By Jean Patteson
The Orlando Sentinel
Movies about weddings tend to be comedies of error.
"My Best Friend's Wedding," "The Wedding Planner,""The Wedding Singer" and "Father of the Bride"' are about things going wrong.
Those films did get one thing right, though: The guests were beautifully dressed.
The same cannot be said for many real-life wedding guests.
"At almost every wedding, I see something outrageously inappropriate," says wedding consultant Susan Southerland.
"People come in jeans and cut-offs, or they wear something ultra-revealing. It's just not appropriate, particularly if it's a church wedding," says Southerland, president of Just Marry a wedding-planning service in Winter Park, Fla.
At a time when golf shirts and khakis, sundresses and sandals, even jeans and T-shirts are standard attire in offices, churches, restaurants and theaters, it's not really surprising that such casual gear should show up at weddings.
People dress up so rarely these days, that when an invitation arrives to a traditional, ceremonial event such as a wedding, they simply aren't sure what to wear.
Further complicating the situation is the growing popularity of nontraditional weddings.
"There's a trend toward themed weddings," says Rebecca Grinnals, owner of Engaging Concepts, a wedding and honeymoon service in Orlando, Fla. The theme could be a destination, such as Morocco; a period, such as the Renaissance; or a culture, such as West African or East Indian.
"The idea is to dress to the theme, not to the traditional concept of `wedding,''' she says.
Also breaking with tradition are couples who forgo the usual long gown and tuxedo when they say their "I do's."
"The bride herself may be wearing a short dress or pantsuit nowadays, so guests have more options," says Kim Johnson Gross in her book, ``What Should I Wear? Dressing for Occasions'' (Alfred A. Knopf, $30).
In cases like these, guests should try to echo the look chosen by the couple, Gross advises.
Keep in mind, says Grinnals, that traditions change over time. Twenty years ago, wedding guests didn't wear black, which was considered too funereal. Ten years ago, they didn't wear white, which was reserved for the bride. Today, both colors are acceptable - although black is preferred for evening weddings, and white outfits should never be more elaborate than the bride's ensemble.
With so many variables, does it even matter what guests wear to weddings anymore?
Certainly it does, says Southerland.
"A wedding is a special occasion. Perhaps the most special in a couple's life. It's important to dress in a way that honors the couple," she says.
The wedding invitation sets the tone for the entire event, says Heather Snively, owner of Weddings Unique, a consulting service in Winter Park, Fla.
"The color, style, script, wording, size. These all offer clues. The more formal and elegant the invitation, the more formal and elegant the wedding."
Check the reception card for what-to-wear clues, she suggests. "Black tie invited" is unequivocal; it means tuxedos or dark suits for men, long gowns or cocktail dresses for women. Something more indirect, such as "lakeside reception," suggests that guests should consider the weather (Warm and muggy? Cool and breezy?) when selecting their outfits.
Beyond that, the wedding venue and time of day offer the best guidelines. The fancier the venue and the later the time, the dressier the attire.
And, no matter what the time of day, if the ceremony takes place in a house of worship, women should have their shoulders covered, advises Southerland.
"Be respectful. Wear a jacket or wrap for the service. You can always shed it at the reception," she says.
For traditional weddings, the attire guidelines for men are straightforward. A dark suit, dress shirt and tie are appropriate for all weddings, says Elizabeth L. Post, author of ``Emily Post's Complete Book of Wedding Etiquette'' (Harper Collins, $19.95).
Tuxedos may be substituted for formal evening affairs. And there are three options for informal summer ceremonies: a light suit; a dark blazer with light trousers; or a colored or plaid sport coat with light trousers.
Women have more options, but the essential guidelines are these:
If the wedding is before 5 p.m., an elegant street-length dress, suit or pantsuit is appropriate. Pastels, brights and florals are generally preferred over black or white. Luxe fabrics such as brocade or velvet are OK, but not with glitzy beading or sequins. Accessories would include a small handbag, dress shoes or dressy sandals, and jewelry that's not too glittery. Hosiery with sandals is optional.
Cocktail dresses, suits and evening pantsuits are worn for weddings that start after 5 p.m. Long gowns may be worn for formal affairs that start after 6 p.m. Shiny fabrics, beading and sequins are fine in the evening, as are glitzy evening bags, shoes and jewelry.
For women who love to wear hats, a wedding offers the perfect opportunity, says Mary Jo Scofes, director of trend merchandising for Jacobson's department stores.
Best with a tailored suit, pantsuit or dress is a relatively small, simple hat, she says. A big, flowery picture hat is ideal with a softer, more romantic outfit such as a flowing dress. A chic cocktail hat may be worn with a cocktail dress or suit, but not with an evening gown.
Children should wear "Sunday best" outfits to afternoon weddings. This means pretty dresses for girls, a dress shirt, nice pants and a belt for boys. In cold weather, girls can add a cardigan, boys a jacket or dark sweater.
When the wedding is a formal evening event, "children should stay home," says Snively.
Still not sure what to wear to an upcoming wedding? Then ask the bride or her mother.
After all, they're the ones who most want the wedding guests to look attractive and feel comfortable on the big day.
© 2002, (Fla.).
Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.