I grew up in the South, and there are a few things I learned growing up that are just good, old-fashioned manners. Keep your elbows off the table during meal times, don’t stare, and don’t wear white to a wedding if you’re not the bride. I’ve considered myself a well-mannered sort, and I’ve always stuck pretty close to the rules most of the time. Well, except for this one wedding where the color of my dress came into question.
Some good friends of mine were going all out for a destination wedding at the beach, and my then-boyfriend and I received a “couples invite.” This was the kind of wedding invite you don’t turn down: white sands, delicious food, good friends and, let’s face it: the beach. The downfall is that no one lives close to a destination wedding, which means packing your life into a suitcase and hauling whatever you’re wearing with you, no turning back.
Destination weddings are tricky. You have to dress for the occasion as well as the weather, the time of day and the dress code stated on the invitation, which puts considerable fashion pressure on the guests. I racked through my entire closet in search of “Beachy Formal” and came across three dress options: a red dress (which I considered another no-no, especially since I’d previously dated the groom), a black dress that was sort of meh, and a gorgeous strapless cream-colored dress with a beautiful green belt. I tried them all on, avoided the black and red and went with the cream-colored dress. In the J.Crew catalog, I believe they called the color of the dress “Sand” or “Ecru.” Whatever. It was in the cul-de-sac of white, but not in the same house. I was safe. Furthermore, it had a green belt. GREEN. I knew I was safe.
Cut to the evening of the event. I was getting dressed at the hotel. I asked Then Boyfriend to zip me up, and he uttered the wedding-day-dress equivalent of the wrong answer to the does-this-dress-make-me-look-fat question:
“Are you wearing white to the wedding? Isn’t that a big no-no or something?”
I looked at him in shock. “This isn’t white,” I said haughtily. “This is sand, or ecru, or whatever. I’m not wearing white.”
“Looks white to me,” he muttered. Note to self: get back to New York, and find a more fashion-forward man to bring to weddings with me. Clearly, he was mistaken. “Sand” isn’t white. Ugh. Just to be safe, I tossed a baby blue throw over my sand-colored dress and kept it moving.
I didn’t think about the color of my dress again until the bride came out, wearing a champagne-y, sand-hued duchess satin gown. Then Boyfriend looks at me and whispers, “See? White!” as the bride made her way down the aisle. I could feel myself wishing the floor could swallow me. Somewhere, the spirits of Emily Post and my mother were wagging their fingers at me. Oh, the shame of it. I had worn a white-ish dress to a friend’s wedding.
When it came time to do the receiving line, I decided to own up to the mistake immediately. I decided to just admit that I had come a little close to her blessed hue by accident. I sheepishly hugged her and said, “Such a gorgeous wedding and your dress is gorgeous! I, uh, sort of wore the same color as you, and, um, hee hee, it looks like I wore white to your wedding, and...”
The bride looked at me with an amused expression. “You’re not wearing white. That’s Sand or Ecru or whatever. And the belt is green.” After I smiled in relief, she said, “Relax. I didn’t even wear white to my wedding. You’re fine! Enjoy the chicken!”
And that, friends, was my experience wearing “white” to a wedding. Since then, I’ve attended weddings where the bride insisted everyone wear white (another beach-themed wedding, all guests were photographed together in white garb) and I’ve been to weddings where the bride asked a woman to change her clothes because she was wearing a white sundress. It’s a touchy thing, that white dress at a wedding. For my money, I’ll just stick with Sand and Ecru and colored belts.
But what about you? Do you think it’s okay to wear white to another woman’s wedding or is it just something that isn’t done?
A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.