Black Tie Optional Wedding

When I first meet with the wedding couple I am always sure to ask about the dress code right away, because I wouldn’t want to turn up in one of those holy communion Dresses and make a gaffe. It gives me a sense of the scale of the event, and if I’m attending the reception, I have to actually think about not only the ceremony but the afterward, public ministry part.

I know.
No one who has been in ministry for twenty years thinks of a wedding reception as a grand old time, but we do it when we’re connected to the family. My practice is to give a nice, brief blessing over the meal if asked, eat something, try to make some friendly conversation at the inevitable “leftovers” table, keep the “I’m spiritual but not religious” or “I don’t believe in organized religion” or “Could you explain what a Unitarian Universalist is” conversation BRIEF, relax as best I can, and leave at cake cutting time.I like to sign the marriage license at dessert – it’s a nice, fun moment.

Doing weddings is tiring. We are at work. It is work. People don’t have any idea that it’s work, so protect yourself. You often have a full weekend of church ahead of you and may have even driven a significant distance to do the nuptials.

The worst dress code for clergy women, IMHO, is black tie or black tie optional. Men can, and should, wear their best suit and clericals. Robe for the ceremony and you’re all set. You should be really spiffed up and attend carefully to your grooming so that you’re not a disheveled embarrassment in photos with tuxedo’s and evening gown’d couples and their attendants.


Women and femme people should, in theory, be able to add a bit of bling to a stunning black suit, but few of us own suits that are formal enough to do the job. Most of our suits are kind of frumpy. Mine are fine for professional appearances and funerals but they’re NOT semi-formal, which is a next level in cut, fit and fabric. So I always make sure I have one cocktail dress on hand for semi-formals, and although they’re not really dressy enough, they’re acceptable.

I am a minister. I don’t do sequins and shiny fabrics. Save those — clingy and cleavagey — for your own fancy nights out.

What I do to make sure I’m not going to frumpify wedding photos is to spend more time on my “head” — the fashion critic shorthand for hair and make-up. It is aesthetically jarring when I see photos of women all glammed up and the minister is bare faced and has floppy hair casually thrown back in a barrette or unstyled. Please make an effort!

This look took me twenty minutes. I’m wearing foundation, shimmer highlight, a smoky eye, eyebrows, blush and lipgloss (I’ll do a full lip later, closer to the ceremony). I worked dry shampoo through my hair and put it up in a French twist:

Photo on 9-22-17 at 3.08 PM #3
This is my “I’m honestly and truly super happy for you but it’s lousy out and I wish I could be home watching ‘Game of Thrones AND at your wedding” smile.

The earrings I’m wearing are a lot smaller and more low-key than I would pair with this outfit if I wasn’t doing a wedding, but statement earrings and robes look silly on me. I might switch them out for the reception.

Here’s my final outfit after having torn apart my dressing room trying on outfits and agonizing over what shoes to wear. I decided on boots. BOOTS ARE NOT appropriate for black tie but I’m working. My feet have been hurting this week. I don’t want to wear heels and the rest of my outfit is dark, seasonally appropriate and just fine. It’s raining like a maniac out there and I have a long drive. I put some bling around my neck so that I’ll look dressier for the inevitable reception table photo. So — boots. These boots. I shined them up, of course! I decided against my dressier pair because they keep ripping my panythose and I don’t want to wear opaque tights.

Click to enlarge

Off I go. The bride is Albanian and I want to practice a few phrases before I get into the car.

4 Replies to “Black Tie Optional Wedding”

  1. YES to black tie being SO HARD for clergy women!

    I am going to a big black tie Thanksgiving event where I am invited as someone’s pastor and now giving the invocation, surrounded by U.S. and U.K. military in full uniform. Totally stressed about what to wear! (Especially because I have crazy post-chemo hair, too long for my wig but too short to be styled.)
    Call me!! – PB

  2. I am sure PB will help you but my thought is a great hat or turban since the military will have hats on why not you?

  3. I traveled from the west coast to officiate at a wedding tomorrow afternoon in rural NH …. and brought my black boots and the dress that works with them — glad to see yours. They look good! Now I just need to figure out what I’m going to do with my now-long-hair ….

  4. Oh, bless you. I never go to the reception. I do very few weddings for anyone I know, though, so it’s easy to just say “so sorry, I won’t be able to make it–I hope it’s a lovely, lovely party” to the couples who invite me anyway.
    [Me too, but it took me YEARS to get to that place. If I’ve traveled any distance to officiate, though, I want to eat. – PB]

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