The Ultimate Guide to Wedding Dress Alternatives

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photo of a bride in a tan suit holding a bouquet

If gowns aren’t your style, don’t worry. Just because you’re getting married, doesn’t mean you have to wear a traditional white wedding dress. Here’s a comprehensive guide to alternatives to bridal gowns, bouquets, veils and more.

Do brides have to wear a dress?

No, you do not have to wear a wedding gown. Brides can walk down the aisle in separates (a top and a skirt), a suit, or a jumpsuit and still be dressed formally. For informal affairs, you could even wear jeans, leggings or slacks as part of your outfit.

It’s 2022. Not only have expectations changed for what is culturally acceptable for women to wear but the last few years have seen a spike in more casual fashion trends, such as athleisure. That said, you might turn a few heads if you show up in nontraditional attire. So be prepared to ignore grandma when she asks why you didn’t wear tulle.

What if you hate dresses but still want to look like a “bride?” Or what if you just don’t like the color white but still want to look like the million-dollar version of yourself for the cameras? We have some suggestions for you throughout the rest of this blog post. Keep reading for different takes on colors, styles, suits, and more.

And if you want to know more about how to find an affordable dress or one at the last minute, check out our guide to buying off-the-rack.

Can a bride wear a suit?

Yes! Skip the skirt and don a pair of pants or a jumpsuit. Try a white suit for that traditional bridal look or keep it chic in black, navy, or gray for a formal, menswear inspired outfit.

Not sure how to dress up a suit or how to find one that’s made for your curves? Whether you identify as female or nonbinary, we have a full guide filled with inspiration of mens suits for women on this post.

Handmade options from Etsy

Ivory Suit – HaveDressStore on Etsy

The Cowrie Infinity Necklace – OmiWoods on Etsy

Beaded Bridal Mask – HushedCommotion on Etsy

What can you wear instead of a wedding dress?

Here’s a full list of things you can wear instead of a traditional gown and still look your best:

  • A white blazer, pants, and a lace bodysuit
  • An ivory jumpsuit
  • Blush-colored cropped top with a full skirt
  • Bright, white tuxedo
  • A white bodysuit tucked into
  • A different colored full-length dress
  • A wetsuit (surf lovers anyone?)
  • Jeans, white t-shirt and a veil
  • An ivory chunky knit sweater and leggings with a bridal hair accessory

The last two would definitely be best for a last minute or otherwise informal affair. We’re thinking a cruise ship elopement, courthouse wedding, getting hitched in Vegas, etc. And the wetsuit you might want to reserve for a wedding that actually requires a swimsuit. While the others on the list can be dressed up enough for most ceremony spots.

You might want to try on a few options before you decide which look is the one. Curious how many other brides try on before picking their outfit? We found that the number is less than you think.

Where else can I wear it?

Any of these alternatives would be great for your main event but you can also wear these outfits to your bridal shower, wedding dress shopping, bachelorette party, food / cake tasting, rehearsal dinner, farewell brunch, or honeymoon. So even if you want to wear a traditional gown down the aisle, you can still rock this look for other wedding events.

You could also wear a suit, jumpsuit, or separates as your second wedding day outfit. Some brides like to wear a more conservative pick for the ceremony – especially if your ceremony is in a church or temple. Then for the reception they change into something more comfortable or sexier. If you’re not ready to wear a jumpsuit to say your “I do’s” but would love to try out the look, then an outfit change might be for you.

And finally, a lot of these options will work for everyday wear. That can’t be said of most wedding gowns that will only be worn once. You can give your outfit a second life at work or at parties and fondly remember your special day. Try mixing it up with different shoes, a colored blazer, a more casual hairstyle and everyday jewelry to make it less bridal.

women in a white blazer, shirt and pants carrying a black purse
From aisle to board room

Why do brides wear white?

Brides started wearing white in Western culture in the 1800s. At the time it symbolized wealth, since only the elite class could afford to buy a non-practical color that would be ruined by work or wear. It later came to symbolize purity, and virginity, especially in Christian wedding traditions.

Many brides today consider this concept of wearing white to symbolize virginity as outdated and patriarchal. Wearing white definitely no longer means the bride is pure or innocent in that sense. Most brides simply wear white because it is a fashion norm.

What can you wear instead of white?

Champagne, Ivory, and Blush are still conventional choices for a dress that isn’t white. Or you can opt for a gown or suit that’s white with colorful embellishments. Lastly, you can make a bolder statement with a dress that is red, black, or any other color you prefer.

There’s a rich history before the 1900’s of brides wearing all sorts of colors that were not white. So if someone challenges your choice, whip out Wikipedia and let them know that you’re just going back to your roots.

Different colors may have significance in the Western world or a special meaning in other cultures. It’s useful to keep this context in mind when choosing a gown.

What does a black gown mean?

In Western cultures, like the United States, black symbolizes death and mourning.

