Coloured Guests

by admin on April 16, 2012

Hello there!

I’ve been reading this site for months as I prepare for my own wedding. It’s been both educational and entertaining, thank you so much! Now I have some questions and hope to get some advice/views. Thanks in advance for sharing.

Some background: over where I am, it is common to throw a wedding banquet, typically an eight-course dinner at a hotel’s ballroom. The bride would usually wear a white wedding dress and change into a coloured gown midway through the evening. Also, the bride and groom would usually sit at a table with their immediate family; this table would be known as the VIP table. That’s how it is here.

So, I have my wedding gown and decided to wear purple for my evening gown. I went dress shopping with my future SIL (my fiancé’s sister) and here’s when my confusion starts.

First, my future SIL decided she wanted to wear a white dress to the dinner. I confess, at first I was stunned – I had the impression that only the bride wears white at the wedding. Then I thought how ridiculous it was for me to feel that I “owned” a colour just by virtue of getting married, so I didn’t say anything and put it out of my mind. Regardless, I would very much appreciate getting a sensing of this “only the bride wears white to a wedding” thing – was it simply a mistaken impression of mine, or is more commonly accepted than I initially thought?

Thereafter, my future SIL asked me what colour was I going to wear during the second half of the evening. I told her purple and she said, “ok, then I’ll wear your wedding colours so we’ll match!”. This got me even more confused! My thinking is that if there is going to be any colour coordination at a wedding, it’ll be the bride and groom inviting interested parties to do so, and not guests inviting themselves? I mean, it’s one thing for guests to turn up wearing purple (in no way am I suggesting that no one else should wear purple just because me and my fiancé are going to!), but isn’t it quite another matter for a guest to decide to dress in matching colours when neither the bride nor groom had indicated that this is something they desire? Please let me have your thoughts on this!  0411-12

An all white dress worn by a female guest is typically considered to be tacky since all white is an iconic symbol of being a bride.  It starts to look like the guest is competing with the bride for attention, or at least confusing the guests as to who really thinks they are the bride that day.   A wedding is one occasion a woman can refrain fro wearing white if she is not the bride.   The deprivation won’t kill her.

I wouldn’t worry your little heart about what colors your guests choose to wear to your wedding.   It’s not as though you can dictate to people what they are to wear or not wear with certain colors being off limits.


{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

Bint April 16, 2012 at 4:39 am

Very tacky indeed of your future SIL. Also very unwise. She will undoubtedly come over to at least half the guests as desperate, an attention seeker, or jealous, and nobody will think she’s the bride anyway. In fairness, she may not know this. Maybe a kind relative could point it out? It won’t affect you though, so I wouldn’t worry. Have a lovely wedding!


Iris April 16, 2012 at 4:44 am

I was a little confused by your post at first because I assumed that you would have changed into a purple gown by the time SIL had her white one on, and so I thought it would be no big deal. However on re-reading it sounds as though SIL is planning to wear white when you have white and then changing into purple when you do? Or is she just wearing purple and has ditched the idea of a white gown?


AS April 16, 2012 at 8:06 am

Just another possibility that I was thinking of – if your FSIL young, or from a different place? If so, maybe she just doesn’t know the “no-white” rule for weddings. Maybe she just wants to coordinate with her new “sister” and is all excited about it. You might want to talk to your fiance’ or FMIL, or FSIL directly to let her know that usually only the bride wears white. If she argues with you, you don’t have to say anything more. But it might also save her the embarrassment of wearing white to her brother’s wedding and learning about the no-white rule later.

You have a good attitude about the color though. We hear way too often of brides throwing tantrums because she tried to own a color or a whole month.


MyFamily April 16, 2012 at 8:48 am

I hope that this is not a sign of things to come with this SIL of trying to bring the attention back to her everytime it might shine on the OP. The OP is going to have to grow a spine of steel if that is what is happening, and I hope her soon to be DH grows one with her.


AMC April 16, 2012 at 8:54 am

I agree it’s tacky for a female guests to wear white to a wedding, but good for you, OP, for not throwing a bridezilla fit over it. As for your future SIL dressing to match you, I wouldn’t take offense. Since she’s family, it’s likely she’ll be in many of the photos, so maybe she just wants to coordinate her attire so the pictures look nice. I got the same thing from some of my non-bridal party guests before my wedding too. Many of them inquired about the wedding colors and dressed to match (or at least not to clash). It was simply out of care on their part and a desire to make my wedding day as perfect as possible, even though I would never ask them to do so.


