Your wedding invitation has arrived, you’ve RSVP’d, and you’re over the moon to attend a loved one’s upcoming nuptials. What’s more, the celebration will be taking place in a truly stunning location: on the beach. Now, one of the few things you need to do to prepare as the date approaches (aside from ordering a thoughtful gift off of the couple’s registry) is to coordinate your outfit. To help in your search, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide to dressing for a wedding along the coast.
Shopping for your beach wedding outfit is in many ways similar to your standard wedding attire. Yet, as you begin browsing the possibilities, you’ll want to keep a few key factors about the day and location in mind. Before you start looking, consider the following to help you simplify and narrow down your search.
However, if the venue is the beach, a few more factors come into play. What will the terrain be? Will, there be a platform or will you be on the sand? What will the weather be like that day and night? How upscale will the setting be? If the ceremony or reception takes place on the beach, this information should ultimately inform your decision on what to wear.
Weather: While ‘beach wedding’ typically prompts visions of sunshine and warm sand, coastal weather isn’t always predictable. Depending on the location, time of year (summer wedding, fall wedding, etc.), and even time of day (daytime wedding or nighttime wedding), temperatures can range from blazing hot to cold and breezy. As with any outdoor wedding, consider what the weather in the area is like at that time of year. As the wedding date draws closer, keep an eye on the forecast. If it’s going to be warm, consider breathable fabrics like linen that will help you stay cool. If the weather calls for a gloomy day, keep long sleeves, layers, and thicker fabrics top of mind. In any case, maybe bring a shawl or wrap—just in case.
Formality: As you can likely guess, this refers to how formal a wedding—and, therefore, your outfit—will be. The levels of formality are casual, semi-formal or cocktail attire, formal, black tie, and white tie, with each becoming increasingly formal and high-end. You can typically count on this being stated on the invitation; if it isn’t, you can always take the venue type, location, and time of day into account. When all else fails, don’t be afraid to ask the hosts. It’s better to make sure, rather than potentially end up looking and feeling out of place.
This is where choosing an outfit for a beach wedding can get confusing. The outfit you’d wear to a formal indoor wedding, for example, won’t inherently work for a formal beach wedding. This is for two reasons: practicality and style. If you aren’t inside or on a porch overlooking the beach, you’re outside amidst the wind and sand. This change in terrain and exposure to the elements means you’ll want your clothing to be practical and comfortable, while still being appropriate for the occasion.
On the other hand, beach weddings imply a certain kind of look that doesn’t go one-for-one with other wedding apparel. This mostly lends itself to lighter color palettes and breathable fabrics (so you probably shouldn’t opt for your staple little black dress). To get a better idea of what suits a seaside ceremony, let’s break down each basic level of formality.
Though it might sound like it, this dress code isn’t encouraging you to wear whatever it is you would on an outing to the beach. This is still a special occasion. To that end, you should avoid T-shirts, shorts, sandals, and even dresses that might look more like swimsuit coverups. Instead, lean towards flowy maxi dresses, high-quality sundresses, and rompers.
If it’s going to be warm, consider a cocktail dress or linen fabric for a more boho look. (If you go the linen route, make sure to steer away from a white dress to be polite to the bride.) Sticking with solid colors and nice silhouettes will take your clothing up a notch, adding some sophistication and differentiating your ensemble from your day-to-day clothing.
As for footwear, consider elegant dressy sandals or similarly dressy flats. When accessorizing, make it a point to limit over-the-top baubles, like chunky statement pieces, bright and distracting colors, or large-brim hats. Be on the safe side and keep it minimal unless the hosts tell you otherwise.
The most notable differences between beach casual and semi-formal are outfit quality and length. Higher-end materials like silk and linen offer a more formal appearance to maxi dresses and sundresses and easily create a more polished look. Instead of shorter options, go for those that are below the knee, since adding length automatically ups your garment’s formality. Tea-length—which is a bit longer than calf-length and usually lands from one to three inches above the ankle—or maxi is strong go-to's.
Likewise, swap your nice romper for a jumpsuit if that’s more your style. Similar to beach casual, footwear can include dressy sandals and flats. However, you might also consider wedges or thick heels, preferably with a low heel height, so you can easily traverse the sand and seashells. For some added style, experiment with wearing some minimal jewelry, like studs or pearls.
For the most part, long dresses (note: not your more casual maxi dress) and suits are ideal when it comes to a beach formal dress code. That being said, because of the sandy landscape, tea-length dresses and upscale jumpsuits are also acceptable. This is especially the case when they’re in fabrics like silk, satin, crepe, and materials with more ornate details like lace. Try to avoid neutrals you’d see at different formal venues, like black and white, and instead seek out lighter colors that’ll complement the scenery.
Your shoe choice should deviate from your standard stilettos, once again thanks to that tricky sand. This means you can stick with thicker heels or formal flats. If part of the celebration takes place off the beach (be it indoors, on a patio, or a platform), you might also consider showing up in a pair of nice heels and bringing a more casual pair to change into after.
Dressing for a beach wedding is a fun opportunity to bend the rules typically associated with traditional wedding attire. Because of the outdoor setting, comfortable fabrics, silhouettes, and shoes are encouraged throughout all levels of formality. If you’re still feeling uncertain, we highly suggest reaching out to the hosts for their input. And if for any reason you can’t get through, default to semi-formal. Worst case scenario, you’ll be slightly overdressed—and that certainly beats the alternative.