Hats? Gifts? Friends over family? The Debrett’s guide to wedding guest etiquette in 2018
The countdown has begun in earnest. In two months time, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle will marry in St George’s Chapel, Windsor,in front of what is expected to be the most varied wedding party any royal nuptials have ever seen. With everyone from the Obamas to the cast of Suits and the Spice Girls rumoured to feature on one of the three lists (the day is expected to be split into thirds, with the ceremony, morning reception, and evening reception all thought to involve different guests), we can expect to see some broad interpretations of the dress code. So how do you pick an outfit for a royal wedding? For those not among the family and friends on Harry’s side who will all be used to attending society weddings, the customs may seem alien. With every generation, the traditions relax. Like many women of her time, Princess Diana chose not to promise to “obey” her husband in her vows; Zara Phillips, meanwhile, retained her maiden name when she married Mike Tindall. And Harry and Meghan are already showing signs of being an informal thoroughly modern couple, who are happy to dispense with protocol if it means being themselves. Nevertheless, these events must be dictated by a certain amount of etiquette – especially when it comes to getting dressed. Debrett’s, the authority on such things, has worked with the Bicester Village to create The Bicester Village & Debrett’s Guide to a Modern British Wedding – a comprehensive list of its top wedding guest fashion commandments, complete with advice about how far you can push your luck in anticipation of the big day…
No black or white
Black might be a wardrobe staple for most of us, but the colour is still very much associated with mourning for the Royal family – not something you want to be reminded of at a wedding. White, on the other hand, apparently makes it look far too much like you “wish it were you standing at the altar”. Take note Harry’s ex-girlfriends (who are also rumoured to have been invited). Meanwhile, “overly bright colours and patterns should be avoided as they may dominate photographs, and care should be taken not to overshadow the bride. It is not necessary for all the components of an outfit to match,” the etiquette experts dictate. Debrett’s advises guests check with the bride and groom before opting for a monochrome look. And if you do choose an LBD or a long, white bohemian number, be sure to add contrasting accessories.
Rule bender Cara and Poppy Delevingne wore black when they were bridesmaids for their older sister Chloe. This, of course, is the exception. If the bride wants you in black, that’s her prerogative – and, Stateside, it is far more common to dress bridesmaids in the shade. A striking look, maybe, but one you’re unlikely to see processing down the aisle in St George’s Chapel on May 19, even if Meghan does hail from Los Angeles.
Avoid “outfit monogamy”
The wedding circuit is an expensive business. Pretty early on, any regular attendee realises they need to hit on a couple of winning formulas, or find themselves going bankrupt buying outfits. Having said that, wear the same dress too many times in a row and it will be seen as a slight, especially these days when the photos are shared all over social media for your entire social circle to gawp at. And if you’re attending a wedding which will be covered by the world’s press, it might be prudent to buy yourself a new frock. Debrett’s suggest that if you really want to repeat an outfit, at least go some way to proving your “instinct for timeless style and your understanding of what suits you” by changing your hair and accessories.
Rule bender The Duchess of Cambridge has made a name for herself as a thrifty dresser. “She is well known for her sensible approach to wearing the same outfit to two or three different weddings and functions,” says the guide, written in conjunction with Bicester Village. If you’re the groom’s sister-in-law and have just given birth to the new fifth in line to the throne, however, one imagines that you can jolly well wear what you like.
A hat is still essential
The American contingent may be somewhat baffled by our enduring obsession with headwear at weddings. These days, they are considered traditional – but hats no longer have to be the great statements they once were. “Hats should not hamper kissing,” is the only rule Debrett’s offers now, with no specifications on shape or style. Though they do suggest brides might like to consider an additional cloakroom for ladies to store their millinery after the ceremony.
Rule bender Samantha Cameron controversially opted for a simple hair slide at the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
Shoes must be practical
Comfort is key when it comes to footwear. You need to be able to stay in them all night (the business of offering guests flip flops to change into at midnight is now considered terribly tacky), so they should be thoroughly worn in and not so high that you can’t dance. “You might want to consider block heels for an outdoor wedding,” the guide advises. “But if you’ve found a pair of sky-high stilettos that add the requisite wow-factor to your outfit, we say go for it – just make sure your bag is big enough to discreetly conceal a pair of stylish flats.”
Rule bender Daphne Guinness wore a pair of very eclectic, vertiginous blue sparkly heels at the wedding of her niece Lady Mary Charteris. One can only hope she was offered a pew as soon as she arrived.
Dress for the weather you have, not the weather you want
It may be a May wedding for Harry and Meghan, but this is Britain after all. “We’re so accustomed to the elements turning hostile that we’ve forgotten to question whether bare legs and shoulders are really appropriate when the temperature gauge is hovering somewhere between Baltic and Arctic,” says Debrett’s. “You’ll feel much more comfortable – and therefore more confident – if you dress for the actual weather, rather than ideal wedding weather. “If that means a stylish but warm coat with a faux fur trim, thick tights hidden beneath a maxi skirt, a cardigan under that chic boxy jacket, or even a pair of gloves – so be it.”
Rule bender TV presenter and rumoured ex of Prince Harry, Caroline Flack wore navy hotpants to the September 2012 wedding of Dermot O’Leary and Dee Koppang.