used back judgement, and I doubt very much that they would want someone to stay home just because they couldn’t adhere to their color demands. It’s perfectly fine to say “black tie” or “formal” or dressy casual, etc. That is not dictating to the guests what to wear, it’s simply giving a guests a guide as to how formal (or not) the wedding is going to be. But to try and dictate the color of the dress is wrong. I’m really sorry that the OP missed an opportunity to be with possibly her future family, and am surprised that she couldn’t find a solution other than staying home. I also think her boyfriend completely dropped the ball on this one, and should have encouraged her to go. If it was me, I would definitely stick with the nice black pants, which is always appropriate, but just bought a bright or colorful dressy top to go with it. She wouldn’t have had to spend a fortune on it. But to not go and have a lovely weekend with her boyfriend and his family, seems very extreme under the circumstances.

  • Lydia August 13, 2010, 9:46 pm

    While I have heard of people being all superstitious about not wearing black to a wedding, I’m just a little confused as to why the OP was concerned about wearing dress slacks. I’m not reading anywhere it saying that dress slacks were not permitted, just not black or dark colours. If that’s all you have, I wouldn’t have a problem with it. I do however think that a bride has some right to set even a minor dress code. At the first wedding I went to(Since I was a young child), my parents and I were appalled to see guests arriving in cargo shorts and t-shirts! While you shouldn’t be made to feel like you need to go out and buy a new outfit for someone’s special day, you should have enough sense to wear something respectful of the occasion.

  • jenna August 14, 2010, 3:20 am

    Laura – no, I am not religious at all, so our wedding is in a garden on the grounds of a historic home, and the cocktail hour / reception is on the nearby terrace and in a room on the same grounds.

    But that’s not the point – point is that many people don’t like pastels. They don’t look good in pastels and nobody should have to buy a dress in a color that doesn’t flatter them (there is no pastel in the world that flatters me, and I hate them besides, so I am a good example). So I ask again – what is so wrong with jewel tones, autumn colors, maybe a nice bright blue or plum? Why *must* it be pastels, according to Miss Manners?

    As for red – some people can say it’s inappropriate but I still think that etiquette no longer has any bearing on what colors one wears, within reason. That’s why how-to-be-polite advice centers on RSVP scions such as “always RSVP” and “always bring a gift of wine/chocolate/flowers etc. to a dinner party” and never quotes “no white after Labor Day” anymore. I can see how someone may not want to wear red or black to a wedding as a personal choice, but other than a guest showing up in white, I don’t think it is appropriate to dictate to guests that they have to abide by the same rules. Etique

    I guess my point is – I am never going to wear a pastel color to anything. No matter what Miss Manners says. I won’t wear white to a wedding and I would probably not wear black unless it was to a wedding where I knew it’d be OK (couple told me so, costume wedding, New Year’s wedding etc)…but I’ll be darned if someone’s going to tell me I can’t wear, say, russet or cranberry or fuchsia or emerald and I have to go out and buy a hideous eggshell blue or pale pink monstrosity of a dress. (Hot Rod red doesn’t look good on me – my wedding dress is more of a cranberry/plum shade of red. White also doesn’t work for me. But if I could wear red, I would wear it to parties and weddings proudly).

    So I stand by what I said: etiquette is about treating people well. It has no place in telling people what colors to wear. Dictating a dress code is fine, but dictating color choice is not.

  • jenna August 14, 2010, 3:30 am

    As for my comment about “it’s not really polite to throw a black tie wedding when you know your guests don’t have and can’t afford gowns and tuxes” – well, you don’t have to pry into the financial matters of others, but most people can make a reasonable guess regarding what their social circle is comfortable with, without having to dwell on it too deeply. For example, I’d never ask my friends what they make, but I know just from being around them that they can afford to buy new dresses but not necessarily new gowns, that professionally done hair is within reach but an entire spa day is a bit too much to ask.

    Sure, it’s fine to throw such a party and if people can’t come that’s their business, but don’t be surprised if you put many people out because they feel obligated to attend and spend that money – I’m talking close friends, immediate family, grandparents, your own parents, and if the community at large (assuming the person in this example is a part of a tight-knit community. I’m an expat so I am not) feels a little put-upon or uncomfortable about the whole thing. It may not be technically “rude” but it’s not necessarily the best idea.

  • Elizabeth Bunting August 14, 2010, 12:43 pm

    Here is a case of lack of communication. The OP’s fiancee should have called the bride or the bride’s mother and asked for specifics. He could have told them what his fiancee had available in her wardrobe to wear and see if they approved. It looks as though the invitation was merely a suggestion and not a “you will be barred if you don’t comply.”

