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From 'fab' to 'Brooklyn formal', the rise of quirky wedding dress codes 

May 23, 2013 at 10:59 AM ET

What to wear? Some guests have a challenging time deciphering the latest wedding dress codes.
Nicole Graether / Getty Images/Flickr RM
What to wear? Some guests have a challenging time deciphering the latest wedding dress codes.

"Bohemian black-tie"? "Farmhouse chic"?

Wedding dress codes are becoming increasingly creative and theme-specific, often leaving guests with a sartorial conundrum of trying to decipher exactly what to wear.

“[Many couples] want to be different and want their event to stand out,” Harmony Walton, owner of L.A-based bridal concierge The Bridal Bar, tells TODAY.com about the trend in non-traditional dress codes. “I see a lot of ‘California casual’, ‘coastal chic’ and even ‘Silverlake chic’”.

Walton adds that the trend started with destination weddings, with couples wanting to further capture the sense of the location or create an overall color palette that would look striking in pictures.

“We would see a lot of calls for certain colors,” she says. “For instance, all-white attire, especially at a beach location, is a really beautiful way to get gorgeous pictures. It’s a chance for guests to play dress up and feel like they’re part of the party.”

Robin Edlow, L.A.-based CEO of marketing consulting company Surrounded By Color, is implementing a color-inspired dress code for her June wedding in Big Sur, California. The bride will wear a custom-made gown in a classic shade of red and the décor is comprised of neon flourishes set against natural greens. To temper all of the colorful details, Edlow and her fiancé have requested that guests dress in “fancy ranch” attire, which equates to white or light-colored clothing.

“’Fancy ranch’ felt like one simple way to describe a Big Sur wedding,” Edlow tells TODAY.com. “The location is rustic and the look of the wedding is an homage to beautiful nature, no frills.” She adds that they still want their guests to feel dressed up. “Maybe it doesn’t actually make any sense. People can use their imagination!”

Some couples opt for a more general yet spirited dress code. Investor and writer Rick Webb, who is getting married this August in New York, has called for "fabulous" attire, which can be interpreted multiple ways.

"It means you're not constrained to black-tie, but says you gotta look good," Webb explained to TODAY.com. He says it gives men more leeway than "formal", and lets women dress up with "no rules."

"It tells everyone to up their game from jeans and T-shirts, but gives license for adventure," said Webb.

Brooklyn, New York-based doctoral student and college instructor Maria-Laura Steverlynck had a “Brooklyn formal” dress code at her, well, Brooklyn wedding last July.

“We didn’t want our wedding to be formal, but we also didn’t want people showing up in khakis and flip-flops,” Steverlynck tells TODAY.com. They elaborated on the dress code on their website, stating it was nothing "too stuffy or too cool-for-school, nothing that is going to prevent you from getting down on the dance floor."Sundresses, summer suits, bowties, and stylish sneakers were all welcome.

Did guests obey? Mostly, although Steverlynck says that a couple did come in T-shirts emblazoned with a tuxedo graphic.

“We always have a sense of humor about things." she said. "The dress code was another way of showing who we are and our approach to life together."

With non-traditional dress codes, there are bound to be some violations or at the very least, some confused guests.

“As much as the wedding is about the couple, you are hosting this event for your guests. If they’re not happy about the parameters you’ve set, they’re not going to be having a good time,” says Walton.

Edlow says that almost everyone who has received her wedding invite has contacted her asking for further explanation on the white and ivory dress code, which has proven more difficult for their friends than forolder relatives.

“We’re not trying to make it too hard,” she says. “The vision of our guests in white, khaki and ivory and me in a red dress, plus the fact that our wedding will be a massive burst of color, seems to make it all worthwhile. We hope!”

“Be very detailed on your wedding website,” says Walton about helping guests figure out their attire. “The formal invite should state the dress code, but the breakdown should be on the website and can be light and funny.”

Some planners feel that if a couple chooses to implement a non-traditional dress code, make it clear with minimal room for interpretation. “Poor Aunt Millie does not have a pair of Converse that she’s going to wear with her mother-of-the-bride style dress,” says Columbus, Ohio-based event planner Adrianne Mellen Ramstack. “These dress codes may be fun for the couple, but it gets confusing for older guests.”

She suggests that dress codes like, “black and white attire encouraged” or “cowboy boots welcome” are a fair way to ask guests to dress a certain way, because they are easy to understand.

Emma Summers, co-founder of Bentley’s Entertainments Los Angeles, an event planning company which orchestrated several celebrity weddings, says that 9 times out of 10, she and her associates will get calls from wedding guests asking what they are meant to wear.

“If it’s something they’ve never heard of before, they call and ask,” she says.

Whether it’s “Gatsby chic” or “summertime soiree”, non-traditional dress codes should be fun and festive, rather than daunting and stressful.

“At the end of the day, the dress code is what you’re encouraging your guests to wear not what you’re enforcing,” says Walton. “And guests are going show up how they’re going to show up.”

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