need help with courthouse wedding attire, difficulty level: bride
September 20, 2021 10:53 AM   Subscribe

I’m getting married this winter! Yay! We’re not having The Wedding Event with international family and friends til some time next summer because *waves hands at everything*, so it’s going to be just me and him and a magistrate and, if we’re lucky, our parents. I have all sorts of wedding dress ideas for the Big Day next year, but how do I figure out what to wear for the small legal ceremony???

I’m terrible at figuring out clothes formality systems at the best of times, and this feels extra fraught. I just want a dress that’s the right amount of nice. I don’t feel strongly about wearing white for this, but I don’t love wearing patterns and I’d feel weird about black. How do I find a specific dress in my city and in my budget that feels right to me? How do I determine what the right amount of nice is?

Relevant details:

- we are in Bristol, UK, and I don’t have any familiarity with the clothing shops here

- I don’t really have practice shopping for Nice Grownup Clothes to begin with

- I don’t have a whole lot of money, like, £100 would be pushing it

- I don’t already own anything nice enough to attend someone else’s wedding in, so let’s just assume all my existing clothes are ineligible

- I’m short and wide (5’3”, US 14/UK 18) with broad bones and no boobs, like literally none, they’ve been surgeried off

- I’d strongly prefer to try things on in person rather than guess how they’ll hang on my atypical frame from online

Hope me? Please and thank you!
posted by some_kind_of_toaster to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (23 answers total)
I’m not sure what’s available in the UK, but you can really choose to wear whatever you’d like! Do you know what your future spouse would like to wear? That might help guide more towards sundress or something more formal. If they will wear a suit, “cocktail” dress is a helpful term. Additionally, you can just search “little white dress” and MANY options will come up (and then you can actually go look in person from there. In the US, some places like Nordstrom have excellent return policies, so try-ons at home might be an option.
posted by raccoon409 at 10:58 AM on September 20, 2021 [2 favorites]

U.S. based, but: I used to work not far from a busy office for civic weddings, and I saw people who were plainly just before/after their weddings in all manner of clothing. Since you're asking, though, I think you're looking for what would be an unremarkable outfit for a civic ceremony that's serious. I think a dress (or suit) of the kind you might interview in would be just fine. Since it's winter, long-sleeved, or a sheath + matching jacket. With your budget, I would look for simpler pieces. You can fancy it up with nicer jewelry/a bouquet if you like.
posted by praemunire at 11:02 AM on September 20, 2021 [2 favorites]

My uncle and grandfather were judges who did marriages. Many small ones as you described. Uncle once told me that you can wear whatever you want to his chambers to get married. He has had couples come from the pool in flip flops and couples in formal evening wear.

I am not a fashion person especially when it comes to dresses, but I would suggest a plain dark colored dress. Maybe a hunter green or navy blue?
posted by AugustWest at 11:16 AM on September 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

A friend got courthouse married a few years ago in a kelly green Greican-ish style sundress that was definitely pretty but would also probably be described as a casual dress by most retailers. And birkenstocks. Other people I know who have gone and got courthouse married have chosen white cocktail dresses, but the kelly green was nice and happy and easy, and it's not like she forgot she was getting married because of what she was wearing. I'm in the US so things might be different on the other side of the ocean, but I don't think there's a dress code for this. Wear clothes that make you happy, they don't have to signal "bride" to anyone else in the world.
posted by phunniemee at 11:16 AM on September 20, 2021 [3 favorites]

I was married in a courthouse. I wore a sportcoat and tie and my soon to be wife wore a pretty dress. Simple all the way around and nice. However, there were every range of attire in the line waiting for the judge: full wedding dress and tux down to jeans and t-shirts. Agree to the bouqet and or boutonniere thought. We did that as well.

So, I'd say to wear whatever fits your mood for the happy day! Congrats and good luck!
posted by zerobyproxy at 11:17 AM on September 20, 2021 [2 favorites]

I'm in the US, and my courthouse wedding was 20 years ago. While we waited our turn we saw people wearing just about anything you can imagine for their ceremony. From a couple in t-shirts to traditional church wedding attire (tux and big white foofy dress.) I wore a simple white crochet maxi dress and my husband wore a shirt and tie.

