Figuring out what to wear to a fall wedding can be tricky. Why? Well, the strapless gowns and backless dresses that wowed in the summer can leave you shivering in the fall, and the soft pastels that were the perfect color in the spring turn gauche as the leaves start to change. Simply put, with a new season comes a new style, and wedding guests should be mindful of the "fashion rules" associated with autumn nuptials.
So, for a classic fall look, choose a rich jewel tone like fuchsia, sapphire, or emerald to really lean into the season. You can also take color inspiration from the changing leaves and go with an autumn orange, mustard yellow, or deep maroon. Want a more muted look? Opt for a charcoal or caramel gown, or even consider a sophisticated black dress (that's right, you can wear black to a wedding). The options are truly limitless!
To further break everything down, we consulted with experts Pia Arrobio, Lisa Grotts, Anita Patrickson, and Elaine Swann on what to wear to every type of fall wedding, no matter the dress code. Be sure to take notes!
Meet the Expert
- Pia Arrobio is the creative director and founder of LPA, the women's clothing label known for its street-ready style with a hint of edge.
- Lisa Grotts, known as The Golden Rules Gal, is an etiquette expert with over 20 years of industry experience.
- Anita Patrickson is a Los Angeles-based fashion stylist and the founder and CEO of Amanu Studio.
- Elaine Swann is a wedding etiquette expert and the founder of The Swann School of Protocol.
What to Wear to a Black-Tie Fall Wedding
Trying to figure out what to wear to a September wedding? Or nuptials held in October or November? No matter the month, if a fall wedding invitation says “black tie,” you're required to pull out your fanciest floor-length gown or tuxedo in order to dress the part. Another tip? It's better to be overdressed than underdressed when planning for this style of attire.
“When it comes to weddings, I usually like to stay on the side of making more of an effort rather than less. It feels a little more courteous to the couple, and the extra energy you are putting in goes a long way to show how special and important you acknowledge the day to be,” adds fashion stylist Anita Pattrickson. You should also be mindful of the shoes you pair with your formal attire—like sleek stiletto heels and tuxedo shoes—as they can make all the difference when it comes to pulling your outfit together.
What to Wear to a Formal or Black-Tie Optional Fall Wedding
According to Lisa Grotts, an etiquette expert, "A formal fall wedding requires a man to wear a tuxedo [or suit] and a woman to wear a formal gown. Women do have wiggle room because a traditional cocktail dress can also work, or even a dressy pantsuit."
She further explains that if you read between the lines, it generally means that the wedding party will be wearing tuxedos and gowns, and while the couple would like for their guests to lean into these specific pieces, it is not a requirement. Patrickson also adds that short dresses are discouraged, and you should stick with at least a midi-length dress for this style of attire.
What to Wear to a Semi-Formal Fall Wedding
In general, semi-formal wedding attire is more relaxed than a black-tie dress code. For women, dresses and gowns don't need to be floor length (with the option to wear a midi or mini design), and for men, a tux should be avoided. This is also where you can pair flats and more casual footwear with your outfit, like chunky heels, heeled sandals, loafers, and derby shoes.
When shopping for a dress, Patrickson specifically notes, “I love brands like Joanna Ortiz and Zimmerman for day or destination weddings. And, something more streamlined like Khaite and Alessandra Rich for a city affair.”
If you get cold easily (especially in the fall weather), you can even sneak a pair of footless tights or leggings under your maxi dress for extra warmth.
What to Wear to a Casual Fall Wedding
Casual weddings call for outfits that show off your personality within reason. Think: printed mini dresses and menswear looks without a jacket and tie. As for the details? Grotts recommends anything chiffon, colorful solids, or floral fall prints. This is a dress code that allows you to have fun with your style, so lean into the season and make your look your own.
How to Accessorize for a Fall Wedding
Designer Pia Arrobio says dressing for a wedding (whatever the season) is all about blending personal signatures with some fun trends. "I hate feeling like I have to sacrifice personal style at weddings," she says. "Obviously you want to remain classy and respectful, but feel like yourself." Thus, if you plan to wear accessories, stick with pieces that show off your personality, like statement earrings or a bracelet that holds special meaning. You can even have fun with your shoe selection which is always a safe bet.
Nonetheless, Grotts shares that less is always more when it comes to accessories, especially if your dress or suit is a print. “A good rule of thumb is to wear a chandelier earring or a necklace, but not both together. They will each stand out on their own,” she adds. What's more, since the fall and holiday seasons are all about metallics, Arrobio suggests that women carry a silver or gold bag for the occasion.
Lastly, with fall comes plummeting temperatures and thus, the need to stay warm. But what do you do when you want your look to get some shine without freezing as a result? That's where a cute, cropped jacket comes into play. It's just the thing to keep the autumnal chill at bay while letting your ensemble play center stage. You can also invest in a beaded or lacy capelet, as they pair nicely with floor-length gowns and add a touch of vintage glamour to any ensemble.
What Not to Wear to a Fall Wedding
While being mindful of the dress code is vital, making sure that your outfit is season-appropriate is just as important. More specifically, stay away from dresses that provide minimal coverage, and opt for looks with thicker fabrics if you're likely to be cold the entire time.
You should also stay away from anything too revealing, even if it’s an adult-only wedding. “A wedding isn’t a chance to show off your body. Instead, “remember that a wedding is a sacred ceremony and reflect that in your outfit selection,” etiquette expert Elaine Swann previously told Brides.
One last reminder before you start adding selections to your cart: “Take into account the location and time of day the wedding is at. And, never wear white to upstage the bride!” Patrickson emphasizes.