A Sartorial Look at Men's Wedding Fashion
One of the things I ask couples when I meet with them before their big day is what the dress code is going to be. This is because I like to wear what the guests are wearing, be it a morning coat or lounge suit, as it helps me to blend in and take photos as unobtrusively as possible. I’ve even had brides tell me that their guests didn’t realize they had a photographer present which is great as it means I’ve done what I set out to do which is capture the day as naturally as possible with the minimum amount of fuss. The other reason though is that if you’re at a smart occasion then you should dress appropriately, it’s basic good manners and respectful to the hosts. Not to belittle other photographers, but on the occasions I’ve been on the other side of the fence and been a guest at a wedding, I’ve seen guys walking around in jeans, trainers and a polo shirt plastered with their business name and website on and it just makes me cringe.
This leads me to the subject of a gentleman’s wedding dress code. I often get asked my opinion on various aspects of a wedding day but men’s wedding fashion isn’t usually one of them. But as I get to see all sorts of styles I thought I’d go through a few looks and the kind of things that have really stood out to me in the past.
Now, I feel I should point out that when it comes to weddings I’m a bit of a traditionalist. Which means morning dress for the chaps. I LOVE wearing a morning coat, the whole process of getting everything ready, from ironing a shirt and polishing my shoes to deciding which subtle extras to add to it, it makes me excited for the day. Being smartly dressed also helps with confidence because if you look good you feel good.
So, you’re getting married or going to a wedding and the invite states:
Dress code: Morning dress
Let’s start with what that means. Also known as “formal day dress”, it is traditional attire for men at weddings, formal memorial services and some seasonal events such as Royal Ascot. It consists of a black or grey single breasted tail coat, and grey or grey and black striped trousers. I've noticed a trend recently in the trouser area where chaps have opted for a lighter houndstooth design which is an interesting and eye-catching twist. I've also seen a few all dark navy morning dress ensembles recently and have to say that they looked really smart and are a good option for a summer wedding as the material used can be a little bit lighter.
Your morning dress will generally be worn with a white or light coloured shirt with turned down collars and double cuffs and cufflinks. I'm a big fan of the light blue with white collar and cuffs look and I also saw a white shirt with thin horizontal red stripes and white collar and cuffs which, might sound strange but in the flesh really worked.
A waistcoat is a must and is either single or double breasted, with or without a shawl or peak lapel and worn fully buttoned (except the bottom one, always leave it undone!).
Whilst the colour is usually fairly muted this is where you can let your personality shine through a bit and have some fun. A summer wedding is good for pastel shades like light blues yellows or pinks whereas a darker colour works better in Autumn/Winter.
A tie is generally preferred over a cravat and again this is where you can have a bit of fun with spots or stripes but stay away from the novelty kind. A smart knitted tie also works well (I’m extremely partial to a knitted tie with my collection nudging into double figures) with a tie pin also helping to add a little flourish.
Heading towards your feet there are those that say a plain dark sock is more suitable for a smart occasion which I think is a load of old nonsense. I’m a big fan of the loud, stripy sock for any and all occasions. The noisier the better as far as I’m concerned and when it comes to weddings this is where it’s your time to shine. Just stay away from the novelty kind. Stripes are great, Garfield the cat not so much.
When it comes to shoes, you can’t go wrong with a polished pair of black Oxfords. Simple and classic, an Oxford is less conspicuous than a brogue. Having said that, a pair of brogues is probably the most versatile pair of shoes you can own, especially brown ones which always go well with lounge suits.
If you’re part of the wedding party you’ll no doubt be a given a button-hole to wear. Make sure it is attached to the left side lapel but try not to shove it in the hole that is already there as it can scrunch up the material and ruin the lapels line. Try and pin to the outside and get a fellow usher or the best-man to double check for you - an extra pair of eyes always helps!
If you’re not part of the wedding party then pop in a pocket square, preferably one that complements your tie. Style-wise, the “puff” is more suited to a morning coat whereas a triple fold or the more simple fold goes better with a suit jacket.