One couple I know of didn't want their courthouse ceremony to be the "real" wedding (they considered it to be basically getting the legalities out of the way prior to a destination wedding) So they dressed down as much as possible to make it not seem like an event.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 11:22 AM on September 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

I have twice spent a day in a city hall/courthouse setting as other people were getting married and, as some others have said, saw the full range of formality, from matching jeans/t-shirts to ball gowns. So don't worry too much about formality. Think about what would make you feel best and what you would like to see in photos of this day.

One look that seems to be sort of classic for a courthouse wedding is a simple white dress with a fitted white jacket. Of course, if you don't care about white, that could be any color, but it's a nice look - sort of says "this isn't just another day" but it is in't a full-on gown.
posted by lunasol at 11:25 AM on September 20, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I’m in the US and had a courthouse wedding with just family in a college town in a very casual state (Montana) about a decade ago.

I wore a short, sweetheart top, ivory dress with lace detailing. It was in the spring formal dance section of the department store one day and I fell in love. It was $150. My spouse wore dress pants and a nice vest. The people at the office loved my dress because most people show up in jeans or a casual dress. It’s also a slow courthouse for weddings. They were SO excited!

The fantastic thing is you get to wear whatever you want! (Well, I suppose you couldn’t show up naked.)

Are there styles you are drawn to when you see people wear them? Shapes your like? Colors? Fabrics?

Some fabrics and seem more dressed up, silky, satins, lace, beads. Generally shiny things or detailed things.

Some ideas that can be dressed up or down and create nice lines on the body:
Skirt and blouse
Wrap dress
Dark jeans with a nice shirt

I think it’s a great day to just express YOU. Maybe that’s a beautiful dress. Maybe that’s athletic wear. It’s whatever makes you feel amazing. Congrats!
posted by Crystalinne at 11:33 AM on September 20, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I know you prefer to try on in person, but I would recommend eshakti for this, because you can input your exact measurements and they will tailor a dress specifically for you. As for finding a local shop, I would try to find one that does in house alterations; in the US that's Nordstrom. And for a bit of an oddball suggestion; thrift stores are good places to find really unique pieces.

posted by nancynickerson at 11:34 AM on September 20, 2021 [2 favorites]

I was married in a courthouse. I wore a sportcoat and tie and my soon to be wife wore a pretty dress. Simple all the way around and nice. However, there were every range of attire in the line waiting for the judge: full wedding dress and tux down to jeans and t-shirts. Agree to the bouqet and or boutonniere thought. We did that as well.

We did a courthouse marriage as well, and we opted for "nice-ish but regular" clothes (so, like one or two levels down from coat and tie, basically) that we already owned. The judge and courtroom staff were dressed about the same. I'm pretty sure we wouldn't have been turned away unless we showed up shirtless, but I suppose an individual judge could be more restrictive.
posted by Dip Flash at 11:36 AM on September 20, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: As a limited budget UK based bride, I went to both Debenhams and the wonderful Oxfam bridal boutique local to me - it looks like Bristol has which should be equivalent? I ended up getting a bridesmaid dress in sea green rather than a standard bridal dress and it suited me really well. Congratulations and best of luck with your day!
posted by MarianHalcombe at 11:46 AM on September 20, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'll bite and offer some specific suggestions. Since you're in the UK, Boden is a British online-order clothing brand that sells a variety of clothing that might fit the bill. Their returns policy is generous enough (detailed in the "Help" section on their website), such that one ought to feel comfortable ordering multiple pieces to try on and shamelessly send back anything that's not spot-on. Perhaps the Esmeralda Tie Waist Dress might do?

A Google search of "yelp bristol, uk consignment" yields several clothing consignment stores that could be worth visiting to try things on in person. I expect the sales staff would be *delighted* with the brief of helping you outfit yourself for a courthouse wedding ceremony.

