It's that time of year again; the sun has come through the winter clouds, the flowers are in bloom, and love is in the air — that's right, it's wedding season, and that simple fact inevitably breeds the question: What do you wear to an engagement party. You saw the ring pictures on Instagram, you've opened the Save-the-Date cards, and you've RSVPd to the big events. But before almost every wedding, there are all these prerequisite parties that you probably didn't even know were a thing before that first friend decided to tie the knot. And of all these celebrations, the one occasion that seems to confuse me most is the engagement party. In my experience, engagement parties range between super-relaxed to über-formal, they can be indoors or outdoors, on a beach or in a lake house. So the "what to wear" question is basically a nightmare.
Now, of course, this question can be similarly applied to the bachelorette party, the bridal show, and the wedding itself. But, as with all things wedding-related, I think it's best to tackle this one thing — or in this case, one party — at a time. Since the engagement party comes before everything else and tends to be the most unclear in terms of wardrobe etiquette, I think it's the best place to start. So, what follows are some simple steps to help best decipher what's suitable for a friend's engagement party, wherever (and whenever) it may be.
Step 1: Look At The Invitation
In the case of determining engagement party attire, the first step is also the most obvious — just look at the invitation. Not only will this tell you the location (a huge factor), but the overall style and look of the invite can also inform you on the sort of vibe the couple is going for.
Take, for example, the first two engagement parties invitations I received this year. The first was a custom-made letter transcribed on a piece of bark that arrived in a package; the second was a simple, run-of-the-mill invite. Without even looking at the location, I already knew that the former was set to be far more formal than the latter, therefore making it easy to set some basic rules as to what I ought to wear to each.
For the first, I immediately eliminated essentially everything I would wear to the second. That is to say, for the first, I started considering any and all formal wear that I've got stockpiled from fancy events past; and for the second, I began piecing together some of my favorite night-on-the-town standbys. Most importantly, however, I realized that I could manage to find something I already own to wear for both. Engagement parties are just one event in an entire series of soirees that you'll most likely feel obliged to attend, and they certainly aren't as important as the actual wedding. Force yourself to do a bit of closet shopping and if worst comes to worst, maybe try out a rental site, which can offer some super-glam choices for a pretty affordable price (plus, no need to feel the guilt of only wearing an expensive purchase just once).
Step 2: Find The Location
Maybe this should be classified as "Step 1.5," but I think location is pretty deserving of its own discussion. Once you've determined whether the occasion is more formal or more casual, the next logical step would be to get a better idea of where the party is being held. Location is definitely key to determining what to wear to an engagement, or really any party for that matter. If it's at a small restaurant or any place outdoors — be it in someone's backyard, out on the beach, or by the lake — chances are you'll be safe wearing even just a pair of nice jeans (perhaps with a 2015 touch) paired with a button-up and blazer. Maybe break out that favorite sundress and slip on a fresh pair of sandals. Whatever the case, in my experience, if the party is set in someplace more outdoors, it's most likely going to be a bit more laid-back, a bit more of an environment conducive to wearing your best casual-cool spring and summer pieces.
If Google tells you the venue is someplace more formal, like a country club or a rural barn repurposed exclusively for special events (they exist and I have attended engagement parties at them), then it's time to break out the fancy attire. Now, it is just an engagement party, so no need to go as big as the actual wedding, but in keeping with the idea that it's always better to be overdressed than underdressed, start considering some more structured dresses or tailored pants and blouses. Dressing up in the summer can be a bit difficult — formal wear was certainly not designed to make one feel comfortable in temperatures above 65 degrees. But take the engagement party as an opportunity to wear an (appropriate) cut-out dress or maybe even a jumpsuit. Again, this still isn't the wedding, so regardless of the venue, you shouldn't feel pressure to get too glammed up.
Step 3: Get Excited (Or At Least Try)
Wedding season is rough, especially the first few times around. All the events for all the different couples from all the walks of your life can be — no, scratch that, are — simply exhausting. First off, they can be pretty expensive, depending on how involved you are within each wedding. Secondly, they are all almost always a test on your emotional and mental wellbeing, calling into question pretty much every aspect of your personal life. Thirdly, they all seem to have all these different rules and regulations when it comes to attire.
When it comes to the engagement party, all three of these elements of exhaustion come into play. Step 3, therefore, is to make sure that whatever outfit you decide on gets you the most excited and makes you most confident. Certainly, you should take into consideration the when and where of the engagement party, making sure to gauge the formality of the occasion based on the invitation, the location, and really the couple themselves. But, at the end of the day, the most important factor is choosing something you feel great in. Chances are you'll remember to have fun (remember, this is a celebration!) if you wear a killer pair of pants or a vibrant summer dress. Save the stuffiness for the wedding day.
Images: Adam Rose/FOX; Giphy