You may find that some of your family is upset by your choice to don a black wedding gown on a day that is supposed to be happy. A number of brides planning gothic or Halloween weddings want to wear black in keeping with their theme and find that it disturbs older guests. You shouldn’t let it stop you from having your dream dress. And there’s some interesting history to point to that supports the color.

As I mentioned above, many brides before the late 1800’s wore black, brown or dark blue gowns since that was the color they had on hand. It wasn’t until Queen Victoria married Prince Albert in 1840 and reports of her white, lace gown spread that wealthier brides started to prefer white. If you can wear black as a guest, why can’t you wear it as a bride?

Black has become a somewhat popular choice for gothic or Halloween weddings. For brides looking to create an elegant atmosphere and celebrate the “’til death” part of their vows, a black wedding dress completes the theme.

Photographer – Cassandra Trcka | Dress – StylishBrideAccs on Etsy | Event Design – Rockin Robin

What does a red gown mean?

A red dress is a traditional color for many Eastern brides, specifically in China, where it symbolizes good luck and life. In the United States, red as a color can symbolize confidence, sex appeal and power.

This makes red a natural choice for feminist brides who want to make a statement at their weddings in Western cultures. If you’re a bride with Eastern roots, or marrying a partner with family from China, India, or other Asian heritage you may want to consider wearing red as the traditional choice.

What does a champagne or off-white gown mean?

Champagne and other off-white colors like ivory or cream or blush don’t have any special meaning. They are similar enough to white that you could associate them with the same things – purity, innocence, and virginity.

You can find many off-white choices at traditional bridal salons, chains, or online. They are as popular as pure white options. If you want to learn more about where your options for suits or dresses or separates are made, read our article exploring where wedding dresses are made.

What about other wedding traditions like bouquets, veils, or something blue? Keep reading to find out where these fashion accessories originated.

Why do brides carry bouquets?

Bouquets of flowers date back to Ancient Rome. Roman brides carried bunches of flowers and herbs to ward off bad spirits. Even today, flowers symbolize new beginnings, hope, fertility, and happiness.

Carrying flowers is still considered a mainstay of wedding traditions. Even bridesmaids and other members of the wedding party carry or wear flowers as decoration for the special day. If real flowers are out of budget, you can use fake flowers or wood flowers, like these from Sola Wood Flowers.

sola wood flower bouquet
Sola Wood Flowers

What can you carry instead of a bouquet?

If you’d like to carry something unique, there are a number of different things you and your wedding party can hold down the aisle. Here’s a list of alternatives to wedding bouquets:

We found hundreds more ideas on Etsy for unique alternatives to wedding bouquets.

Dusty Rose Feather Bouquet from ArtBouquetsinUA on Etsy

Why do brides wear a veil?

Veils date back to Ancient Rome where brides were covered to ward off evil spirits. They also became popular again in more recent history starting in the 1800s (another trend started by Queen Victoria) and symbolized purity, modesty, and virginity.

Today, brides wear veils because it is another bridal fashion standard. In other words, they like the look. A veil is something you only wear on your wedding day and therefore it is very closely associated with what most people think of when they imagine a bride.

Where does “Something Blue” come from?

“Something Olde, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue, A Sixpence in your Shoe” is an old English rhyme. It names five lucky items to have on your wedding day. The items were meant to ward off evil spirits.

It’s a fun tradition to include in your wedding day if you want to add some extra luck. In the past few years you may have seen brides wearing blue shoes, jewelry, or a blue garter as their “something blue.” The blue accessory might check off a few other items on the list by being old and/or borrowed or totally new.

Something Blue pin from Silver Jewelry Garden on Etsy

Sixpence don’t exist any more in English currency. But they would be worth about fifty cents today in U.S. dollars. So you can use two quarters to represent the sixpence or buy a vintage coin on Etsy.

What can you have as something blue?

There are endless possibilities for what you can use as your something blue on your wedding day. Here are a few ideas:

  • Jewelry
  • Garter
  • Underwear / Bra
  • Lingerie
  • A pin
  • Flowers
  • Hair pins
  • Purse
  • Shoes
  • Tights
  • Shawl / stole
  • Nail polish
  • Handkerchief
  • Cufflinks
  • Robe
  • Pajamas
  • Water bottle
  • Champagne glass
  • Wine bottle
  • Coffee mug

We found a lot of unique options for good luck handmade or vintage charms on Etsy.

I hope this round up inspires you to try something out of the ordinary for your wedding or one of the surrounding events. We can’t wait to see what you’ll wear. If you’d like to submit your wedding for future consideration, you can fill out our form for a chance to be featured in an article.


Jaime is the owner of Loud Bride and Coast Designs LLC. She got married in 2017 in Geneseo, NY and designed her own wedding invitations and programs for the occasion. Now, she designs bespoke wedding stationery and affordable templates for other couples. She lives in New York city with her husband and two children.

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