Attending a wedding as a guest is an etiquette minefield—and one of the trickiest decisions you have to make is what to wear on the wedding day. Perhaps you don’t have the time and budget to buy a new dress, or maybe you have your eye on an amazing new frock or a favorite from your closet. In any case, you may find yourself wondering if it’s acceptable to wear black to a wedding. Here’s what you need to know about whether it’s bad luck to wear black to a wedding.
Yes, you can wear black to a wedding. That said, black ensembles are more suited to some weddings than others based on factors like location, time, or dress code.
It’s also important to know that previous generations considered black to be taboo for weddings. In fact, it was thought to be a symbol of all things malevolent, a sign of bad luck for the marriage, or even a wedding guest’s statement against the marriage. According to Western cultures, black is traditionally considered the color of mourning. As such, it was thought to be inappropriate for the happiest day of someone’s life, and etiquette books traditionally advised against guests wearing black. But in recent years guidelines around wedding attire have changed, mostly in the direction of loosening strict rules. Cocktail dresses are now widely regarded as acceptable wedding attire, and today you will see bridesmaids or even brides in chic black gowns.
Here are some key things to think about when deciding whether to wear black to a wedding.
It’s very common to see guests wearing black to weddings that take place in metropolitan areas of the northeast United States, like New York and Boston. It’s much less frequently seen among guests attending weddings in the South, however, so you should think about wearing a more colorful look to a wedding held there. Formal or full-length black ensembles may also seem out of place in warm weather or tropical settings. Likewise, you might want to stay away from wearing black if the couple is having a traditional church ceremony. Because black is still considered the color of mourning in a church, wearing it at somebody's wedding ceremony can be a faux pas.
For weddings that list the dress code as formal or black tie, black outfits are certainly suitable, particularly if the celebration is held at a grand, elegant venue like a museum or ballroom. In a less formal rustic or beach setting, however, wearing a full-length, formal black gown may seem too buttoned-up. For a beach wedding, consider a shorter, flowy dress; for a rustic or vineyard wedding, try a black dress featuring lace or other textural details.
It’s also become very common for bridesmaids to wear black. Try to find out what color they’re wearing, so you aren’t mistaken for the bridal party.
Traditionally, a black tie dress is considered suitable for receptions beginning at 6 p.m. or later; suits or morning suits are recommended for afternoons. Though not all weddings follow these rules, guests can still generally apply them to their outfits, with lighter, more vibrant looks for daytime festivities and darker, more formal ones for evenings.
In some cultures—Hindu, for example—it’s traditionally unlucky to wear black on the big day. You should always be respectful of a couple’s traditions as a guest, and this is especially true if the parents of the couple are hosting the wedding and they (or the couple) consider wearing black inappropriate. In this case, or if you don’t know the couple well and there’s any question in your mind about what’s acceptable, it’s best to find something else to wear.
In many situations, it’s suitable for guests to wear any color—except for white, a color that should be exclusively worn by the bride on her wedding day. Don’t take the focus away from the center of attention by wearing a white dress (or even one of a similar hue).
While it may not work for every wedding situation, black is still generally acceptable for guests to wear to most weddings. But take care to consider the above factors before making a decision. Short of upstaging the bride, you should feel free to wear anything festive in any color. However, you don’t want to feel uncomfortable or risk offending anyone on this important day, so if there’s any doubt, it’s best to steer clear.