If you’re of a certain age, be prepared to sacrifice every weekend of your summer to engagement parties, bridal showers, bachelor parties, and weddings. Here's everything you need to get you through this year's wedding season.
As far as conventions of the Cisheteropatriarchy go, weddings are the best. A chance to reunite with old friends, meet new people, and celebrate love. Whether it’s your best friend since kindergarten or your partner’s coworker who doesn’t have any real friends, weddings are undeniably special–beautiful events where two people declare their love for each other and then throw a fabulously expensive party about it.
These days, even weddings that aren’t technically destination weddings (“I’m getting married at my Grandmother’s house in Martha’s Vineyard/Key Largo/Palm Springs/Wisconsin!”) still require planes, trains, boats, cars, or some combination of the above to get there. With all this travel, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. But, we’ve got you covered with expert advice from one of our editors who had 14 weddings last year, including her own. Here’s everything you’ll need to survive this summer’s wedding season.
A Good Pair of Dancing Shoes
Let’s start with the basics: a solid pair of shoes. Weddings tend to be a 12+ hour affair, and you don’t want to be that person sitting out while all of your favorite people are dancing to “Shout” by the Isley Brothers–or worse–that person boogieing barefoot on a dancefloor full of broken glass. Do yourself a favor and invest in a pair of shoes that toe the line between chic and orthopedic. Cole Haan makes famously comfy sneakers that masquerade as oxfords. As long as you’re not in black tie, you can get away with the suede or leather version with the sneaker sole (and the formal version is quite comfortable too). But if you’re in the market for something ~fancy and European~ but also exceptionally comfortable, opt for a pair of Taft brogues.
If you’re looking for the perfect nude sandal, the Abeo Hana platform sandal is something you can wear all day and night and it won’t look too informal, especially for outdoor weddings where stilettos are a no-no. Sofft is another great option for those who want to feel like they’re wearing nurse shoes without actually looking like they’re wearing nurse shoes (although the chunky and embellished boho styles aren’t for everyone).
And if you already have a pair of shoes you love, you don’t necessarily have to invest in a new pair. Pick up a pair of Dr. Scholl’s insoles at your nearest pharmacy–they might just change your life. Regardless of what you wear, make sure to break them in first.
INSIDER TIPIf you insist on wearing stylish and uncomfortable shoes “for the photos,” that’s fine. But please pack a pair of more comfortable shoes to change into on the dance floor. Bare feet, drunk people breaking glass, and slippery dance floors just don’t mix.
A Versatile Signature Dress
If there’s one piece of advice you take away from this article, I want it to be this: you can wear the same exact thing to every wedding and unless you’re the bride, nobody will notice. Can you remember the last time you remembered what a non-wedding-party guest wore to a wedding? If you answered yes, you can trust me that you’re the only one and perhaps you should consider a career in fashion critique. Once you find a great versatile dress, you can jazz it up with jewelry and accessories to make it feel different based on your surroundings.
To make sure your dress is as wearable as possible, go for something below the knee. A maxi dress is automatically more formal, but you can also dress it down with flat strappy sandals and simple jewelry, depending on the occasion. Conversely, if you have some black tie weddings on the agenda, you can dress up a shorter dress with elegant jewelry and accessories–although keep in mind that it’s easier to dress up a knee-length or tea-length midi dress than is it to dress up a mini. Reformation is the holy grail when it comes to wedding guest dresses, with chic and sexy silhouettes that are sustainably made and reasonably priced. The only downside is that everyone will know where your dress is from and you might even–god forbid–show up wearing the same dress as another guest or–gasp–the bridesmaids. Fame and Partners is another option for minimalist dresses. They can be fully customized with mix-and-match lengths and silhouettes. If you want something a little less boring as your signature look, Mara Hoffman, Needle and Thread, For Love and Lemons, and Alice and Olivia are great options for frilly and embellished wedding guest dresses with great patterns. And if you truly insist on wearing a different thing for every wedding, Rent the Runway Unlimited is your friend. You won’t have access to say, a $3,500 Oscar de la Renta gown, but there are plenty of summery styles to dress up in.
A Super Packable Back-up Dress
Plan for the worst and hope for the best. What if your zipper breaks? What if the dry cleaner wasn’t able to fix that red wine stain and you’re just realizing it right now? What if your best friend’s luggage got lost and they need a dress? Always have a backup plan, or in this case, a backup dress. Opt for something silk or silk-ish that won’t take up much room in your suitcase and can be easily steamed. Flowy maxi dresses are a good idea–especially in a trapeze silhouette that can fit many different bodies and look good belted. Show Me Your Mumu and Free People have basically built their entire brand off of this gauzy bohemian aesthetic, so those should be the first places you look.
A Suit You Can Wear to Weddings, Funerals, and Everything In-between
All suits look kind of the same, unless they are noticeably ugly or noticeably fabulous. If you’re just a regular Joe, one suit will get you through the summer (unless you have a black tie wedding to attend or you’re a groomsperson forced to wear a matching ensemble). I know it’s basic and I know I might be offending fashionistas all over the world, but honestly? Just go to J.Crew, pick out a nice navy suit, and pay to get it tailored so perfectly that you look like Michael B. Jordan on the red carpet. Navy works for all seasons and it’s not too casual or exceedingly formal. If you’re feeling fancy, dress things up with pocket squares and bow ties and perhaps a pair of flamboyant socks. Ask your preppiest friend to go shopping with you–they’re good at this kind of stuff.