In general, it'll be a happy occasion, so why not wear something cheerful yet comfortable that makes you happy to celebrate it?
posted by Last_wave_by at 11:49 AM on September 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My father was a judge and for many decades married people in our home. (In the master bedroom, we had an French doors that open onto a balcony overlooking the two-story feather rock fireplace, flanked by two-story bookshelves; it was the perfect vantage point for watching a LOT of weddings.) Based on this experience and the many, many weddings to which I've been, what you most want is something that is a) comfortable and b) will make you feel FABULOUS when you look at the photos. It doesn't matter how much you dress up (or down), or what you wear so much as that it makes you feel happy. That said, I have some suggestions.

Because it will be winter, and you won't be able to gauge the indoor temperature, you either want to have full sleeves or something that comes with a jacket/cape/wrap. Depending on the material, you might want something in the same material or something complimentary. (Personally, I like velvet and satin, but you do you!)

You probably want to tell the salesperson that you're looking for a "cocktail-length" dress suitable for a wedding. It doesn't have to be white, and it's definitely OK to go for simple lines. I have a lot of semi-formal dresses, and have always received compliments on my very simple approach. Anything I buy, I decide will only have one "feature."

I'm about your height and size (but big in the bosom and more hourglass). I strongly suggest you go for more delicate features rather than anything bold. Think multiple tiny features, rather than something the size of your head. So, a straight sheath flapper-style, but with seed pearls, or a sundress-style dress but with tiny satin buttons. Look for something that's simple but has one "feature." You can always dress something up with jewelry, but the minute you get into sequins and feathers and slits and things, you're getting into Cher/Bob Mackie territory. (Warning: lace can itch, so you want a lining inside anything with lots of lace!)

If you're at all self-conscious about your chest, maybe opt for something with a full skirt, so it puts the accent on some flounce below the waist. If you want to feel taller, aim for a simpler, leaner silhouette.

The key is to feel your absolute best, something that makes you feel like the best (or fanciest) version of YOURSELF. Try to think of any time you've dressed up at all that you felt happy, and that's a good sign. The right amount of "nice" is the one where, when you're trying it on in the dressing room, puts a smile on your face that delights you when you look in the mirror.

I encourage you to find at bring a few photos/web links of styles you might like and show them to the salesperson. So, for example, if someone told me they wanted simple, small-bust, with one feature, I might show them this. (Note the buttons down the back.) And say, "I'm looking for something this length, with elegant simplicity, but a pretty feature that makes it special." A salesperson with experience (look for a lady about 60yo) will know exactly what you mean.

When looking for inspiration, also consider sites that show "mother of the bride" dresses; they've come a long way over the years and have some lovely options that might fit your needs, and they're more likely to come with cute little jackets or even "coats" that match the length of the dress, if you want to opt for something more subdued for the ceremony and then remove it for the evening, if you go for a nice dinner.

May you have a very happy marriage!

I don't know stores in Bristol, UK, but if I were looking for a dress and were in your situation, I'd start with good department stores (rather than boutiques) and get pointed to the special occasion dresses. (In the US, I'd head to Lord & Taylor or Nordstrom.)
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 12:00 PM on September 20, 2021 [3 favorites]

One thing that you can do is search "Bristol registry wedding photos" and look at what other people have worn to their registry weddings in your town. Lots and lots of different levels of formality in the results that I see, so that might help you feel more comfortable with whatever you'd prefer or might give you the opportunity to point to something and say 'that's what I feel is the right look for me!' From looking at the photos, Bristol seems like a very posh registry to get married in -- though maybe that's the norm in the UK -- so the general trend might be a bit fancier than a city hall wedding in the US, but I still see plenty of knee length day dresses on display in the photos.
posted by jacquilynne at 12:10 PM on September 20, 2021 [3 favorites]

I marry people with varying degrees of formality (tho mostly casual) and I agree with everyone that it's really okay to wear what you want. That said I think the things to think about are

- Do you want to buy something new? You don't have to, but you could.
- Will you have a picture of this event which you'll want to keep (and therefore i.e. look decent to yourself)?
- do you and your partner want to be matchy?