    I once had a choir who only sang during the summer. We called ourselves the “Summer Singers.” We had a singing engagement and I asked if everyone had a flowered dress. They all said yes, they did. So we all wore flowered dresses to the engagement. If someone had not owned one, someone else would have offered. If not, they could just wear a summer dress, flowered or not. Problem solved!

    I can see how the OP must have felt, though, as she has only known the family for one year.

  • anotherloginname August 14, 2010, 6:39 pm

    I think the submitter read waaaay to much into this. I don’t see an etiquette breach, just an oversensitive recipient. For whatever reason, the bride/groom preferred for their guests not to wear dark colours. If it wasn’t printed on the invitations, it really was more a request than a demand. And should you have had any concerns, you or your boyfriend should have contacted them to explain the situation.

    And lastly, if buying clothes is that difficult, what about making them? Costs a fraction of the price, and there are far more opportunities for colour/style than there are in the shops. There are some very simple but stunning patterns out there for the larger woman.

  • Mechtilde August 15, 2010, 6:58 am

    Making your own clothes means either having access to a sewing machine, or buying one. They are not cheap. I know. Mine has just died on me. Then you have to find a suitable pattern, and alter it to suit your own size- not easy if you have never done it before, and the OP has already made it clear that she is very tall and plus sized. I have this problem and am an experienced sewer- I’ve made a ballgown and wedding dress before now- and still sometimes have problems adjusting patterns to suit and fit me. You also have to find the appropriate fabric, which is also not cheap these days (at least where I live- it can cost me more to make a dress than buy one).

    I make my clothes because I like doing it and am an odd shape to dress. It may be a solution for me, but it isn’t a solution for everyone by any stretch of the imagination.

  • DGS August 15, 2010, 11:46 am

    Reiterating a point I have made earlier and what some other posters have said, suggesting a dress code on the invitation is not a demand – it is a way to hint at the formality of an event to give the guests an idea of what to wear. Also settings and times of year may hint at how formal a wedding might be (for instance, a beachfront wedding outdoors might be less formal than a Saturday evening event at a hotel). It is also a suggestion, not a demand, and most reasonable people would not bar someone from attending their event if the guests could not comply by that dress code for whatever reason.

    Most brides I know (including myself when I was a bride) couldn’t give a hoot about whether you purchase a new dress, rent a dress, wear a pair of slacks from your closet or show up in a borrowed outfit – provided you are dressed appropriately and cleanly, and provided you show up.

    Further, as someone who had black as my bridesmaids’ dresses (which is very trendy lately) for a Saturday evening black-tie wedding (and, btw, keeping my bridesmaids’ different financial situations in mind, I asked them to pick out a black cocktail dress of their own choosing, rather than picking out a gown – my MOH wore a dress she purchased at JCPenney for $40, while another bridesmaid wore an extremely costly designer gown, and guess what, they both looked stunning and felt confident and happy with their appearances), I noticed that many women at my wedding wore dark-colored evening gowns or suits. It has nothing to do with mourning; I am Russian Jewish, and in my community, many women wear dark formal dresses to formal events, and it’s not at all funereal. In fact, those dresses would be inappropriate to wear to a funeral, as a plunging evening gown would be extremely tacky to wear to a funeral. And other women wore light-colored gowns. And some women who did not own formal gowns came in suits or blouses and pants. And I didn’t care – to me, it was important that my guests enjoyed themselves, ate and drank well, and had a good time, and they did. I would venture a guess that this is what most brides care about rather than what their guests wear.

    Finally, to those who suggest that having a black tie event or a black tie optional event is not respective of someone’s budget – if I am hosting the event, suggesting (not demanding) a dress code and inviting you, how is that inconsiderate of your budget? I am not asking you to contribute to the event – I am simply asking you to show up and honor me with your presence. If you feel self-conscious about being invited to a black-tie event, that’s your issue, not the host’s. What’s more, no one ever asked anyone to buy new clothes as a guest at a wedding – wear what you can wear.

  • RP August 16, 2010, 3:05 pm

    I agree with phoenix. Some of the comments here bashing the OP are outright rude and they ought to be ashamed of themselves.

  • Sharon August 16, 2010, 8:33 pm

    I would have to say that I understand fully the feelings of the OP. She doesn’t want to offend her fella and she does not want to alienate his family.
    And, all of us that are fans of this site know that there are some brides who will rip you to shreds with their teeth for ruining “THEIR DAY” by nothing more than wearing a navy blue dress to their wedding when they asked for “No black or exessively dark colors, please.” I am 59 years old and I do not know if I would go to the wedding if I was in the very same circumstance. I would be afraid of making the bride feel like I was blatantly disrespecting her wishes.

