The Rules: Never wear black to a wedding

In Weddings on February 8, 2011 at 6:00 pm

This is the first of my new column for the Sydney Morning Herald (Thursday, Essential Style) and The Age (Sunday, M mag), which I’m going to post on here the following Wednesday each time.

I’ve stirred up a lot of indignation with this one, which is brilliant – controversy is mother’s milk to a columnist – with feelings equally strong on both sides of the argument.

 Not surprisingly there’s a big lean to the AGAINST camp from Melbourne, where they feel as strongly about their right to wear black to any occasion as Republicans do to bearing arms…

What I wasn’t so prepared for was people thinking I was dissing Kate Middleton for being a ‘commoner’. Far from it. What I can’t understand is why someone from a normal happy family like hers, would aspire to enter such a disfunctional one….

Anyway, I look forward to hearing from what you think and being able to respond right away via this wonderful global water cooler we call the internet.

It was all going so well. Not a see-through skirt or blouse from auntie’s wardrobe in sight.

Then that perfect dress for the engagement interview, from cool – but not faddish – label Issa, by London-based Brazilian designer Daniella Helayel. In a shade of blue that had fashion appeal whilst also broadcasting: I’m thrilled to be part of the Establishment. And went so perfectly with that engagement ring.

Then Kate Middleton wore black to a wedding. Head to knee black. Not even so much as one of the Queen Mum’s old sparkly brooches to alleviate the gloom. Cheers! Oh alright, the shoes and bag added a touch of burgundy, but that’s nearly as gloomy. Maroon.

What was she thinking? It’s hard to believe that a girl at the top of an upward social gradient so steep she must have needed crampons to get there (mum used to be a hostie, the family business sells party balloons on the internet), could make such an elementary blunder.

Especially someone who has successfully negotiated that most insider of upper crust dress codes: the shoot.

Madonna famously flunked that one going way too matchy matchy in brand-new tweed kit from gunmakers to Kate’s future in-laws, Purdey.

But Kate has swanned them in jeans and a well-worn quilted jacket for the early autumn variety and even looking relaxed in quite scary full camo for a deer stalk at Balmoral.

If anyone ever doubted she was up to her new gig, they only need to look at the picture of laughing in a fur hat, a £60,000 shotgun in her hands, appearing to have a marvellous time ritually murdering feathered creatures, while experiencing the early stages of hypothermia in a Norfolk field. What a girl.

So it seems amazing that someone this gifted at analysing and adopting the subtle codes of a different social group’s clothing (and please note the use of ‘different’ there, not better…) could have made such a fundamental gaff as wearing goth black to a wedding.

Even the one note of frivolity, a high quivering feather atop the bow on the pillbox hat, was coal black. Incredible. And worse: rude. Because wearing black to a wedding isn’t just lazy – some people believe it’s bad luck for the bride

Making things worse, it was a classic British day wedding, where .it’s the done thing to wear a rigout only really relevant in Australia at winter race meetings. Buttoned-up tailoring and a statement hat.

The men’s dress code for such traditional nuptials is called a ‘morning suit’. Kate seems to have read it as ‘mourning suit’. At least she’ll be able to wear it all again to her first state funeral.

But while the strict cut of the velvet coat made the Princess-to-be’s all-black get up look particularly funeral director (not to mention, fashion director…) this emotionally loaded colour is no more acceptable in floaty evening wear for an Australian wedding.

It might be chic, elegant, slimming, practical and timeless, but black just isn’t a shade associated with celebration.

So even if you think the happy couple are making a terrible mistake, get in the spirit and seize a wedding as a chance to splash out in joyous colour.

Just make sure it’s not white…

Kate helping Wills stalk a deer. She must have really wanted it, eh?

  1. Hi Maggie,
    You’re right and wrong about Kate. She didn’t make a sartiral faux pas, have a look at the other female guests black jackets/coats and a solid splash of bright colour seem to be the in thing among their set.

  2. Lovely to see you back in the paper again Maggie, although I do love your column landing in my Google reader even more!
    I’m certainly in the against camp here! I’ve worn black to weddings (but yes I attempt to spruce it up with bright jewellery, shoes, jacket etc) and I’m even making it the colour of my four bridesmaids’ dresses. And that is quite a bit of black (at least it’s a black tie evening wedding). I know it’s such a lame argument, but it’s been just so practical! Everyone can choose their own dress and wear it again, besides I’ve got a groom in a kilt from one clan and his four groomsmen in a variety of tartans so I reasoned keep it plain for the girls!!

  3. Oh Maggie! A storm in a teacup!

    I disagree and think the only colour you cannot wear to a wedding is white, which is just bad manners. Even my very conservative parents have come around in recent years, when friends wore black to ours they didn’t bat an eyelid – a couple of years earlier and it would have been a very different story. I’ve seen stylish bridemaids in black and they looked nothing short of stunning.

    I’ve never heard wearing black to a wedding is bad luck for the bride. And anyway, on the big day in question all that wonderful love, joy and good luck far outweighs any of the supposed “bad.”

    Maybe this is an English thing?