My advice for people is wear what makes you feel fabulous, whether that's something you've already got at home or something you'd shop for. You'll likely be indoors and there's a good chance you won't even really have a full length photo taken (depending what you choose obviously). My suggestion is usually some clothes you already have, that fit and that you LOVE, and dress it up with some fancy jewelry that you don't often get to wear, now is the time. Every happiness to you both.
posted by jessamyn at 12:25 PM on September 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

I got married at the courthouse in winter (US). I wore a cream wool skirt, cream open-weave cardigan, long sleeve gray t-shirt, and a scarf. I splashed out on lace up Frye boots to complete my outfit. I still wear the boots and skirt 8 years later.

Be comfortable and be yourself. Hope you have the happiest of weddings!
posted by XtineHutch at 12:33 PM on September 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I am a similar shape (but shorter and fatter) and had a separate civil ceremony for different reasons a couple of years ago. I got a white jersey dress from eShakti which was great because it fit my height. I was not as bothered by the dress, although I did specifically want white because I wore a purple dress for my 2nd ceremony. I spent quite a bit on my shoes though, and they were the spectacular element of my outfit.

If you want various kinds of shop ideas in the UK, try Asos, Boden, Phase Eight, Coast, Monsoon, Joules, Debenhams, House of Fraser, Hobbs, Oliver Bonas. Those are all mid to pricy high street of various kinds but would have dresses for less than £100, and do other kinds of outfits. Not all of them still have bricks and mortar stores, there's been a bit of a hollowing out over the pandemic and I don't know Bristol at all to recommend anywhere in person.

Have a great day.
posted by plonkee at 1:22 PM on September 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Bearing in mind that a lot of the more traditional High Street options like Debenhams are no longer with us - have a look at John Lewis website - lots of filters, various dresses on sale, you can head into the shop or order online and return if unsuitable. Applying size 18, shape and pattern filters I added an £80 price limit and was left with 85 options in a range of styles and colours. YFMV (your filters may vary).
posted by koahiatamadl at 1:52 PM on September 20, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I got married at city hall (albeit a very beautiful one). Nthing the suggestions to wear a nice, not-terribly-expensive cocktail-length dress. I wore a $100 off-white dress, he wore a lightish colored suit. I did get my hair and makeup professionally done, and we hired a photographer friend to take pictures, both of which I highly recommend.
posted by radioamy at 1:59 PM on September 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I would also consider getting your off-the-shelf dress tailored to fit your actual body. I was a bridesmaid at a wedding with a frugal bride who had us all order the same dress from a catalog. With the money saved, I had a seamstress make some minor adjustments to the waist and add a strategic snap to the cross-over neckline and it made all the difference. Compared to the other bridesmaids wearing the same dress, mine actually looked good on me because it fit. When my 12 year old daughter (tall and flat chested) needed a fancy dress, we did the same thing. Bought a dress she fell in love with at Nordstrom's Rack and had it altered so it looked perfect on her.
posted by metahawk at 4:36 PM on September 20, 2021 [2 favorites]

Tailoring is a great idea! I was going to recommend Coast but they’ve gone online only, look in John Lewis and House of Fraser at the dressy sections.
posted by ellieBOA at 11:43 PM on September 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

Coast would also be my go-to for this. Their wedding guest dresses section features a lot of the kind of things I'd be thinking of, and they have a sale on at the moment, which brings a lot of them into your price range, especially some of the shorter (eg. knee-length) dresses, which would probably be what you're after if you don't have legs that go on forever.
posted by penguin pie at 3:27 AM on September 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! I’m feeling a lot more equipped to navigate this now, between the advice people gave on specific retailers and the more general advice about what makes clothing look Nice and look good on a body like mine. And big thanks for all the well wishes!
posted by some_kind_of_toaster at 12:30 PM on September 21, 2021

« Older Intel vs M1 iMac with Parallels/Windows partition   |   Does the hat have a special lining toblock the... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments