Amal Clooney almost stole the show at Harry and Meghan’s wedding with her striking primrose dress. Carolyn Moore looks at the other options available to look your best at summer nuptials.
It starts around March, when those first invitations pop through the letterbox. Wedding season is upon us, and most of us will have at least one on our itinerary this summer.
If that’s your stage in life you could have three or four, but as wedding celebrations become ever more personal to the happy couple, the big day could involve anything from a barn dance to a beach barbecue to a black-tie soiree, so when it comes to striking the right sartorial note for a summer wedding, step one involves scouring that invite for clues.
If you’re lucky, you’ll find not so much a hint as an explicit dress code. Harry and Meghan’s royal invitation went the extra mile — beyond stipulating a dress code for the men, the gals were instructed to wear a day dress and hat.
Royal watchers would tell you this was necessary because there were so many commoners in attendance (yes, in royal circles, even Amal and George are considered plebs), and as with most dress codes, this one was issued simply to avoid embarrassment for anyone unfamiliar with royal protocol who might show up to the church under-, or more likely, over-dressed.
On the day, observers crowned Amal Clooney the best-dressed guest. Her simple, striking primrose Stella McCartney dress and matching hat struck just the right note of cheery sophistication for a sunny morning wedding.
Google logged 17,000 searches for her dress that day, Stella McCartney earned a 3000% boost in traffic, and searches for yellow dresses have soared by 1500% since. Coming in second — both in terms of public opinion and the 1000% traffic boost afforded to her dress designer — was Carey Mulligan.
In an embroidered floral Erdem midi dress, she wore a feathered headpiece at the nape of her neck, leaning into the trend for more informal formal wedding attire — longer, less structured styles, personalised with quirky accessories.
Sartorially speaking, the two looks were worlds apart; one tailored and smart, the other boho chic personified, but both were zingy, bold, modern choices.
They adhered to the dress code but illustrated just how much the wedding fashion rulebook has been rewritten in recent years.
By and large, Irish couples have never embraced the idea of dress codes. There was a time when Coast dresses were so ubiquitous for bridesmaids that invitations stated “No Coast”, lest there be some unwelcome additions to the I Do Crew; and a black tie dress code, if desired, is always stated.
But beyond that, being a well-dressed guest at an Irish wedding requires a certain amount of guesswork.
Generally, the style of the celebration can be discerned from whatever pops out of the envelope when the invitation arrives.
As weddings become less cookie-cutter affairs, invitations have swelled from a single card to sometimes bulging information packs, with an order of events, maps, and accommodation guides. Google the location and allow the tone of the venue to guide you in setting out your sartorial stall, with informal, smart casual, smart and formal as your baseline options.
If the venue is a refurbished barn with glamping and banquet dining, you don’t want to be the person in an evening gown and towering stilettos. Likewise, if it’s a church wedding with a formal reception in an upscale hotel, your boho, Bardot maxi dress might feel a little too relaxed.
But with that said, the royal wedding did demonstrate that the days of the one-size-fits-all approach to wedding guest style have gone, and there’s
plenty of room for flexibility.
Obviously, don’t wear white. Plenty of laid-back brides probably wouldn’t object, but at the very least you’ll be whispered about and side-eyed by her nearest and dearest, so why risk it? Equally, solid black is a dour choice for a summer wedding — even Victoria Beckham in navy at the royal wedding seemed to have misread the celebratory tone.
You also don’t want to risk coordinating with the bridesmaids, so with sage, mint, blush and lilac currently trending for Irish bridal parties, steer clear of anything overtly bridesmaidey in these tones.
If in doubt, scale up. For your own comfort, it’s better to be slightly overdressed than under-dressed, and even the most relaxed weddings aren’t ‘casual’, per se.
For the service, a blazer, jacket or capelet is a smarter choice than a dated pashmina, and if a significant portion of the day will be spent on grass, don’t hover inelegantly on your tippy toes when you could choose an on-trend block heel instead.
Finally, a hat is by no means de rigueur at Irish weddings, but it will elevate your look, and they’re never not an appropriate finishing touch.
1. A block colour always makes a strong style statement. Walk the line between smart and formal in a chic tailored dress, then accessorise for maximum impact. Dress by V by Very, €85, littlewoodsireland.com.
2. A vintage style tea dress is the perfect choice for a chic country wedding, and if black is your fallback, dark accents can help keep you in your comfort zone. Waterlily dress, €87.75, little-mistress.com.
3. If in doubt, scale up. Smart enough for a church wedding, with summer appropriate bright botanicals, this dress by Caroline Kilkenny is a wedding winner. €300, Webb, Bantry and Macroom.
4. If you’ll be partying like a rock star, release your inner ‘70s boho babe and go vintage or vintage style. This festival fabulous silk dress is perfect for a wild celebration. €799, Marc Cain, Oliver Plunkett Street.
5. To the manor born. For a look that will take you from welcome drinks on the lawn to a formal sit down dinner, look no further than Phase Eight’s scarlet and navy twist front floral gown, €199, phase-eight.com.
6. Destination style. For a wedding abroad, keep it light and airy. A monochrome print smartens this laid back, Bardot style, and straw accessories will dial up the summer vibes. Ada dress, €124, Coast.
7. Can’t get a read on the style of the event? You can’t go wrong with a floral dress that’s a little bit fancy and reasonably modest. Sequined f oral midi dress by V by Very , €1 35 , littlewoodsireland.com.
8. Fashion queen. He dressed Amal Clooney for the Met Gala, now British designer Richard Quinn’s debut occasionwear range for Debenhams is set to be a sellout. Floral dress, €150, Debenhams.
9. Who wears the pants? If trousers are more your style, a formal jumpsuit will cut it in the wedding style stakes. Go smart and tailored, or soft and elegant. Jumpsuit by Karen Millen, €225, Brown Thomas.
10. For a low-key city wedding with a restaurant reception, play it cool in a pretty wrap or a classic fit and flare prom dress with a wide-brimmed hat. Eda floral jacquard dress, €168, Monsoon.