AMC April 17, 2012 at 8:56 am

I’d like to add that I can speak from experience, as my cousin-in-law wore a white dress to my wedding. I really think she was just clueless about this being a faux pas. Anyway, the world didn’t come to an end over it. I had a lovely wedding, and no one was confused about who was the bride. I did hear some whispers from other family members after the fact about her poor choice or attire, but in the end that only made her look bad, not me.


JillyBean April 16, 2012 at 9:02 am

This is a warning sign of things to come. Hopefully your SIL is oblivious and has good intentions, but experience and other unfortunate anecdotes, tells me no. As the Etiquette Maven said – this is likely a way to compete for attention. I have no idea, though, of how to delicately ask her to not wear white and then purple. … Is there any chance you can change your mind and purchase another dress, and just not tell anyone, and also not mention the colour? “Oh, I changed my mind. And I absolutely love this dress even more!”


Rebecca April 16, 2012 at 9:35 am

If people think her choice of colours is poor, it will only reflect badly on her, not you. It is strange… clueless at the very least and selfish and attention-grabbing at most.

Although by taking her dress shopping with you it sounds like you’re definitely making an effort to include her, maybe she still feels left out. It seems like she might want people to think she’s either a bridesmaid or an even more special position than that. Maybe she felt she should have been chosen for that (wrongly though… that choice is the couple’s alone to make and they should choose -or not choose- whoever they want). Is there something she could do, like a reading at the ceremony? It might help to make her more involved, and by offering something like that you could broach the same-colour-dress issue in the same conversation and it might soften the blow.

Or maybe you could warn your fiance or his parents. If she tells any of them her plan, arrange for them to say something like “The same colours? That’s kind of weird, isn’t it?” If she hears it from an outside source and it’s not phrased as an attack or some sort of intervention she might realize how strange it is and change her plans.


MoniCAN April 16, 2012 at 9:36 am

How old is your future SIL? I think if she’s over 20 she should know better. You don’t wear white to a wedding for the very reasons Admin spoke of: you’ll confuse people and look like you’re desperate for attention.

There isn’t anything wrong with you for being bothered by your SIL wanting to wear your colors. It would bother me.

And you CAN dictate to guests what to wear to your wedding (have you seen those “all white” celebrity weddings that are so popular lately?). But just because you can doesn’t mean you should, of course.

I think the “only the bride wears white to a wedding” thing is still the popular mentality in western society and every other society that copies most western wedding traditions. At least from my perspective. And if you were ‘stunned’ at your SIL’s wanting to wear white to your wedding dinner, that’s probably the general idea where you’re from too.

I’m relatively young and “hip” and not exactly traditional. I sometimes have a mohawk hairstyle or wear my head shaved and my best friends are absolutely covered from head to toe in tattoos. I don’t plan to wear white if I ever get married and I’ve been to a wedding or two where the bride was decked out in a bright color instead of white. *However,* I am still shocked to see a guest at a wedding wearing mostly white, off-white, too-tight bright red or other attention getting garments. I find this especially distracting if the person is obviously not a part of the wedding at all other than as a guest.

Is your future SIL part of the wedding? Is she possibly feeling left out and wants to include herself by matching? I think you should ask her why she thinks she has to match and gently let her know you and your fiance wanted to stand out.
I’ve been involved closely in the planning of many weddings that I wasn’t “in” as an attendant and I’d never intentionally match the bride or wedding party unless specifically asked to do so by the bride. I think it’s kind of presumptuous of your SIL to think she should match.

Don’t ignore your little heart if it’s bothering you that she wants to wear white and purple to match you. It will eat you up inside along with all the other stresses of the wedding. Too many brides ignore things they can’t stand for fear of being labeled “bridezilla.” Asking your future SIL not to match you is very reasonable request in my mind.

If she was my SIL, I’d probably take her aside and ask her why she thinks she should match, since me and my fiance kind of wanted to stand out. Of course we can’t help it if other people wear purple, but to intentionally wear our colors when you know about them in advance confuses me a little bit. I think it may confuse our guests too…
Something like that.

