What to Wear to be an Eco-Friendly Wedding Guest

by - Sunday, April 15, 2018

three friends in front of a church headed to a wedding

In your early 20's, it still feels weird to go to friends' weddings. 
By your mid-20's, it is an established part of your summer routine. Most of us even get into those binds where we are invited to more than one in a weekend. 
By the end of your 20's, you are a pro, and you could probably fill your Saturdays watching people get hitched. 

Wedding Guesting is an art all its own, and it can become a big part of life (and your budget). We may spend most wedding talk on issues of planning, but most of us will go to more weddings as a guest than a participant (unless we are a real badass), so it might be worth it to figure out how to do it well (find that drunken shenanigan line- yes to dancing, no to anything you wouldn't want a professional photographer present for), how to do it with style, and even how to do it in an eco-friendly way. 

I love going to a wedding- how many events do you get to go to where you just get to be excited for someone else, eat cake, and get dressed up? I just like when good things happen to people, and weddings are usually (but not always) really good things. The weddings in our life have picked up from year to year, though this year we are in a lull, and we had to miss a few people we really love due to travel and pregnancy-related limitations (before this year, we always tried to make it, and I think we were only thwarted once due to a nasty case of viral exanthems- sorry Kate!). I would like to believe we have gotten pretty good at guesting, at least as good as we can while still being super awkward dorks. These are the key responsibilities as I see them: 

1. Have a Good Time- Someone spent a bunch of money trying to make this party a good time. So get on board whatever ship they are sailing. Dance even if the dj is not the greatest (or prioritizes taking selfies). Participate in the activity, even if it is dorky. Make small talk even if you truly are the worst at it. You are a collaborator in the good time, so get in there and have fun like it is your job. 

2. Get a Good Gift- A gift's value can come from a lot of things, but gifting is my love language, so I take it very seriously. 

3. Don't Look a Hot Mess- Don't be the guest they are trying to crop out of pictures. This is a wedding; no camo shorts, nipples, or super fashion moments are needed (these are all things I have seen while a guest). The bride and groom probably indicated to you the level of formality and the general style of the wedding (often the colors too) in the invite. Don't try to dress like a bridesmaid, but you can try to get in the spirit of the event with your clothes. 

But here is the problem. If you are going to be a professional wedding guest, that adds up to a lot of travel, a lot of gifting, and a lot of merriment. It also means you are dressing up A LOT. 

You can green your gifting by seeking out the green items on their registry, giving them honeymoon money, or by doing simple substitutions by using the Made in America and Eco-Friendly Wedding Registry, 

It turns out you can turn your many fashion moments into productive and eco-friendly purchases as well. Let's go through it by formality. Not that I actually understand the different formality levels, because they are impossible, and we are a generation of ragamuffins. I'll split by gender too, but obviously you should ride the line or do whatever makes sense for you. Just gathering resources.

formal wedding dancefloor in a museum

Formal (white tie) and Semi-Formal (black tie)

For Guys-  Rent a Tuxedo! If you think you have enough black tie events in your future, buying one might make sense. Even mainstream stores like Men's Wearhouse have their USA- made selections obviously marked. I saw a few on Nordstrom as well, but they are so expensive! How many times would you have to rent before it is cheaper to buy? Sharing/ renting makes sense to me for your average guy.

For Ladies- I have always hated that men can rent a tux and women are supposed to shell out so much money for a dress. It's not that way anymore! I am all about Rent the Runway, where you can rent formal dresses I know I could never afford. It gives you the chance to switch up your look, and it is more environmentally-friendly than all of us having some formal dresses just collecting dust in our closets. You can get dresses at every level of formality (starting as low as 30 bucks), but it makes the most sense when you are headed to a black tie wedding, because, really, when are you reusing that gown?

If your answer is "all the time, B," you are in luck. Certain designers of more formal dresses- Nicole Miller, Zac Posen, Jason Wu, Jennifer Kroll - have already pledged to make (at least some of) their dresses in the United States. Nordstrom has 46 options for made in America formal dresses. You can even try Amazon (just read the description before you buy. They love "or imported" in the descriptions). Anthropologie sells one line of Made in America dresses that would work for bridesmaids or guests. I tried to aim on the simple side, because you can always switch up the style around it, but that is my best tip- go classic in a simple color, and you might get more years of life out of the dress. 

couple headed to a weddiing in a cocktail dress and suit

Informal (Suit and Cocktail Dress)

For Guys- Most men (but not all, so self-assess don't sweat it if this isn't you) should probably own at least two suits: a grey or black one and a navy one. The nice thing for dudes is they can buy one or two really well-made suits, and then wear them forever. It's kind of this blog's dream for all people, regardless of their gender. Most suits aren't cheap, but a good one can last you so long that you really get your money's worth. 