For trans and non-binary folks (or anybody who’s not interested in the gendered world of suiting but still wants to look dashing), Bindle and Keep is a bespoke tailor based in Brooklyn that creates individually designed menswear and womenswear.
If you need a tux, there’s an easy equation for whether you should rent or buy. Will you need a tux just this once? Or is there another black-tie event in your future? Even if you only have two black-tie events, it’s better to buy something perfect than to rent something imperfect twice. If you’re renting just this once, The Black Tux is like Rent the Runway for tuxedos.
A Statement Earring
The best part about a simple and minimalist wedding look is that you can jazz it up with insane jewelry without looking like your kooky Aunt Beverly. This is your chance to wear earrings the size of tea saucers, a BDSM-inspired diamond collar, or an arm full of colorful bangles. Pearls and seashells are the perfect kitschy-chic, and brands like Isabella May and Eliou have dramatic and fun takes on the trend. Lizzie Fortunato is where you’ll find chunky necklaces made of scarves or a more demure charm necklace. It’s also worth browsing Etsy for handmade and vintage options.
INSIDER TIPIf your earrings feel a bit heavy, bring a cute pair of lightweight earrings to change into for the dance party.
A Wild Clutch
Just because it would be weird if you showed up in a floor-length multi-colored feather gown doesn’t mean that your purse can’t look like a beautifully deranged tropical bird. And “beautifully deranged tropical bird” is definitely the vibe with the purses at Dauphinette, whose feathery creations will be the talk of the party. With both bright and pastel versions, these purses go with everything (seriously–there’s not a dress out there that won’t be complemented by these bags). Susan Alexandra’s beaded purses are a mix between a kindergarten art project and a high-fashion editorial, which makes them sublime for both casual and black tie weddings. And if you’re not sick of the wicker purse trend, you too can have a luxury picnic basket from Serpui. Made in Brazil, their creations range from whimsical bird cages to summery embroidered scenes to elephant-shaped purses. You won’t be able to walk through the party without somebody complimenting your bag.
A Formal Jacket or Cape
If you’re near the coast or at high altitude, weather can be unpredictable, especially at night. Going to a beautiful ranch wedding in Montana, Idaho, or Wyoming this July? You’ll need a down coat. Seriously–temperatures can dip into the 30s overnight if you’re up high in the mountains. A packable down coat will always keep you warm AND fit in a small purse, but you’ll probably want something a bit more stylish. GANNI has a range of coats in all shapes and sizes that are both chic and warm. If you’re more interested in a wool wrap or scarf, Cuyana and White and Warren are both great options for soft and neutral wraps that are easy to wear.
A Pocket-Sized Makeup and Toiletry Kit
Weddings are long and you need to be prepared for any beauty emergencies. Find a small pouch (let me introduce you to Baggu, in case you haven’t already met) and fill it with the following: Safety pins; feminine products; mascara (Benefit makes a great mini mascara!); chapstick (Kiehls has an all-purpose balm that comes in a squeezy tube, making it shareable); lipstick (Nude Stix and Chanel both have a long-lasting semi-matte stain that’s easy to put on without a mirror); a tiny tube of toothpaste and a packable toothbrush (Doctor Plotka has a fold-up brush with naturally antimicrobial bristles); Benadryl (actually, you should always have a Benadryl on you at all times–you never know when it might save somebody’s life!); and perhaps a comb, hair tie/scrunchie, and bobby pins.
If putting your own kit together seems like a daunting, expensive, or time-consuming task, Pinch Provisions has wedding-themed emergency kits that are a great place to start. There are also various wedding day/doomsday emergency kits for sale on Etsy.
A Polaroid Camera
Polaroids are back and sold everywhere from Urban Outfitters to Amazon. Sure, they’re not edgy or hip anymore, but nobody can deny the pleasure of having an instantly printed photo, especially in this day and age when 99 percent of our photos never make it into print. Win the wedding by snapping a Polaroid of the newly married couple during their first dance and sending it to them with a sweet note (somebody did this for me and I cried). Polaroid cameras are also cute as hell these days, with fun film filters and colors. Go with the OG version, the Polaroid One-Step (now in a cool vintage blue), or get the Instax mini for smaller vertical photos.
There’s a certain joy in going analog at a wedding, too. Many couples are bucking the wedding hashtag trend and instead asking guests not to post anything at all about the wedding on social media. This way, you can be phone-free (and unbothered by your work email) while you’re partying and still have photos to document the night.
A Chic Carryon to Get You There
Perhaps the most important rule when traveling for a destination wedding is DO NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, CHECK A BAG. Especially if you have any sort of a connection. Away’s bigger carryon in aluminum is the perfect bag for a weekend where you’ll need to overpack and their garment bag makes a handy “personal item” on the plane. Even though it’s called a “bigger” carryon, it fits on every plane in the U.S. except the tiniest of regional carriers.
Some Tools of the Trade
Fancy clothes need to be taken care of and if you’re spending upwards of $500 on a wedding outfit, you want it to look perfect. To smooth wrinkles in your clothes, this packable professional-grade steamer also doubles as an iron. You’ll also want to bring a lint remover, especially if you have pets. Flint makes the ideal travel-sized lint remover that comes in a retractable case.