Working as a wedding photographer, I get to peek into so many different lives and experience these special moments of union between couples. I photograph and capture these moments for the couple to look back on and enjoy for the years to come, but when it comes to photographing wedding events, there’s so much more that goes into a “good wedding photo”, and some of it is out of my control.
One of these elements is DRESS CODE. The dress code of the wedding sets the standard for the guests, but also paints the surrounding picture for my photography. While the wedding couple is the main focus of my attention, I also spend extra time carefully capturing moments involving the guests and the narrative of the day as it unfolds. If I had the wedding couple looking super swanky, only to be surrounded by their friends in jeans or sneakers, how do you think the shots would look? Not only would it take away from the photos, but also from the importance of the event itself!
I love it that we get to live in a progressive world where everyone is encouraged to ‘be themselves’ and not conform, but when it comes to wedding days, you get to set the standard for your guests to follow, never is there a more appropriate time to stand for classy over casual.
A local Boarding school, All Souls & St Gabriels, celebrated their 100 year anniversary recently, and I was invited to photograph the 400 or so guests that attended their Gala Ball (photos above). It was an extravagant affair with clearly a lot of intention put into creating such a fantastic venue, but what made it swanky wasn’t just the massive marquee, or the red carpet entrance or the velvet lounge positioned perfectly under the chandeliers hanging from a tree. While all of that was surely impressive, it was the patrons themselves dressed head-to-toe in formal black tie dress that transformed the event into such a beautiful and classy affair. The men looked razor sharp and the women wore amazing gowns that would win at any upscale city event. Fantastic!
This got me thinking about dress codes for weddings, which seem to have devolved into a ‘lounge suit’ or ‘cocktail’ standard. I’ve even been a part of some weddings that set their dress standard as ‘show up how you see fit‘. Could you imagine how difficult that would be to interpret for the guests? What the hell do you wear? Where has the formality in our dress code gone? 20 years ago, wedding dress standards were an unspoken black tie. This guaranteed every event was classy, and there was no confusion over “what does this dress code mean?”
Couples spend thousands of dollars ensuring their day is the visual spectacle they’ve been dreaming of; from bridal party outfits, hair & makeup, to flower arrangements, decor and styling. Would you really be ok with spoiling that painstakingly and intentionally curated picturesque image by posing next to the bridal party in your pair of comfy jeans?! Uh uh. I didn’t think so. I’ve literally seen this happen, but you can avoid this nightmare by having a clearly defined, formal dress code
I’ve photographed dozens of weddings, from inner-city events to middle-of-nowhere shindigs and I can honestly say that nothing can come close to an event where the guests go all out to look as formal as they can. Not only do they look it, but they feel it! It disappoints me that as a society it feels like we’re becoming “reverse snobs” when it comes to dress standards, rebelling against any idea of tradition and going out of our way to dress DOWN and avoid being seen as posers or “up-themselves” (Yes, I have also just asked Google for the proper definition of “up-themselves”).
How did it begin?
Customarily worn for evening events, formal dress was a key signifier that the busywork of daytime affairs were over, and you were dressing to see and be seen; at extravagant dinners, balls, the theatre and other social events where people not only tried to, but were expected to look their best. The idea was that you “dressed up” by leaving the day clothes you labour in behind and elevating your appearance for the important company you’d keep in the evening. Knowing what to wear and when to wear it was an essential life skill for anyone engaging in societal functions. Classical period etiquette guides explained that “One’s attire should be adapted to the occasion, season, place and time so that there was harmony between the stiffness of the coat and of the company“.
Black was seen as the gentleman’s uniform. Understated and inconspicuous as all good gentleman ought to be, and allowing attention to be drawn to the beautiful dress of the ladies at any black tie event. While men do want to have subtle ways of displaying their own flare and personality, it was considered “un-gentlemanly” to try and overshadow the ladies. These kinds of those hard rules make sense to be eased with the times, because we want to see the guys having fun with fashion too! However, because of how formal black tie attire has been immortalized as a style icon (for good reason!), it’s important to respect and honor the sentiments for special events. That’s the whole magic of modern weddings! Demonstrating the couple’s personal connection and charm, balancing with the traditional foundations weddings are built upon.
What exactly is it?
Gentlemen: A dinner suit or tuxedo (any colour), with a bow tie; OR a black lounge suit with a black bow tie.
Ladies: A floor-length formal gown; OR a formal pant suit.
Wedding events specifically call for more formal dress code because it’s a visual representation of the magnitude of the event. Black Tie dress code perfectly embodies the importance of such a moment, and actually makes it easier for your guests to know what to wear. As a guest you are witnessing a solemn demonstration of devotion, and I’m sure you’d feel super awkward if you interpreted “Dress Code: Lounge Suit” or “Smart” as your only clean, floral shirt.
Don’t shoot yourself in the foot and undo all the hard work of creating your amazing wedding day by being vague on your dress code. Keep it classy and you’ll have no regrets when you look back on the incredible wedding photos of all you and your loved ones dressed to impress and living their best life!