If your SIL is a drama queen (my guess since she wants to wear white to your wedding!) and you don’t think talking will help, just tell her you’re going to wear a blue and then claim to have changed your mind at the last minute. 😉


Wendy April 16, 2012 at 10:57 am

And you might find that when the time comes she wears a completely different dress altogether, since she changed her mind so abruptly once. Is she normally flaky?


LovleAnjel April 16, 2012 at 11:48 am

1. Wearing white to a wedding that is not your own, is tacky. You look desperate & annoying.

2. Guests might choose to wear clothing or accessories in the “wedding colors” to coordinate. If they choose a color or dress that would perhaps make other guests confuse them with a member of the wedding party, they’re treading the desperate/annoying line with the person in white.

The OP could approach her fSIL and say, “Oh don’t go to the trouble of buying a new dress! I love that _____ dress you wore to _____’s wedding last summer, it was very elegant.” See if you can redirect. If fSIL insists on “matching”, it will only reflect poorly on her.


Shoegal April 16, 2012 at 12:07 pm

I have never heard of the bride changing her gown to a colored one in the middle of the evening. Sometimes brides wear 2 gowns – one for the ceremony and one for the reception – but it is usually still white. Do you have a wedding party wearing a particular color? That is usually where a wedding’s colors come from. For instance, my matron of honor wore pink – and this was the prominent color of all our linens and decor.

I think that the female guests should not wear white at at a wedding – although it is not a mortal sin to do this and really – you are the bride (everybody knows this and nobody is going to mistake your SIL for you at your own wedding) but it is just respectful and like the admin says – it won’t kill anyone not to wear white. It sounds as if your Sister in law thought it would be a nice thing to do to wear purple as well. I don’t know why she would want to “match” at all – usually women don’t want to show up to an occasion matching anyone.

It simply is not worth worrying about and not worth getting into a disagreement over her color choice – at the end of the day it won’t have made a bit of difference to your wedding day. Believe me you won’t walk around all concerned about her dress color thinking it ruined your wedding unless you truly focus on it – and I don’t think there is any chance of that.


anonymous April 20, 2012 at 10:58 pm

In Taiwan and much of China (maybe the OP’s family is of Chinese or Taiwanese descent and lives in an area with a lot of others of similar heritage?) you wear white at the beginning – an idea stolen from the West, btw, it’s not Chinese but is now common – then change into one or two colored gowns. In some circles you change once, usually into red, in others you change twice.

But then I have no “we don’t wear white” ethnic background and I wore fuchsia so whatevs…


Cat April 16, 2012 at 12:50 pm

A future SIL may see herself as more than an invited guest. If she is normally a nice person, she may see wearing your wedding colors as a gesture of welcome to you into her family. Don’t put a negative connotation on it unless it meant as such.

It can be a lot worse than this is. My new SIL told me that my brother was making her go with him on trips of two-hundred miles to visit cousins at least once a month. She was made unwelcome by them and resented having to go.

I lived between the two cities and said, “Let me know the next time you are going and stop by my place for breakfast or supper, depending on the time of the day. I live only 7 miles off the interstate.”

My brother heard me and said, “I’ll never drive 7 miles out of my way to see you!” He was happy to drive over two-hundred miles to see a sixteen-year old cousin, but not seven miles to see me. And now he wonders why I have no interest in seeing him.


Steph April 16, 2012 at 12:50 pm

If her dressing in the wedding colors really bothers you, ask DF how to best approach his sister about it. But it doesn’t sound like she’s necessarily doing it out of malice. It sounds like she wants to be part of her brother’s wedding. If she asks to see your dinner dress, tell her it’s a surprise (to avoid matching) and even DF hasn’t seen it.

While it is tacky for a female guest to wear white, just remember that it is not a reflection of *you*. Everyone knows who is really getting married and probably won’t spare her a second glance. But you will come out looking like a graceful bride.