  • Lambzig August 17, 2010, 5:18 am

    @Jamesy – here in the uk the term “fancy dress” on an invitation indicates that it what you might call a costume party, definitely not a call for formal attire!

    Here, women generally feel a bit wrong about wearing black to a wedding with the caveat that if you want to, you must ask permission from the bride (and good etiquette on the bride’s side will always give you permission), but wearing trousers to a very formal wedding is a bit off.

  • Caitlin August 17, 2010, 9:56 am

    I’m a goth, and even I didn’t wear all black to my friends fairly traditional wedding- I wore purple with black accents. However, if I didn’t have the ready wherewithal for a fair few formal dresses, I would have just worn the smartest thing in my wardrobe that fit- and due to aforementioned gothyness that very well may have been black.

  • Caitlin August 17, 2010, 9:57 am

    Should have said though, that people wore black to ours, but ours was much less traditonal and formal, and encouraged ‘wearing the most awesome thing you own’ and a lot of people came in full on elegant gothic.

  • jenna August 17, 2010, 12:16 pm

    Lambzig – I used to have a good friend (we had a falling out – long unrelated story) who felt quite uncomfortable in dresses and skirts. She is female, though edging towards what we’d now call “gender-fluid” – simply put, very much a tomboy.

    To the point where she owned no skirts or dresses, refused to buy any, and couldn’t fathom ever wearing one, feeling about them even more strongly than I feel re: my hatred of pastels. She felt about clothes as a man might – skirts are pretty but wearing one would be mighty discomforting.

    She wore a lovely pantsuit in a dusty rose color – I think – to a friend’s formal wedding and it was *fine*.

    So I don’t think any woman who feels uncomfortable in skirts or dresses should feel beholden to buy and wear them because “trousers are a bit off”. That’s not fair to those women.

  • amazon August 17, 2010, 12:52 pm

    Sorry, OP, but as a fellow Amazon (6 feet tall) and having once weighed 240 pounds, I haven’t had a problem dressing on the cheap since, oh, the year 1999 or so, since evey major retailer now carries clothing that I could wear even at my largest. Please don’t say you could not make it to a K-Mart to purchase a top for the occasion, and unless you live waaaay out in the middle of nowhere, you can even find pants in TALL sizes. A few retailers you might like: Lane Bryant; Catherine’s; It’s Fashion; Cato; Dress Barn; M-Mart; Wal-Mart; Target. The list continues when you do an internet search. I too endured years of being unable to find anything that fit me well or looked good on me, but open your eyes: we are no longer obligated to troll yard sales and thrift stores, hoping against all odds that we will find something. Sorry to be blunt, but I think the reasons you gave for not attending were insufficient.

  • Sharon August 17, 2010, 6:05 pm

    My daughter in law is from England and I found out that “fancy dress party” does indeed mean “costume party” to folks from the U.K.
    She called me one day telling me that a good friend was having a “fancy dress party”… I thought WOW! She will look gorgeous!!! She and I had a good laugh when she showed me pictures of them being awarded a PRIZE for funniest dress! My son, my daughter in law, and both of their little sons were dressed up like a strawberry, a blueberry, a raspberry and a blackberry!

  • Mechtilde August 18, 2010, 4:30 am

    Just to clarify- a “Very formal wedding” in the UK would mean morning dress- so the men would be in morning dress (wing collars, cravats and tailcoats) and the ladies would be in dresses (knee to mid calf length) or suits, with hats. Whilst personally I wouldn’t see a pantsuit (we call them trouser suits) as being out of place, I don’t think I’d wear one myself at a very formal wedding.

    If it was less formal and the men were in ordinary business/lounge suits then a pantsuit would be fine, especially with a hat.

  • Orange Swan August 18, 2010, 9:25 am

    This reminds me of an Old Hollywood story. Carole Lombard threw a party and asked that all her guests wear nothing but white. When they got there they found out why — because the venue and the décor were all pure white. And all her guests obliged except one, Norma Shearer, who wore a red strapless dress. Once Carole Lombard got a few drinks in her some of her friends had to restrain her from going over to Norma Shearer to tell her exactly what she thought of her spoiling her party’s theme.

