What to Wear to a Rehearsal Dinner as a Guest

Wondering what to wear to a rehearsal dinner as a guest? We're here to help! Read on for our guide to rehearsal dinner dress codes.

By Rachel Varina

What to Wear to a Rehearsal Dinner as a Guest
Photo by Erin Hoyt Photography

Whether you’re a part of the wedding party, a family member, or a friend, being invited to a rehearsal dinner is a huge honor. As you’re packing your bags for the wedding festivities and planning your weekend of celebrations, you’re probably wondering what you should wear to all of the events.

While the actual wedding day probably has a set dress code or you were given wedding attire suggestions, you might be wondering what, exactly, you should wear to the rehearsal dinner. Depending on the wedding venues, the season, the guest count, and the formality, it can get a little confusing. That’s why we’re breaking down everything you need to know about rehearsal dinner looks, so that you can decide what to wear as a guest without the stress.

Table of Contents:

Is There Really a Rehearsal Dinner Attire Etiquette?

While you might not have considered putting much thought into your rehearsal dinner outfit, finding the perfect look is a big deal. While adhering to a proper dress code for the wedding is essential, the same goes for a rehearsal dinner; however, often, there’s not as much guidance included in the invitation. Wearing something that adheres to the event’s vibe, but doesn’t overshadow the betrothed couple, is essential. In addition to what you should and shouldn’t wear, we’re breaking down everything you need to know about rehearsal dinners so that you can dress with confidence, and celebrate in style.

Part 1: Proper Rehearsal Dinner Etiquette: Everything You Need to Know

From traditions seen at rehearsal dinners to whether or not you should bring a gift, here’s everything you need to know, etiquette-wise, surrounding the popular pre-wedding event:

What Is a Rehearsal Dinner?

Essentially, a rehearsal dinner centers around the wedding ceremony rehearsal. Since there are a lot of moving pieces that go into a wedding ceremony, spending some time before the celebration marking everything out has become customary. After getting your group together to go over cues, positions, and roles, a rehearsal dinner typically takes place as a way to celebrate your close-knit friends and family. This intimate event gives the couple the chance to unwind with their VIPS before the larger celebration.

Who’s Invited to a Rehearsal Dinner?

Here’s who typically gets asked to attend the rehearsal dinner:

  • The couples’ immediate families
  • The wedding party
  • Any VIP family members (such as grandparents or close relatives)
  • VIP friends/ceremony members (such as godparents, ceremony readers, and/or the officiant)

Beyond the basic invitees, the rehearsal dinner guest list can vary widely depending on the couples’ budget, wedding rehearsal dinner venues, and preference. Ultimately, it’s entirely up to the couple whom to invite to the rehearsal dinner.

Some couples prefer a small, intimate group so that they can get plenty of one-on-one time, whereas others like to invite all out-of-town guests or even the entire wedding guest list to turn the wedding into more of a weekend-long event.

What’s the History of Rehearsal Dinners?

Rehearsal dinners are one of the newer elements added to modern weddings. While it’s unclear when, exactly, these pre-ceremony events became commonplace, a good guess would be around the 1950s. That period of time is when nuptials became more of an event than they were in the past, and when the wedding industry boomed.

Before the ‘50s, weddings were typically much more casual. As the events became more intricate, a rehearsal was needed so that everyone could be in the right place at the right time—especially since things like wedding photographers and videographers became customary.

When Do Rehearsal Dinners Take Place?

The point of the wedding rehearsal is to help everyone in the ceremony learn where to stand, to hear specific music cues, and to have the opportunity to practice walking down the aisle before the big day. That’s why this event normally happens the day before the actual ceremony, so that the wedding party doesn’t forget everything that they learned.

That being said, couples choose to have their rehearsals a few days before the ceremony or even on the morning of the wedding, depending on factors such as timing, venue, and/or wedding party availability. Regardless of when the actual rehearsal takes place, the rehearsal dinner is often the night before the wedding.

Do You Need to Bring a Gift to a Rehearsal Dinner?

While you might think it would be easier to just bring your wedding gift to the wedding rehearsal dinner, it’s actually a good idea to save the couples’ present (whether it’s a wrapped package or a card) for the big day. There’s usually a table reserved for gifts at the actual wedding ceremony (and a safe place to store them during the reception). You don’t want the couple to have to lug around a coffee maker or cash if they decide to go out for a drink after the rehearsal festivities.

As for whether or not to bring a rehearsal dinner gift, you’re under absolutely no obligation. The couple won’t be expecting anything (but if you’re at the wedding party, chances are that they might gift you something at this get-together). That being said, if you want to gift the hosts something in appreciation, a bottle of wine, chocolates, or even just a nice card and heartfelt greeting will go a long way.

What Should You Bring to a Rehearsal Dinner?

You already know you can hold on to your wedding gift; however, there are a few things you’ll want to bring to the rehearsal dinner:

  • Photo identification (especially if you’re over 21-years-old and plan to order alcohol at the rehearsal venue or afterward)
  • Cash (to tip bartenders/waitstaff)
  • Cash or card for after the dinner (often couples and their friends gravitate toward a bar or two after the rehearsal dinner, so make sure that you have a card or cash on hand)

Can You Bring a Plus One to a Rehearsal Dinner?