Now, to top hat or not to top hat? In yesteryear a gentleman never went to a formal occasion without one. Over the years however, they became surplus to requirements, only really ever seen at places like Royal Ascot. It's only recently that they appear to be making a comeback and I’ve seen a few heads lately adorned with a topper and without question they look incredibly smart. Their usage at a wedding is very limited though as tradition dictates that they shouldn’t be worn indoors which leaves you with limited time to wear it, after which you’re stuck carrying it around or leaving it somewhere and hoping it doesn’t become a very expensive ice bucket. If you do decide to wear one however, make sure you get the correct size and some advice on how it should be worn because it’s a fine line between looking like a cross between Willy Wonka and the Mad Hatter.
Finally, think about what time of year it is and your overall colours. For example, I shot a wedding last Autumn where the groom, best man and ushers all had orange ties which, together with all the flower arrangements, really helped compliment the season. The Groom’s was also slightly different in that it was a knitted tie which he paired with a tweed waistcoat. Big style points from me!
Dress code: Lounge suits
This dress code is great for someone wanting a more relaxed, less formal feel and it ticks a lot of boxes for both winter and summer weddings. A lounge suit can be worn at a whole variety of events and comes in two different forms.
There’s the three-piece suit which consists of a single-breasted jacket, a single or double-breasted waistcoat and trousers. Then there’s the two-piece suit which consists of a single or double-breasted jacket with trousers. Pair both these with a shirt with turndown collar (not button-down!) and wear with a tie.
When wearing either suit there are often two questions that get asked. Firstly, should I wear a belt? If you’re really worried about your trousers ending up around your ankles on the dance floor then by all means put one on but the general rule here is that belts shouldn’t be worn with a waistcoat or a double-breasted suit. Why? I don’t know, as with the majority of male style advice, it’s just the way it is.
The other question is what tie knot should I use? This is mostly down to personal preference but also the size of your face plays a part.
For example, it you have a slim face then a spread collar with a half or full-windsor knot works better and conversely if you have a rounder face then a more pointed collar with a simple four in hand knot (think the one you used to tie at school) is better.
But as I said, personal preference plays a part and when I wear a tie I go for a four in hand knot as I think it looks better and to me, the half/full Windsor is just too big.
If the wedding is in the summer and you know its going to be a very warm day then you’ll be after something that is made of a lighter material as you won’t want to be sweating away in your winter wool suit. Perspiring into the canapés is never a good look. Again, this is where you can play around with colour a bit and perhaps go for a more beige or sand coloured suit. Paired with an earthy coloured tie and brown brogues, you’ll really look the part.
Of course, you can always take this one step further if you’re going to a destination wedding somewhere where it will be really hot and go for a linen suit. I’m not saying go the full Don Johnson in Miami Vice (don’t EVER roll up a suit sleeve….unless you’re in One Direction) but you’ll thank yourself come the evening. Linen will keep you cool and fresh and has a great texture to it which always makes it a winner for more formal summer wear. Pair with an open neck shirt, or tie if you prefer, and a pair of loafers and you are hot to trot.
One thing I’ve noticed at weddings is that the much older gent always looks great. Impeccable even. They’ve cultivated their style over time, will probably be wearing the same bespoke morning coat or suit that they first wore 30 years ago and still look great in and they’ll have subtle touches that just work. When I get to that age, if I look half as good as they do I’ll be more than happy.
The way we dress is an intensely personal thing as it says a lot about our personalities and who we are. It affects how we carry ourselves in our personal and professional lives and creates a lasting impression on people. What you wear at a wedding is probably the smartest you’ll ever be so give it some thought and most importantly have some fun with it.
I have a handful of dates left for 2017 and am already taking bookings for 2018. If you want to chat about your wedding day then please get in touch! I'm alway happy to meet and go through your photography requirements before you make any decision.