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Aisle Style for the Wedding Guest

With the variety of reception venues now available to Lancaster County brides and grooms, wedding guests may find themselves toasting the newlyweds in barns, mills and hotel ballrooms. What’s a guest to wear when the invitation suggests “rustic chic,” “beach formal” or worse, conveys no specifics at all?

For advice, we turned to the experts: The husband-and-wife owners of two of Lancaster’s premier clothiers for men and women weigh in with some practical guidelines for appropriate wedding guest attire, whether the nuptials are being held in a country barn or a country club.

Jay and Mary Beth Filling, owners of Filling’s Clothing, have been dressing Lancastrians for several decades. Founded by Jay’s grandfather in 1929, the third-generation family business moved from offering pressing and tailor-made clothing to dry cleaning and fine ready-to-wear fashions for both men and women.

Coleson Fine Clothiers, now in its third year of business, is owned by Shane and Kaitlin Behmer and is downtown Lancaster’s upscale fashion purveyor for women and men.

Both couples agree that there’s a timeless “rule” that all wedding guests should observe: Don’t wear white. It’s the bride’s prerogative to lay claim to white and all its related shades – ivory, cream, bisque and ecru. Whatever you call it, leave white to the bride and let her stand out on her special day. The same guidelines would apply to bling: Go with tasteful sparkle and save your crystal-laden dress for your next trip to Las Vegas.

With that said, there are a plethora of other shades and hues that a guest may wear, including black. “Once I understand the ‘style, when and where’ details of my customer’s event, I like to guide her toward choices, not away from them,” says Kaitlin.

The little black dress is elegant, not funereal, especially when it’s teamed with lively accessories. “I may suggest that a mother of the bride or groom steer away from black in favor of navy,” says Mary Beth. “But black for a guest is totally appropriate.”

Look to the invitation to give you a clue to the event’s level or lack of formality, even if there is not a guiding attire notation. The bride chose the invitation for a reason: hopefully, to reflect her personal taste and style of the wedding. Still confused? All four fashion experts agree, “It’s better to be overdressed than underdressed.”

The timing of the wedding can also give you a clue. If a wedding is taking place at 4 or 5 p.m., choose something that easily transitions from day to night. If the ceremony is after 6 p.m., up the style factor to cocktail. And if the invitation says “casual dress,” that doesn’t give you clearance for distressed jeans, shorts, tank tops, flip-flops or t-shirts. Instead, think “business casual” and go with something that’s appropriate to wear at work. After all, this is a wedding – a highly photographed event – where your face and frock will be seen for years to come.

In Jay’s estimation, “The choice of what we wear shows the importance we place on the people and the event. Out of respect to the couple, and to the parents for the party they are throwing, dress well. Wrinkled khakis and a shirttail hanging out just isn’t happening.” While Jay’s “Old School” personal style standards would make him squirm at wearing a sport coat to a wedding, he admits “a sport coat could be appropriate for an outdoor wedding, in a garden instead of a church.”

Another hard-and-fast rule: Be respectful of religious affiliations. Churches and cleavage don’t mix well, nor does flashing a lot of leg. For Indian weddings, the brighter the better, so leave the somber colors at home. Going strapless? Cover up those shoulders with a pretty wrap for the church ceremony and then go bare for the reception venue.

Be practical. “Include a wrap for the barn or outdoor venue as well, for sheer practicality,” says Mary Beth. “Those outdoor-to-indoor events can turn chilly.” And when it comes to footwear, be practical. Stilettos can be miserable on uneven cobblestones, barn plank flooring, soft grass and gardens. Switch out those Jimmy Choos for some medium heels or flats (or invest in heel protectors from companies such as Solemates). And men, do invest in a shoeshine.

Formal and Fab … Coleson Fine Clothiers

Shane and Kaitlin Behmer

The Little Black Dress is a year-round home run. Magaschoni’s wool version has its own jeweled neckline. It’s topped by a cashmere and faux-fox fur cocoon cover-up from the same designer. “I often help customers refresh an outfit with new accessories for a special event,” says Kaitlin, “or adjust its length for an updated look, with our on-site tailor.”

“A navy suit works every time,” says Shane, who chose an Oxxford hand-made suit that’s made to order for an impeccable fit. “And good tailoring will make for a comfortable outfit to get a wedding guest through a long day,” he notes.

Personalize the classic dark suit with your choices in accessories: the tie, pocket square, micro-print shirt, watch and socks (which no longer have to match the tie) are all ways to introduce your own style, he points out.

Shane concurs that brown shoes carry the day. “It’s no longer the standard that black shoes accompany a navy suit.” Here he wears a monk strap in two-tone brown by Scarpe Dibianco. Shirt by Eton of Sweden and small dot-pattern tie by Oxxford.


36 N. Queen St., Lancaster

394-8842 or colesonclothiers.com

Daytime Chic … Filling’s Clothing

Jay and Mary Beth Filling

Jay and Mary Beth Filling

A wide-leg, flowing cocktail pant works for daytime celebrations and transitions from day-to-evening for semi-formal affairs. Mary Beth tops the Veronica M pant with subtle shimmer in a soutache textural short-sleeved top with mini-sequins by Weston Wear, layered over a sheer tank camisole for added interest.

Artistic earrings by Escape from Paris, a wrap bracelet of leather, suede and Swarovski crystals, and a silver bracelet with crystals add just enough sparkle. She carries a clutch in croco-textured metallic by Big Buddha.
Jay’s tan cotton/linen/wool blend suit, which is perfect for a less-than-formal wedding, can be dressed up or down with accessories. Made expressly for Filling’s, the custom made-to-measure suit is an affordable way to acquire a well-fitting suit made to a gentleman’s specific measurements, as is the all-cotton shirt. Paired with a linen shirt and no tie, Jay’s tan suit could also take him to a wedding that’s “beach formal.”

His lime green and pink dot Peter Blair tie adds a less formal touch, as does the whimsical pocket square. Brown shoes are the preferred neutral in men’s shoes, worn here as a cap toe wingtip from Allen Edmonds.


681 Harrisburg Ave. (College Row), Lancaster

735-9550 or fillingsclothing.com

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