Like weddings, engagement parties come in all forms. Sometimes they happen spontaneously on the night of the proposal and other times they're carefully planned fêtes that take place at a swanky hotel. It all comes down to the couple-of-the-hour's style. Which brings us to yours. Getting dressed for this particular party can be confusing, especially since this specific celebration is usually (but not always!) the most impromptu of the bunch—and can be as formal as a black-tie wedding or as laid-back as a family barbeque.
That's why we tapped four wedding industry etiquette and style experts to guide you as you get ready for this pre-wedding party. Their overarching consensus? Follow all invitation instructions, ask for clarification, and, when in doubt, err on the fancier side. Here, their foolproof tips to dressing for an engagement party of every formality level, at any venue.
No matter what, don't wear white.
This applies to any engagement party, at any venue, with any type of dress code. "Whatever you do, don't wear white," says wedding fashion stylist Julie Sabatino, owner of The Stylish Bride. This is purely out of respect for the bride-to-be, who will likely don the hue for her first party as an engaged woman. "You'll also want to stay away with other traditionally-bridal colors, like champagne or pale pink," adds Sabatino, just in case the newly-minted fiancée chooses an off-white variation.
Don't mistake a backyard party for a free-for-all.
This venue style shouldn't automatically compute zero effort in the style apartment. "I've witnessed a black-tie event take place in the backyard of a beautiful home," Sabatino says. Even when an at-home fête is described as casual, looking polished and refined is still expected. "Dressing appropriately is respectful," she continued. "Honor the couple by looking nice—after all, it's an honor to be invited to share in on this special event." She recommends a fun, floral sundress for female guests (but if you love black, go for eyelet lace, which softens the hue). As for the men, Myka Meier, the founder and director of Beaumont Etiquette, suggests khakis and a button-down shirt (a jacket and tie are not required).
Pay attention to time of day for more formal affairs.
An engagement luncheon at a fancy banquet hall is often a lot different than a dinnertime celebration at the same venue, thus the two events require different dress codes. During the day? "A woman can wear a day dress or dress slacks or a skirt with a nice top. A man should wear a suit, with a tie and jacket," advises Meier. For a nighttime party, Sabino suggests that men pull out their best fashion-forward looks. "We don't do corporate—we go a little bit more Saturday night with black pants, a suede or velvet blazer, and a cool tie," she says. "Get into it a little bit and feel free to mix and match more." For the ladies? "Go for an above-the-knee 'dressy' dress," suggests bridal consultant Cacky Rivers of Cacky's Bride Aid.
Poolside engagement parties are the exception to the rule.
Since you'll be splashing around in the water, you can read an engagement pool party as complete informal. Your foolproof style formula for this type of fête? "Shorts, swim suits, and lots of sunscreen," explains etiquette expert Diane Gottsman. Beach celebrations on the other hand shouldn't be considered entirely low-key, especially if they take place closer to sunset. "Beach parties are typically casual because they almost always include sand," continues Gottsman. Still, she suggests putting some effort into your look: "Men may find themselves wearing slacks and a short sleeve shirt while women wear a sundress and pretty hat to block the sun."
When in doubt, remember these rules.
If an engagement party's dress code is unclear or you're unsure about how to determine the formality level from the venue, ask around head of time, says Sabatino. (Just don't call the couple on the day of!). She also suggests going with a neutral—black, navy, or gray—and adding on a splashy accessory for flair (she recommends bringing a subtle accessory as a backup, just in case you've interpreted the vibe incorrectly). Rivers agrees. "In this day and age, you can get away with wearing a simple dress that can be accessorized as needed with jewelry, shoes, or a scarf."