Molly April 16, 2012 at 1:05 pm

I’m not sure I agree with the Mod on this one. I agree that the bride can’t outlaw colors, but it *is* tacky to dress like you are a part of the wedding party when you aren’t. For example, if you show up in the exact same blue as the bridesmaids–well it happens. If you *plan* to show up in the exact same blue as the bridesmaids, you are (possibly) tacky. I think motive will sway it either way. If I were the bride, I would worry my “little heart” some about it because who wants to be twinsies in pictures on their wedding day?

If this bride doesn’t want to share the VIP table with the SIL wearing the same color, she can tactfully point SIL in another direction. “Oh, I’ve always liked green on you!” “This yellow would look so good in pictures next to the purple I am wearing!” or gently steer her toward a different hue of purple. If yours is a dark purple, see if she’ll agree to wear lavender. If SIL’s heart is in the right place and she is not doing this in an attempt to steal attention from the bride, she should be open to suggestions and sensitive to the bride’s feelings. If she *is* doing it in a petty attempt to upstage the bride, take the gloves off and lie your head off about what you are wearing and keep her out of the loop from now on.


Gee April 16, 2012 at 1:14 pm

Sounds like this guest always wants to be the center of attention. As the admin said, there’s not much you can do about it. But know that most of the other people there will be thinking that this guest is tacky for trying to copy/upstage the bride.


Butterfly April 16, 2012 at 3:24 pm

It sounds, from the limited context provided, that Future SIL is simply trying to fit in and be included (little sisters often feel they have to compete for their brother’s attention) and has no clue that her idea of being included is actually tacky. I saw another comment suggesting another family member point out the faux pas, and perhaps another solution could be found. Matching bracelets to wear to the occasion perhaps? More subtle, but also more intimate.


sv April 16, 2012 at 4:32 pm

Your attitude is great – keep it up, weddings can be stressful! Don’t sweat it. It’s tacky of your sister in law but she either does not know this or doesn’t care, and neither scenario is something you should do anything about.
For my wedding I told my FSIL she could choose whatever style and whatever colour dress she wanted. She was in my ( small) wedding party, just her and another friend of mine. She chose a black dress. My wedding was held at night, on New Years eve, which makes it somewhat more acceptable, but she still chose to wear a black dress in my wedding. It did not even cross my mind to advise her not to choose black – unless instructed to do so, who chooses a black dress for a wedding party? However, I said nothing, as my future relations with her were far ore important to me than the colour of her dress. And my wedding was beautiful, perfect, with no bad feelings. Not a soul cared about the colour of her dress, least of all me. Just relax and enjoy your wedding and let this stuff slip away 🙂


Meegs April 17, 2012 at 9:25 am

There is absolutely nothing wrong with the wedding party wearing black. Aren’t the groomsmen usually in black tuxes, too?


Kimstu April 18, 2012 at 11:08 am

While wearing a black dress to a wedding is more common than it used to be, it’s still a bit shocking in terms of conventional etiquette. Black is traditionally a color of mourning and grief, which is why you see so much of it at funerals. Yes, men have always worn black dress clothes at weddings, but women traditionally NEVER wore black dresses to them.

I must confess, I hate to see a group of wedding guests clustered outside a church with so many black dresses among them that you honestly can’t tell at first whether this is a wedding or a funeral. News flash, ladies: your black frocks at weddings don’t make you look chic and sophisticated so much as they make your supposedly joyous gathering look like a flock of crows.

It’s a WEDDING, for mercy’s sake: why not wear something that contributes a little brightness and gaiety to the overall atmosphere? It’s not much of a compliment to your loved one(s) getting married that you cared less about helping their party look festive and colorful than about making an individual statement of your own sophistication and daring in your colorless, un-scenic, boring little black dress.


admin April 19, 2012 at 6:45 am

Kimstu, My rule on wearing black to a wedding is, if you would wear it to a funeral, you should not wear it to a wedding. I agree that a sea of black attired women looks like a funeral.


anonymous April 20, 2012 at 11:00 pm

I respectfully but strongly disagree. If a woman’s best color is black, and she wants to wear black to a wedding, it does not bother me one jot and can in fact look very chic. To me, anyway.

Black is not my best color so I tend not to wear black dresses, but if it were…


Kimstu April 22, 2012 at 5:41 pm

It’s a sort of “tragedy of the commons” thing, I guess. One woman wearing a black dress standing out against the cheerful pastels and brights of other wedding guests’ dresses can look distinctive and chic.

