Thursday 19 August 2021 12:29 pm

It's wedding season on steroids: Here's how to dress properly

Eliot Wilson is co-founder of Pivot Point and a former House of Commons official.

I’m at an age where most of my friends who are so inclined have already married. However, throw in a partner a decade younger and some pals who have made mid-stream horse changes, and I do still get invited to weddings.

This year is special, of course. The pandemic and its attendant lockdown acted as a blockage in the nuptial pipeline, with many weddings, like any other big public events, being postponed until the regulations were eased and allowed us to gather in numbers again. So there is something of a rush at the moment, with some people who have been waiting impatiently for their big day forgoing the usual desire for summer sunshine and seeking the distinct pleasures of an autumn ceremony.

I am old enough to have taken on board that, for women, dressing for a wedding is a nightmare. White is off the table, as is black (unless you are Dame Kristin Scott-Thomas), and red somehow doesn’t give off the right vibes. Is a hat necessary, will a fascinator be adequate, or are you just “not a hat person”? What shoes will you require; will there be outdoor portions or is it all on sealed surfaces? Then you have the length of a skirt… All told, it is a sartorial quagmire. I sympathise.

For men, it is, prima facie, easier. A lot of weddings these days are less formal than they used to be, so dust off a suit you haven’t worn since Covid-19 crossed to these shores, perhaps excavate one of your jazzier ties, and Roberto’s your tio, right?

Well, maybe. But it needn’t be so… utilitarian. Let’s start with the easy stuff. Some weddings have dress codes. If the happy couple stipulate morning dress, then many of your choices are already made for you: you will need a morning coat, waistcoat and trousers. Black coat and striped, so-called “cashmere” trousers are the usual form, but houndstooth checked trousers can also be worn, and are a little more individual. You may prefer an all-grey morning suit; I cannot say I am a fan of those in light or dove grey, though the Prince of Wales (of course) carries it off well, but I have seen some beautiful charcoal morning suits.

A few words of caution. First, under no circumstances should you wear a wing collar and one of those fat-knotted, ruched ties, unless the boundaries of your sartorial ambitions are delineated by Championship-level footballers. Second, I would also steer clear of the Ascot, though if you want to dive headfirst into the Edwardian aesthetic then do it properly and get a gaudy tie pin and party like it’s 1909. You should also give a very wide berth to anything that looks like a “set”, whether it be tie and pocket square, or waistcoat and pocket square, or tie and waistcoat, or… well, anything. Just don’t.

On the subject of waistcoats, dove grey or buff are traditional, but here you may enjoy yourself. Pale pink can look exquisite, duck-egg blue and mint green work well in summer weather, and the red-to-purple palette is also available. You can wear a waistcoat that matches your coat (i.e. black herringbone), and I have done so once, but the effect is a little funereal. Think joy, unless the bride or groom is making a terrible mistake and you wish to register a low-key protest and don’t have the moxie to stand up during the ceremony.

Many Scots, quite reasonably, opt for a kilt. This is good and commendable. But do not, please, for my sake if for no-one else’s, wear a Prince Charlie jacket and waistcoat and black bow tie, unless the ceremony and wedding breakfast are after dark. Black tie is evening wear—this really isn’t hard—and the fact that you’re wearing a skirt doesn’t make that any less true. Kilt by all means, but wear a black Argyll jacket and a long tie, or else a tweed: charcoal is good and looks formal, but brighter colours may be more appropriate if the weather is fine.

If neither morning dress nor Scottish attire is appropriate, do try to muster the energy to go beyond the suit you wear (or wore) to work. This should be the greatest day of the happy couple’s lives—now is not the time to bring up the statistics of which we are all perfectly well aware—and you should Make An Effort. You might buy a suit especially for the occasion, but too many weddings and that will beggar you. So try a bright (but not too bright) tie, or a coloured waistcoat, or outrageous shoes (I have a pair of red suède loafers which have yet to be unleashed on the world). Anything that means you cannot be mistaken for Paul from Accounts fresh off the Tube.

I could go on, but these are, I hope, some useful principles. Above all, remember that it is a special occasion for your friends, and you are, for the purposes of the big day, set dressing. You need to look smart and joyful and elegant. From classic morning coat to louche linen suit with contrast stitching, it is a matter of friendship and respect to wear your effort a little more heavily than you normally would. You might even find it addictive, and hope for weddings to come around more often. At least you’ll be well dressed.