  • Enna August 21, 2010, 3:27 pm

    Maybe the OP should’ve had a chat with the Bride first? Or just turn up in her clothes – if she is tall then her presence alone will justify her not wearing the chosen guest code – not that anyone would notice as no one followed it. I could understand why the OP is self consious – if she couldn’t find anything that is suitable for her in her budget then that is that doesn’t matter if there is Tall stuff in cheaper shops – if it doesn’t suit her (and she is the judge of this at the end of the day) then that’s that. I disagree with the first comment I think the OP felt at a loose end and a bit left out and a bit put out- I don’t think she was offended by it otherwise she’d expressed – she actually says she knows it is “no slight against her” and believes it was “poor taste”.

  • TLS August 21, 2010, 11:10 pm

    The OP missed a few opportunites to get to know her boyfriend’s family better by making some effort to communicate. She could have asked her boyfriend’s mother to make an introduction to the MOB, or simply called on her own and introduced herself. Instead of taking responsibility for her failure to make a simple phone call, she blames everything on the bride’s “poor taste”. Her story is full of excuses: Hard to fit? It’s called the Internet (you are not the only tall person alive) or find a competent seamstress/tailor. Scarring on the legs? Wear a pantsuit or some pantyhose. Expensive pants? Save up, you knew about this wedding a few months in advance.

    From the vocabulary used and the tone of the story, I gather that the OP is in her 30’s at least. There is no excuse for a grown ‘working-class’ woman not to have appropriate attire for any occasion, no matter what. Even if it takes a few months to save the money for dress clothes, there should not be a situation in which there is nothing to wear. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t enjoy shopping for clothes at all but if I had a job interview or date or wedding to attend in one hour, I’m ready for it.

    It’s a shame that the OP missed a lovely wedding and a chance to meet her boyfriend’s family, but she did that to herself. They were probably looking forward to meeting her and if the boyfriend told the truth about why he was alone (“She didn’t feel she had the right attire”) the first impression they have of her probably isn’t great. Hopefully there will be another chance for her to meet them and she needs to check her self-consciousness (and get a decent outfit or two!)

  • Molly August 22, 2010, 2:30 pm

    I would have been screwed, as ALL my “nice” clothes are black. I’m not a dressy person, and I hate trying to coordinate colors because I never know what “goes” with what, so I usually go all or mostly black and throw on some colorful accessories. I could probably have borrowed something, but still…eh, if I ever get married it’ll be “wear whatever you want as long as you can legally wear it in public.” Unless, of course, my spouse wants something nicer, in which case I’ll grudgingly dress up for him or her 😉

  • lkb August 23, 2010, 5:48 am

    I guess I understand the OPs dilemma, but it seems to me that surely something would have been available at Goodwill, the Salvation Army etc. (Don’t laugh it’s where I shop all the time and I regularly get compliments on my clothing.)
    In all honesty, once at the wedding, if the bridal couple and their families really cared about their guests, they wouldn’t give a hoot what they wore as long it was relatively tasteful. Looking back on our wedding, I couldn’t tell you what anyone wore just being grateful they made the effort to be there. If anyone did raise a fuss, then perhaps these aren’t real friends to begin with.

  • b August 24, 2010, 3:32 pm

    i dont understand the “no black” thing. I ALWAYS wear black to all night occasions. i wore a black strapless satin dress to a recent wedding and i fit in fine; half the guests were in black. but thats in NY, maybe it’s different elsewhere?

  • lkb August 24, 2010, 4:29 pm

    @b: It’s not such a big thing as it used to be, but it used to be that black was too funereal to wear at weddings. I think it was in the ’80s that it began to be acceptable. Even now, a friend of mine who will be MOB is having arguments with loved ones over her wish to wear a black dress at her daughter’s wedding (and her bridesmaid daughters will have black in their dress too, I believe).

    I’m in my 40s and live in the Midwest and I think I’d still think twice about wearing black to a wedding though I know I’d see plenty of it.
    Funny thing, my daughter goes to a Catholic school, which uses its community room to host after-funeral luncheons on occasion and I’ve noticed an increasing trend against wearing black by teens and young adults. (No, they don’t go for neon or anything but perhaps black/white or navy or at least a darker color, just not the traditional all-black). I still notice it but I guess it’s more important that the person is there to pay their respects rather than the color they choose to wear.

  • Nony August 25, 2010, 1:35 am

    My wedding was evening. I did field several questions about ‘can I wear black to this’ and I might have needed to answer more, but after I was asked discretely, I made a general announcement that ‘little black dress’ was absolutely fine in my book, as long as there wasn’t a black net veil involved. Twice, actually, once to my family and once to his friends.

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