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What to Wear to a Summer Wedding: Guest Dresses Decoded

It’s wedding season! Decoding those invites and deciding on what wedding-guest dress to wear can be a confusing task at times, so we asked Nordstrom buyer Ashley Woodworth to help us out. She breaks it down in terms that are totally easy to understand, and we’ve provided a range of dress ideas to simplify your decision-making process and get you ready to raise a glass of bubbly and toast to a lifetime of love.

What-to-wear-to-a-summer-weddingNYDJ print dress | Manolo Blahnik pump | Hobo frame clutch

DESTINATION/BEACH WEDDING

This is an obvious but fun one to dress for!

Maxi Dresses: My first thought is a beautiful, flowy maxi, either printed or in a great solid pop color.

A Little Lace: Also pretty would be a crochet or cotton lace style (less serious than cocktail lace). I also love the idea of some of the new halter trapeze shapes we’re seeing, still dressy but short and easy for the beach—bonus that those styles look great with wedges or flat sandals in case you want to change shoes after you get off the beach.

Bold Prints: Depending on the location, you could also do a cool tribal-print shift, turquoise or stone jewelry and gladiator sandals. I’m thinking of Mexico here…

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Floral Laundry by Shelli Segal gown | Eliza J geometric-print maxi dress | Maggy London pleated a-line dress

SHOP: Wedding-Guest Dresses for the Beach

GARDEN PARTY WEDDING

This could be any venue from a patio or tent at a country club to outdoors in a rustic location or on the grounds of a winery.

Prints: My first thought is floral and feminine or stripes—definitely less serious. This is the type of event where color is festive and fun.

Shoes: I always think of what shoes are right for the occasion and location when I’m choosing a type of dress. For daytime or outdoors, you might do a metallic flat sandal or an espadrille wedge. The more casual cottons, printed fit-and-flares and even a pop color eyelet dress are just right for those shoes.

Comfort: The other thing to think about is comfort (you won’t look great if you’re sweating, can’t walk on grass or have a tricky dress that looks good in photos but not so much when walking the event grounds). This is where breathable, fit-and-flare or A-line and short dresses are also perfect choices.

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Alice + Olivia two-tone dress | M Missoni zigzag-stripe dress | Kaya & Sloane strapless dress

SHOP: Daytime Wedding-Guest Dresses

INDOOR CEREMONY AND COCKTAIL RECEPTION

This is more your semiformal ceremony followed by a hotel or restaurant ballroom reception.

The Dress: I use the filter of “cocktail dress that is seasonally appropriate” for these types of weddings. So if it’s July, cocktail might be a pretty lace style in a beautiful color, whereas in October a great LBD or fun metallic jacquard dress would be equally appropriate.

The Details: For summer versions of cocktail I tend to think of more “special” details: embellished necklines or belts, more novelty fabrics and definitely lace, either all over or trims. This doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice color to be dressed up enough, just thinking of a more elevated look than a daytime or more casual affair.

The Shoes: This is where your fun colored or metallic sandals can be a great complement to your look. Just make sure you can still be comfortable enough to hit the dance floor!

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Ted Baker London print tunic dress | Diane von Furstenberg sheath dress | BB Dakota navy lace dress

SHOP: Semiformal Wedding-Guest Dresses

SUMMER FORMAL/BLACK TIE

If you like getting dressed to the nines, this is a fabulous opportunity to do so.

Black Tie: While most people think of long dresses, you can also opt for a really beautiful short cocktail dress with elevated details. Think shine, sequins, embellished neck, etc. Elevate a short dress with a beaded clutch and strappy sandals.

Avoid: Stay away from flirty printed styles that would work better for daytime/afternoon. Think more evening here.

Black: Still totally appropriate in the summer for a formal event. If you’re worried about looking too dark, a pop of pink lip, a colored shoe or a metallic clutch can keep it less “holiday” feeling.

Maxi as Gown: A dressy maxi (think chiffon or silk) can work well as a summer gown. Metallic accents keep it formal. Go with your hair up and you’ll be perfect “summer black tie.”

A final piece of advice: While the invite is important, so is making it feel seasonally appropriate. If I know other people going to the wedding (as you usually will if it’s a friend in your circle), I will ask the other girls what they are thinking. It’s a good gauge of how other guests interpreted the invite. Another trick is to find the wedding venue online to get a sense of how it looks; I’ll do this to see where on the dressed-up scale the venue falls if I don’t know anyone else on the guest list.

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3.1 Phillip Lim two-tone dress | Elizabeth and James black maxi dress | Adrianna Papell beaded pastel gown

SHOP: Black-Tie Wedding-Guest Dresses