Cold-Weather Nuptials: How To Dress For A Winter Wedding

An invitation to a wedding is usually followed by two thoughts: 1. Wow, I get to go to somewhere warm and exotic. And 2. I barely know these people and I’m going to have to pay to go somewhere warm and exotic. But wait. The economic gloom of the last decade has seen a surge in winter weddings here at home in the UK, as couples try to save money. More people are tying the knot between October and March than at any time before. In fact, almost a third of all weddings are in the winter now.

Another appeal? It takes away the summer wedding worry about the weather. With a winter wedding, you know it’s going to be pretty bad. And with that comes the need to consider your attire as a guest: if it’s easy to seem dressed for a special occasion in summer clothes – if only because their relative lightness, looseness and colour naturally feel more fun – that’s not the case when it comes to the cold months. Dressing warm, and dressing distinctively, is not so easy.

If you choose to wear a classic suit, a peak lapel, single-breasted jacket or a full three-piece always have more of a sense of occasion to them. The latter has the added bonus of keeping you toasty. But they’re just options. Perhaps the most important rule – aside from following any dress code set by the bride and groom – is not to dress dowdily just because the weather is grey: black suits may work for bouncers and funeral directors, but should not be seen at a wedding at which black tie hasn’t been stipulated. Likewise, charcoal and navy can look rather pedestrian.

Still, think dark colours, but also think in terms of richness and depth: browns, emerald greens, petrol blues, deep reds – the classic autumnal hues. These allow your tailoring to retain a formal edge without making you look like you’re on the way to the office (think cocktail attire and you won’t go far wrong). It’s also the thinking behind Edward VIII’s popularising of midnight blue rather than black for his dinner suit. He noted that, unlike actual black, midnight blue had a real lustre to it in low or electric light. You’ll be in the same for most of a winter wedding.

Indeed, that you’re not on your way to work can likewise be signalled through your choice of texture and pattern: such rich colours often look their best in fabrics the likes of corduroy and velvet – the depth of their nap plays with light to give them a distinctive sheen. Both colour and depth work well especially for a country wedding, though this doesn’t mean you suddenly need to suddenly like someone out of “The Shooting Party”. Likewise, if your palette is somewhat limited to darker tones, that doesn’t mean pattern is off the table: a subtle pinstripe or check will give your winter wedding outfit a bit of a lift, and looks especially good for a city wedding.

What to wear with your suit? There are two schools of thought. One is to continue in the wintery vein and wear some knitwear; a soft collared merino wool polo shirt, or a roll neck in a similarly rich but contrasting hue. But remember that while it may be winter, most of the event is likely to be taking place indoors, which means you’ll likely be breaking a sweat before you’ve even busted some dance moves.

Alternatively, set the richness of your suiting off with something crisp and even: a simple button-down collar shirt in plain white or cornflower blue, in an Oxford or basket weave cloth. If you choose to wear a tie, go dark, wool and knitted – it goes with the essential winter wedding theme of cosy togetherness. Add in a bright pair of socks, or a similarly bold pocket square, if only to add a dash of sprezzatura to an otherwise down-key attire. Choose brown shoes over black; black shoes should only ever be worn with obviously formal suiting or school uniform.

Of course, while keeping warm to and from the wedding is good sense, a suit isn’t your only option – especially if you don’t want to buy a new suit that, truth be told, you won’t get much other wear out of. Separates are another option: a blazer, light knitwear, smart wool trousers, substantial loafers or plain Derby shoes.

Since you’re out of a suit, and so automatically a little more dressed down, there’s less need for that autumnal colour range. Here charcoals and shades of navy work particularly well – they also make for the kind of classic pieces that you’ll maybe already have, or can view as investments if you need to buy them. The cloths to focus on are the ones that always seem quintessentially British, and so are typically suited to bad weather: a herringbone tweed and flannel are perfect for winter.

Talking of bad weather, when it comes to occasion dressing over the winter months there’s always the temptation to just sling on whatever coat normally gets you to and from work day to day – that parka, that waterproof jacket. But this won’t cut it, especially for any group photos taken outside. If you want to take the event seriously, get yourself a proper overcoat. It needs to be free of badges and logos, made of wool, have a structured shoulder and – crucially – be longer than your suit jacket. A classic Crombie or peacoat will do it, the latter having the advantage of also looking good worn casually the rest of the cold season.

The other option? Take your coat off before you arrive, put it on again after you’ve left, and hide your shivering if there’s any call to hang around outside.

Josh Sims

Josh Sims is a London-based men's style writer contributing to the likes of The Times, Wallpaper and CNN. He is the author of several books on menswear, including the wildly popular Icons of Men’s Style. He is also the former executive editor of Arena HOMME+ magazine.