I know Men's Wearhouse carries a brand Joseph Abboud that are sewn in the United States, so you can go pretty basic and still buy something ethical with minimal negative impact. Their dress pants are even on sale, so it can have minimal pocket impact as well. Nordstrom has a whole section of Made in America suits as well, though I cannot imagine ever being rich enough to spend that kind of money. 

I don't have much advice on men's fashion, but I do HIGHLY recommend the American List on the Continuous Lean. They have a massive list of American-made fashion and gear for men. We have had great luck with everything they have recommended. 

For Ladies- First, a lot of the answers for a great cocktail dress are the same- check out Rent the Runway, you might be surprised by their 1127 options. I think I will do this next time, because the dresses look so beautiful and at least at this moment, my body is always in flux, so purchasing something doesn't make a ton of sense. 

Lots of cocktail dresses are made domestically, so if you do want to buy, you can support slow fashion, the American worker, and shrinking the fossil fuel consumption that plagues uneccessary imports. Nordstrom has 400+ made in America options. Amazon has hundreds as well. You can also find beautiful cocktail dresses made by American designers like Nanette Lepore or (my favorite) Eva Franco. (you can also shop for both of their stuff on Anthropologie). You could also browse Modcloth's Made in America pages.  Lastly, try Shabby Apple- this American brand sells gorgeous dresses that would work perfectly for weddings and cocktail events. 

couple by the fremont bridge at a wedding

Casual (everything else)

For Guys- My husband would probably still wear a suit, but for most guys, a few button ups and some trusted dress pants are all you need to survive those less formal weddings. Use what you already have and invest in pieces that will last you. My advice? Look for some button ups on The American List from A Continuous Lean. It may cost more at first, but get something classic and it should last you longer. For neckties, I recommend used or something from The General Knot Co or The Hillside.

For Ladies- If you are in a sundress situation, your first good bet is to check your own closet or favorite consignment store. There are plenty of sundresses out in the world, so you are likely to find something great without looking far.

Try a new consignment store, borrow from friends, Thred Up, or even Rent the Runway. You can get something amazing for 30 bucks, for goodness sakes! If  you are feeling like you need something special, try checking out Shabby Apple, Anthropologie, or Nordstrom

Prioritize getting things used, and if not used, made in America. Stop buying things that are ok, and only shell out for dresses you love enough to keep wearing! 

Bonus points if you can dress it up or down to get more use out of it. I also think doing separates might get you more bang for your buck- you can use different combinations on those wedding-saturated summers. You have so many options, there is no reason to spend money on a dress that was unethically-made and wastes fossil fuels.

A few other Green Choices you can Make as a Guest

1. Turn down the plastic straw or stirrer. You can't stop the train from rolling, but you can get off.

2. Give an eco-friendly gift. Check the registry, but a few switches might make the whole thing way more environmentally-kind. Consider who you are shopping for, but this may be a good choice. Or buying a "giftless" gift, like movie tickets or a gift card for a museum, might be the perfect gift. Get your card from a foundation like the Arbor Day Foundation. Wrap it in something recycled.

3. Recycle your program.

eco-friendly wedding guests dancing

Good luck, guesties! If you need some inspiration for gifts, be sure to check out The Made in America and Eco-Friendly Wedding Registry. Want more Green Wedding goodness? We have SO MANY ideas here of how to make your special day kinder to the environment and that much more original. Check out the Green Wedding Page for more ideas. 

If you like this post, please share it! This blog is all about making small changes. The more people who make these small shifts, the better the Earth will be!

You May Also Like


  1. Wow that's a neat collection of tips and hacks to be worn for a wedding..Haven't thought so deep actually but these are some great guidelines for eco friendly weddings

  2. Great tips! I have a few weddings to attend at the end of the summer. I hope to have lost a few pounds and will look into your suggestions when buying a new dress. My husband is lucky, as you suggested, he has his two suits and a tux. A new shirt and. Stir and he is set!

  3. Lots of things I would have never thought about! I love Rent the Runway though for weddings.

  4. This is an interesting read! South Asian weddings are so very different - we definitely need more rent an outfit shops - everyone pretty much buys tailor made!

  5. Brilliant advice, all points that every guests should be adhering to! I love a wedding too. Only one this summer but it’s going to be epic!

  6. In Idaho and Montana things tend to stay very informal, so refreshing on these standards is helpful. At our formal wedding, we had some people show up in jeans! A great read - thank you for sharing.



Get Our Latest Posts Via Email - It's Free

Enter your email address: