How to dress children for a wedding

Formal Engraved Invitation

Formal Wedding Invitation (photo courtesy of weddinginvitationsengraved.com)

It’s thrilling to receive a wedding invitation – particularly once most of your friends are married and  you’re into another stage of your life (the baby shower stage, the bar mitzvah stage, the graduation stage, you get the idea).  The beautiful stationery will get you thinking about where you’ll stay, what kind of gift you’d like to give, and what you’ll wear.  That still fits.  (!)  And then there’s the kids.  Don’t forget about the kids!  (If the children are not expressly listed on the inside invitation envelope, call a member of the wedding party to make sure children are invited.  While some couldn’t imagine a family affair like a wedding without all the little ones, others plan elegant affairs that don’t include children.)  Don’t leave it to the last minute, either, because you want the kids to look their best too, and it takes just as much time to find the perfect dress or suit for a child as it does for an adult.  Your heart will fill with pride when your friends and family comment on how handsome and well behaved your children are.

Ooh! La, La! Couture WOW Emma Dress

Ooh! La, La! Couture WOW Emma Dress

These days it seems that little girls are eager to wear party dresses – or princess costumes – to any event they can.  But that doesn’t necessarily make it easy to choose a dress.  You want her to be appropriately dressed and look nice.  But she may have a different idea of what is appropriate for a wedding than you do, and the way she expresses it will vary, depending on her age.  If she is adamant about wearing her torn & snagged Cinderella costume to your best friend’s wedding, then you may have to choose your battles…and this may be one of the times you put your foot down.  How important is it to you that your children look “just so?”  This may be a time to simply explain that you are going to a wedding and everyone is expected to look a certain way.  Perhaps you can come to a compromise and both be happy.  After all, girls like a new dress too!  And then again, she may wish to be more formal than necessary.  Or the reverse – I know a few girls that won’t wear anything but pants, no matter what.  Lastly, little girls still in diapers or pull-ups will need a bloomer or diaper cover.  There’s nothing glamorous about her Huggies showing as she romps about.

Appaman Mist Grey Mod Suit

Appaman Mist Grey Mod Suit. Vans, Converse or tees under a jacket for a casual wedding can look great if artfully done.

The same applies for boys.  While most boys seem to just want to be comfortable, many insist on certain clothing items in their wardrobe (got one that won’t take off his rain boots?).  And a rare few will want to really dress to the nines.  Some kids won’t like the unfamiliar feel of a tie, while others will feel dapper and grown up.  Use discretion and make compromises where necessary.  A pouty kid won’t let you have a great time at the party.  And friends, boys should be dressed just as nicely as girls.  These days we are constantly seeing men and boys wearing jeans or chinos while the ladies are coiffed and primped in taffeta and lace.  Your entire party should match in formality, and ideally in style.  It’s not necessary to be matchy-matchy, but keep in mind that there will be photos, and it’s nice to choose outfits that will coordinate with the other members of your family and not clash.

Casual wedding invitation

Casual wedding invitation (photo courtesy of 4thewedding.com)

Start off by deciding how formal the occasion is.  If the invitation does not expressly say “black tie” or other direct indications of formality, take a look at the invitation itself.  Is it classically elegant, engraved with scrolly calligraphy and formally worded?  The wedding will probably be similarly formal.  Is it casual, with polka dots, flowers or palm trees printed on the invite?  The wedding is probably casual.  Does the wedding have a theme?  That will make a wedding and reception fun, so dress the part if that’s called for.

Is it indoors or outdoors?  If the wedding is outdoors, you will want to check the weather and wear attire that will be comfortable outside.  Choose stable shoes that will be comfortable on grass or sand, and don’t forget your layers so that you can adjust for heat or cold.  Consider the possibility of rain, wind or excessive heat and accessorize accordingly.  A fold-up umbrella, sun hat or shrug is small and easy to bring and leave in the car if not needed.  At a church or temple?  Most people still dress nicely for church these days.  Is the wedding indoors at a fancy location like a country club or four star restaurant?  Not only will it be comfortable to dress up a bit, but a nicely tailored suit or dress will fit in with the setting.

Children's Formalwear

Everyone looks nice when their outfit fits correctly.

Children will have a better time if they are comfortable.  They may not be used to formal clothing, so take steps to ensure their comfort.  Outfits should fit correctly without needing to be pulled, pinned or belted.  Not only will this keep them from fussing throughout the day, they will also look better.  Choose natural fibers where available and appropriate, as they breathe well and feel nice against the skin.  Shoes should be worn at least once before the important day, to ensure they will not be uncomfortable.  Kids are just as miserable with sore feet as adults are.  Similarly, it pays to try the whole outfit on together in plenty of time to make adjustments.  This also gives the child a chance to see him/herself all dressed up fancy for your friends’ special day.