A whole bunch of female wedding guests wearing black dresses, on the other hand, make what ought to be a pretty and festive event look somber and dismal. Ugh.

If “a woman’s best color is black”, then that’s a very good reason for her to get a nice black dress (or even more than one) that she can wear to cocktail parties, theaters, nightclubs, and so on, where the only purpose of her attire is to show off her own looks to the fullest possible extent. (And if the dress is modest enough, she can also get some use out of it should she have to attend a funeral: win-win!)

But in my opinion, a wedding guest who is more concerned with wearing her own “best color” than contributing to the festive appearance of the wedding of somebody that she presumably cares about (or else why is she attending their wedding?) is being, at best, a little self-centered. If the most important thing is for a guest to wear her own best color and look her own personal best without worrying about her general impression in the context of wedding festivities, then as far as I’m concerned she can go ahead and wear white if she wants to, too. Heaven forbid we should let any consideration for our collective appearance as a wedding gathering stand in the way of individually showing off our own precious selves.

anonymous April 20, 2012 at 11:01 pm

I’ve seen quite a few wedding parties dressed in black. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it.


Kimstu April 22, 2012 at 5:49 pm

I’ve seen quite a few wedding parties dressed in black, too (I’ve even been in one myself). In those cases, at least we know it was the bride’s own choice to make her wedding look like a funeral. I’m sure not going to argue with a bride who decides that that’s what she wants.

But as we’ve seen from countless anecdotes here on Ehell, just because there may be “quite a few” people doing something doesn’t necessarily mean that there isn’t anything wrong with it.

I do certainly agree that there’s nothing actually explicitly RUDE or immoral about wearing a black dress to a wedding, now that so many women do it, even though it is still technically contrary to conservative etiquette. I do think, though, it gives the wedding an unattractive appearance and makes the black-dressed women look rather self-centered. And I think that will remain true no matter how many black-gowned bridesmaids march down the aisle.


sv April 24, 2012 at 5:37 pm

Hi, poster here – Although I did not say anything to my sister in law, I was still somewhat upset that she chose a black dress. She had absolute freedom to choose whatever she wanted – she went dress shopping in November, when there was endless colourful and beautiful dresses to choose from. I was not with her so I didn’t find out about it until after the dress had been purchased. Black is not her “best colour” – she does sometimes wear black but more often chooses more cheerful attire. For the life of me I cannot imagine why she chose black, unless she thought it was appropriate because the wedding was on New Years Eve. Regardless, even though it bothered me, my wedding was a beautiful affair and I was very glad I did not ruffle feathers over it. These things are unimportant when compared to the big picture, which is that I married a wonderful man on a beautiful night 🙂 It was perfect, even with the black dress!


MeganAmy April 16, 2012 at 4:55 pm

“Thereafter, my future SIL asked me what colour was I going to wear during the second half of the evening. I told her purple and she said, ‘ok, then I’ll wear your wedding colours so we’ll match!'”

My guess is that there’s a 1% chance SIL is just excited and wants to show you that she supports you and cares about you. 99% chance that she’s pushy and wants to tell you how things are going to go on your special day. She might not be malicious, but she is pushy.

I would stop telling her details about the wedding, because she is trying hard to make herself the center of attention and not you. If she asks you “what flowers will you have?” answer “I don’t know yet.” If she asks “what exact shade of purple will you wear?” answer “I haven’t decided yet.” I wouldn’t give her any more details about the wedding, and I’d ask your fiance and anyone with a big mouth to keep the details to themselves as well so your FSIL doesn’t keep trying to make the day about her.


Jenny April 16, 2012 at 9:00 pm

Let her wear white. People will think she looks like she’s trying hard to be the center of attention, but that’s her own thing to deal with.


--Lia April 17, 2012 at 6:24 am

I wish I had heard her tone of voice when she told you about her color choices. It would help me determine if she’s just misinformed or actually trying to compete with the bride. If it’s the former, there’s nothing wrong with telling her yourself that wanting to match your colors will be misinterpreted. If it’s the latter, as others have pointed out, it only makes her look bad.