While rehearsal dinners are typically more casual than wedding receptions, that doesn’t mean that you can bring friends or plus ones on a whim. Typically, if you have a plus one to the reception, chances are that they’re also invited to the rehearsal dinner. That being said, if the rehearsal dinner invitation is unclear, it doesn’t hurt to ask the couple, so that you don’t show up with a date in tow, only to be told that they’re without a seat.

What Do You Wear to a Rehearsal Dinner?

Figuring out what to wear to a rehearsal dinner can feel daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. You’ll want to focus on the venue’s formality, the season, the time of day, and the theme of the weekend to select the appropriate attire. Jump to Part 3 to learn more about selecting your rehearsal dinner outfit

Part 2: 5 Common Types of Rehearsal Dinners

Just like no two couples’ love stories are the same, rehearsal dinners vary as widely as the couples themselves. Some love birds prefer an intimate formal dinner, whereas others choose a day filled with games, BBQ, and their entire wedding guest list. Here are a few of the most common rehearsal dinner types:

1. Rehearsal Brunch

Some couples would rather have their rehearsal meal earlier in the day to ensure that they have plenty of time to unwind before the wedding, which is why a rehearsal brunch or lunch is becoming more commonplace, especially for Sunday weddings. These typically follow the same format as a rehearsal dinner but take place earlier in the day and might gravitate toward a lighter menu (think waffles, eggs, and mimosas). This is a great option for Sunday weddings that start earlier in the day, so that your wedding party isn’t out too late the night before the “I dos.” Wear something that you’d wear to church for a brunch rehearsal, and you’ll be set.

2. Formal Dinners

Many couples opt for a formal rehearsal dinner at a favorite restaurant, or a meal catered from their wedding venue or hotel. You can expect a plated dinner (you’ll probably get a few meal options to choose from) and to see other wedding party members and close family dressed up for the event. One major difference between this and a wedding reception is that dancing doesn’t usually occur at a rehearsal.

3. Casual Dinners

More and more engaged couples are opting for a casual rehearsal dinner so that they can include more guests, show a different side of their personalities, and extend the party during the wedding weekend. A casual backyard BBQ or dinner at a fun pizza place might be the spot that they choose to celebrate their almost “I dos.” Don’t be surprised if you see a few more guests (and people in jeans as opposed to gowns) at this type of rehearsal dinner. If you’re unsure what to wear, some slacks or a sundress should suffice.

4. Open Houses

An open house rehearsal dinner is not only one of the more casual options, but chances are it’ll have a bigger guest list too. As per the open house format, there might not be a traditional sit-down dinner, but rather small bites and drinks and less of a structured feel. Odds are that you’ll be allowed to pop in and say “hi” versus being expected to stay for the duration of the event. That being said, check the invitation and website for additional details, so that you don’t arrive expecting a full dinner only to be greeted with beer and basic apps. For the most part, dressing in business casual or dressy casual should be the right amount of elevated for this understated rehearsal dinner option.

5. Something Unorthodox

The point of the rehearsal dinner is to give the couple some time to visit with their wedding party and close family, therefore there’s really no set format or expected event type. While some couples have a sit-down dinner, there’s no rule that says you can’t do something creative in place of a standard meal to cap off your wedding rehearsal. Be sure to closely read the invitation to better determine what you should—and shouldn’t—wear.

Part 3: How to Decide What to Wear to a Rehearsal Dinner

One of the last—but most crucial—questions you might have surrounding a rehearsal dinner is what to wear. You never want to show up somewhere over or underdressed, but when it comes to something as special as a wedding event, selecting the perfect outfit is even more essential, Here, we’re breaking down different details to consider when selecting your rehearsal dinner outfit:

Consider the Venue and Theme

In addition to considering the formality of the venue, take a peek at its theme, or look to see whether the couple is tying a theme to the rehearsal dinner. Maybe they’re having a barn-style BBQ, in which case rocking your boots or cowboy hat could be appropriate. Just make sure that if you decide to nod to the theme that you do so subtly (unless otherwise indicated), so as to not take attention away from the couple of honor.

Consider the Season

The season will give you a good idea of not only how to choose the perfect dress depending on the weather, but the formality too. A casual summertime event or semi-formal rehearsal dinner will lead you to a very different outfit than, say, a formal winter one, so lean into the season for details such as colors, fabrics, and silhouettes.

Consider the Time of Day

A good rule of thumb is that the earlier the time of the event, the more casual you can expect it to be. An evening rehearsal dinner is likely to be more elegant than an afternoon rehearsal lunch, so pay attention to the time. While the couple can, obviously, have a fancy or casual event anytime, this will probably cue you in to whether or not you’ll need to dress to the nines.

Wear Something Adaptable

While you never want to be over or underdressed, it’s a lot easier to adapt your look down instead of up. If you’re between formalities, consider opting for the more formal option with the ability to dress it down. A good example would be wearing a suit jacket but taking it off and leaving it on the back of your chair if everyone else is just rocking dress shirts.