Take into consideration the day’s activities.  If the children will be eating a meal in their fancy duds, choose clothing that will be easy to clean or that you won’t be worried about.  Bring fancy or stylish bibs for tiny ones (make sure they are clean) and have all your kid-emergency-clean-up-stuff at the ready.  If the venue will change during the day, make sure you have the appropriate accessories for the environment at each location, for example an indoor church wedding followed by an outdoor picnic or vice versa.  If it will be a religious wedding, clothing should be conservative.  If a girl will have bare shoulders, bring a shrug or cardigan to cover up while in church or temple.  Clothing should not be constricting, so that the children can sit, stand and play comfortably.

Accessories make the man

Accessories make the man! (photo by Morceau Photography le-morceau.com)

Don’t forget to accessorize!  This is the perfect time for fancy shoes, jackets and purses.  Boys will need a belt and good shoes, and maybe a jacket and tie.  And don’t forget proper foundations like undershirts.  Tiny ladies still in diapers or pull-ups will need a bloomer or diaper cover – Huggies are not glamorous.  And older girls may feel more comfortable in underdresses or bloomers too.  There is a wide variety of slim underdress shorts, slip shorts and bloomers available now that are pretty and fun.  Boys’ socks should match either their pants or shoes–no white tube socks.  Take time to choose hair things for the girls that match the formality of her dress and practice her hairstyle in advance.  Boys should have their hair cut a few days to a week before, so that it will be crisp but not edgy and fresh.

If finances are an issue, consider borrowing items from friends to complete their look.  Many people will be happy to loan shoes, accessories and jackets that aren’t getting a lot of use due to their formality.  Consignment and vintage shops are also great places to look.  Think about simple yet elegant basics that can fit into their wardrobes after the wedding – a white cardigan with pearl trim, for example, is great for everyday.  Boys can use khaki slacks in place of chinos for school.

Lastly, have fun dressing your family.  This is an opportunity to go all-out and look your best while having fun celebrating with the ones you love.

Daytime/Outdoors:

Girls: Florals or soft prints
Light-colored classics and dressy sundresses
Skirt & sweater sets with sandals
Pretty hats and scarves
Nice sandals, mary janes or ballet flats
Boys: Light-colored suits, seersucker or linen (spring/summer)
Dark colored suits, blazer & pants or sweater & tie (fall/winter)
Dress shirt, pants & tie
If the wedding is formal, wear a dark suit or morning coat.  Tuxedoes are not worn in the daytime.
Brown, blue or black casual shoes, oxfords or loafers

Evening Weddings:

Girls: Party or cocktail dress
Theater-appropriate attire
Sophisticated darker colors are dressy, but light colors are still appropriate – she’s still a little girl after all.
Sequins, beadwork and other particularly flashy adornments are best left to formal/black tie weddings
Dress shoes, nice mary janes or ballet flats
Boys: Blazer & slacks (if semi-formal or casual)
Dark colored suit
Black or brown oxfords, dress boots or loafers

Black-Tie Optional

Girls: Party or cocktail dresses
Jewel-tones and rich colors look lovely on little ladies, but lighter colors in formal fabrics are also appropriate
Dress shoes or ballet flats
Boys: Tuxedo
Dark suit
Black dress oxfords or cap toes

Black Tie

Girls: Formal dresses, usually full length
Formal jewelry, purses and accessories; dress shoes or formal ballet flats
Boys: Tuxedo
Black dress oxfords or cap toes
Socks should match either the pants or the shoes

Yikes! Socks should match either the pants or the shoes.

Wedding Don’ts:

  • Girls should not wear black in the daytime.
  • Jeans, shorts, athletic shoes or flip flops.  Nope.  (Unless the invitation or bride or groom specifically says it’s a beach/luau thing or cowboy barbeque and you should wear shorts or jeans.)
  • Anything ill-fitting, torn, stained or age-inappropriate
  • Bare shoulders if it is a religious wedding
  • White socks for boys
  • Don’t forget proper undergarments (like undershirts), foundations and furnishings (like a belt)
  • Don’t forget your smile!

EverythingButThePrincess.com has an excellent collection of tuxedos and suits for boys and formalwear and party dresses for girls.

Looking for other etiquette advice, particularly for a wedding?  Visit Emily Post’s Etipedia, the encyclopedia of etiquette.  There is even a whole section on wedding etiquette.

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