I’m inclined to think she meant well because of a funny story from 30 years ago. A new store had opened in town, one that was way too fancy for me to shop in. I loved looking in the windows. They carried dresses, hats, feathers, lace, ribbons. They had new and vintage, really the best in style. I was young and not up on etiquette or dressing appropriately. Besides, I had no reason to spend that sort of money until the day I learned my best friend was getting married. Finally, I had an excuse to go to the exciting shop.

I told the sales clerk that I’d been invited to a wedding and described how it was going to be a garden party. In such a fancy shop, and with such personal service, I told a little more about my friend, where the wedding was being held out of state, how it was going to be a small wedding outdoors, etc. She led me to a beautiful white sun dress and encouraged me to try it on. First I asked to see something else. She thought the white dress was perfect. I said I preferred something in a color. She told me how she thought the dress wasn’t too informal and would fine for the day time. I demurred and was more specific; I told her that it looked awfully white. She suggested that I could dress it up with a blue sash. (Something borrowed, something blue.)

I thought she’d misunderstood and explained “But I’m not the one getting married!” I figured the only way she could be so insistent that I buy a white dress was if she thought I was the bride. She smiled and again tried to sell me the white dress. Here she was working in the poshest shop in town, and she’d never heard the rule about not wearing white to a wedding. And there I was unsure of every etiquette rule I’d ever heard, but I still knew that one.

I thanked her for her time, exited the shop, and never had reason to go in there again.

For that reason, I’m inclined to think that not everyone knows the rule. If it’s an honest mistake on future S-I-L’s part, she deserves a straightforward explanation.


Jojo April 17, 2012 at 8:27 am

I did attend a wedding where the MOB wore a white mini-dress. It’s certainly one way to compete for attention on your child’s wedding day!
We were appalled on our friend’s behalf.
As for the FSIL, who wears the same thing as someone else to a formal event anyway? It’s all a little odd, no matter how you look at it or dress it up.
Perhaps a tactful word with FMIL stressing how you’re concerned that you want FSIL to look wonderful rather than feel embarrassed if someone happens to mention it on the day would help?
Just saying casually that it’s the local etiquette that wearing white to a wedding is generally frowned upon but that OP’s not concerned about such a silly tradition, might also highlight it without causing a big drama – if it’s a simple misunderstanding FSIL will feel like the bride is on her wavelength and unbothered, if it’s something more attention seeking then FSIL gets the message that she’s rumbled and that OP isn’t going to stoop to her level.


Lucky April 17, 2012 at 9:19 am

I would genuinely like to know:

These women who insist on competing with the bride by wearing white to weddings . . . what are they thinking?

Do they sincerely believe that some of the attention intended for the bride will go to them instead, in any way that is at all positive? Don’t they realize the rest of us are inwardly shaking our heads at how desperate and foolish they look?


MeganAmy April 17, 2012 at 11:54 pm

I feel the exact same way!


starstruck April 17, 2012 at 9:32 am

yeah if she wears that she will look tacky so just let her and enjoy your day:)


anonymous April 20, 2012 at 11:06 pm

This whole “it’ll confuse the guests” thing is, honestly, something I just do not understand. If you’re invited to a wedding and don’t already know who the bride is, why are you there? One can assume you’d at least seen a photo. Or, under some circumstances, maybe not, but the woman (or women) at the front saying their vows is (are) the bride (or possibly brides), so it shouldn’t be too hard to later pick her out of a crowd. If someone else wearing white confuses a guest, then I question the guest, too.

Buuuuut otherwise I too would agree that one shouldn’t wear white (even though I think black is now fine) – not because it’ll be “confusing” but because, well, people expect you won’t so if you do, you look out of place and I guess one could say “tacky”.

That said, not every bride wears white (I wore fuchsia), and some brides verbally “OK” white for their guests. I did for one of mine but she ended up being unable to attend. In that case, if the bride OKs it, I don’t see why not. Heck, I’ve even seen some weddings online where the bride is in a colored dress and the wedding party is in white.


Enna April 23, 2012 at 10:47 am

I think it would look a little odd for future SIL to wear same colours as the bride – maybe a different shade of purple? Or a cream/very pale shade of colour instead of white? I don’t think it would confuse the guests as they will know who the bride is. It could make her look as Bint says an attention seeker. Maybe Future SIL is a bit naiv? Could be a sign of things to come.


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