Chat With Other Guests

You don’t want to bug the couple of honor about your outfit choice—they have enough to deal with—but if you’re stuck on what to wear to the rehearsal dinner, feel free to reach out to wedding party members or other rehearsal dinner guests. This clarification will give you a better idea of how formal or casual others are arriving so that you can choose a rehearsal dinner dress accordingly.

Consider the Rehearsal Dinner’s Formality

One of the best ways to decide what to wear to a rehearsal dinner is to check the venue’s formality. A quick peek at the website or Instagram account should give you an idea of the general dress code of the space. Look at tagged photos to get an idea of what other guests wear when visiting the location.

Part 4: Rehearsal Dinner Outfit Ideas Ideas

One of the biggest favorites when selecting your rehearsal dinner outfit comes down to the formality and/or theme. Here, we break down a few of the most common dress codes that you’ll come across when attending a rehearsal dinner.

Activity Party

An activity party—which is essentially a party where a certain activity is taking place—usually calls for specific attire. If the rehearsal dinner you’re attending is a campout, hike, beach day, or something similar, you’ll want to dress appropriately for the setting. This can take place anywhere, from a boat to a bowling alley to a pool, so pay close attention to the event that’ll take place. Items such as sturdy shoes, swimsuits, and sunscreen can make all the difference here.

  • Check the venue/weather before wearing something heavy, hot, or overly elegant.
  • See if you’ll be in the grass, around a pool, in the snow, etc. to select appropriate footwear.
  • Check to see what the activity is so that you can wear the appropriate garments.
  • Still, try to steer clear of anything too flashy, too revealing, and white.

Come as You Are

A “come as you are,” or casual theme is exactly that: an invitation to come dressed as you would normally. The key here is to check out where the rehearsal dinner is taking place—whether a restaurant, a house, or a rental venue—to get a better idea of outfit inspiration; however, elevated casual should be more than sufficient. Think:

  • Nice jeans (without holes or rips)
  • Nice slacks
  • A nice, cotton dress
  • A button-down shirt

Themed

Whether it’s a Halloween rehearsal dinner party, a winter celebration, a fall harvest event, or a summer BBQ, a themed event means that you can have a little more fun with your look. This could take place at a house, an event space, a restaurant, or even the wedding venue. As long as you’re comfortable, appropriate, and not too flashy, feel free to lean into the theme and dress the part of the party vibe. A few things to consider:

  • Check the venue/weather before wearing something heavy, hot, or overly elegant.
  • Again, steer clear of anything too flashing, revealing, and white—no matter the theme.

Semi-Formal

A semi-formal or dressy casual look is pretty common amongst rehearsal dinners. This falls between a cocktail look and a casual look, so think of something that you’d wear to a trendy or relaxed interview. These usually take place at a restaurant or bar. A few of our favorite options are:

  • Nice sundresses
  • Nice maxi dresses
  • Cocktail-length dresses
  • Dressy skirts and tops
  • Nice rompers
  • Polo shirts
  • A nice pair of dark jeans, if tailored

Cocktail

Odds are that you’ve been to a cocktail event in the past, and the dress code is the same whether you’re attending a rehearsal dinner, party, or wedding. Usually, these take place in a dressy restaurant, hotel, or ballroom. For a cocktail rehearsal, wear:

  • Elevated cocktail-length dresses
  • Jumpsuits
  • Dressy (and not too short) rompers
  • Nice maxi dress (depending on the venue/season)
  • Suits without ties
  • Sportcoats
  • Dress pants and dress shirts
  • Dress shoes
  • Nice loafers
  • Heels
  • Wedges
  • Nice flats

Formal

A formal rehearsal dinner means that you’ll want to dress similarly to how you would if attending a formal wedding or another formal event. Chances are that you’ll find yourself at a very elegant restaurant, bar, or high-end event space. As for what to wear, think:

  • Long gowns
  • Dark suits
  • Fancy cocktail dress
  • Elegant jumpsuit
  • Tuxedos
  • Dress shoes
  • Heels
  • Nice flats

What NOT to Wear for All Rehearsal Dinners

Ultimately the rehearsal dinner—just like the wedding—is about the couple, not about what you wear. You want to be dressed appropriately, but not too dazzling that you take away from the reason for the celebration. Regardless of the theme or formality, steer clear of wearing anything:

  • White
  • Off-white
  • Flashy
  • Revealing
  • Super-vibrant (unless otherwise indicated on the invitation)

Zola: The Ultimate Rehearsal Dinner Resource

Whether you’re looking for the perfect accessory to top off your rehearsal guest look, want some beauty prep items to get ready for the big day, or you just want to find the best shapewear to don under your fancy formal gown, Zola is here to help with any and all rehearsal dinner needs.

Ultimately, choosing what to wear to any wedding event can be tricky. Without a lot of guidance, deciding how fancy—or casual—to go to a rehearsal dinner can feel daunting. Luckily, if you’re not sure about the dress code, we’re here to help. Whether it’s a formal event or casual cookout, you can dress with confidence as long as you follow our guide. At the end of the day, all that matters is if you’re there to honor the people you love in a look that makes you feel comfortable and celebration-ready. Cheers!

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