  4. I agree Maggie, wearing all black or all white to a wedding is really just rude. UNLESS perhaps it’s an evening formal, hoo haa and a long black dress may just cut it then. But weddings are a great chance to wear some colour. And to the Melburnians, yes black can be very chic, but en masse it just looks like no-one has any imagination and even if you’re wearing some amazing creation by some truly wonderful designer, when surrounded by other black outfits it just ain’t gonna fly.

  5. I lived in Melbourne for a long time Maggie, and I am still wondering…are there really other colours, besides black?

  6. I’m with you Maggie. I’ll never forget going to a Sydney wedding – my first in this town – in a floaty floral number, with a hat, to be greeted by a flock of floor length off-the-shoulder black black black jabiru girls. I’d just had my first child, so to dress up and be out was a big deal for me but slinky black? When the bride is committed to big white? I cried. For all sorts of reasons.

  7. Just wanted to say a huge ‘Congrats’ on your new column in the SMH and The Age. Great to see you back in print in Oz!

  8. Yes, it’s great to know you’re back in print in Australia, dear one.
    Perhaps theis dress code for weddings is an English thing. I’m always intrigued by English films with funerals in them – the women all wear black and large hats, even in comedies. Is that what happens in real life too? If so, no wonder wearing black to a wedding seems odd.

  9. It would be really useful if you could get some basic style and etiquette advice (“attire 101”) into the primary school curriculum. I know it is crowded already, but if it saves just one girl from the utter embarrassment I felt when I wore white – all white – to a wedding, it will have been time and money well spent. Thanks for the heads up about black.

  10. I wondered if she were worried about too much attention focusing on her after the engagement announcement and wanted to keep it low key.

  11. Ooooooh I very disagree!!! I had a black + white themed wedding + my bridesmaids wore black prom dresses with pure white bouquets – everyone commented on how cool they looked!!
    I think the only colour you can’t wear to a wedding is white – and I speak as a bride who had a guest show up to her wedding in a strapless white dress with a train. Needless to say that did not go down well!!

    Great post though – controversy is always good + I love the way you write 🙂

  12. So very thrilled to see that SMH have come to their senses. WElcome back dear Maggie!!

  13. I agree with Maggie. I’m a Melburnian and would never dream of wearing wear black or white to a wedding.

    On the subject of weddings, I look forward to a column about the other Kate (Moss that is). Rumour has it she is planning a wedding for this July.

    Will she wear Galliano? Will she wear something vintage?

    Oooh, I can’t wait! And Jamie Hinch is lovely!

  14. So good to see you your posts, Maggie. Honestly, I look forward to them and your fun way of seeing things more than any other blog or mag, it’s like a breath of fresh air. Just saying.

    And yeah, black can be elegant, but nowdays I would reserve all black for funerals, coming from a European background. But thinking back I probably would’ve been guilty of wearing it to a wedding, especially if that was the best outfit I owned.
    Ah well, some things you just learn..

  15. Maggie black is always beautiful and suspect not everybody thinks it’s a mourning colour judging by the gorgeous colorful numbers I saw at a recent funeral. I think Kate looked amazing and very appropriate. PS buying the paper again now!

  16. I think its OK to wear black to an evening wedding, but not if you are the future Queen of England. Isn’t there some Royal Protocol thingy about only being seen in black at a funeral? I remember Princess Diana (then Lady Di) got into trouble for wearing that black strapless taffeta number to a ball early in the piece – the ball where she was chatting to Princess Grace. Not just because it was strapless, although I think that might have been an issue as well. Maybe things have changed in the royal protocol department? That’d be a first 😉

  17. I would not wear black to a wedding. I like Kate and think she is beautiful.Lets not complain about the way she wears her clothes.Give her time to find her style of clothes.

  18. Okay so no black to a wedding. But what on earth does one wear to graduation? I too admire Emmanuelle Alt’s style but how to make it work for a graduation ceremony for a masters student in her mid 30s? Strangely Vogue hasn’t covered it for a shoot…….

    • We had to wear black skirts and white shirts under our academic gowns. It was obligatory. Isn’t there a dress code now? I would go quietly tailored if it were me. But then I am old school about formal occasions. It’s what makes them enjoyable to me.

  19. There was a pic in one of the UK tabloids of Elizabeth Hurley this weekend, she was attending a wedding in Melbourne with her new paramour Shane Warne.
    She was wearing white – I suspect Liz likes to stand out of the crowd!

  20. I completely agree with you. When I moved to Canberra, I noticed the embracing of black in summer, something that is just Not Done in Sydney. Yes it is a slimming colour, but I think it just shows a lack of imagination and total laziness. Perhaps, although dowdy, she could’ve gone maroon with black shoes instead.

  21. […] But while narrow cut velour jacket made the Princess being of the all-black get up particularly funeral look (not to mention, fashionable director…) this emotionally loaded color is no longer acceptable in evening clothes floaty Australian wedding. original article: Never wear black to a wedding ? Maggie Alderson – Style Notes. […]

  22. Wow that was unusual. I just wrote an extremely long
    comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t appear. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again.

    Regardless, just wanted to say wonderful blog!

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