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What to Wear to Officiate a Wedding

When all eyes are on the bride, and you're there too

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When my dear friends Logan and Erica asked me to officiate their wedding, I was honored/touched/flattered, etc., but my thoughts went immediately to the five open tabs on my internet browser of dresses I had already dog-eared. Their wedding was in four months and I had of course already started contemplating dress possibilities. But being an officiant, I feared, would necessitate a wardrobe change.

"What should I WEAR?!" I asked Erica soon — too soon — after agreeing to perform the ceremony. Though I knew (know!) that weddings are all about the bride, the truth of the matter was that I would, like it or not, be standing right next to the bride as everyone gazed adoringly. In fact (horrifying thought), it would be impossible for anyone at the wedding to watch the wedding without also, to a certain extent, looking at me. There are often lots of people standing at the altar with the bride and groom, but most members of the wedding party are mercifully relegated to the right or left of the action once they march down the aisle. Their identical outfits prevent any one from standing out too egregiously, even if your gaze were to wander over to them. But an officiant is right up there with the altar or chuppah as far as the mise-en-scene of the wedding goes. And did I mention that an officiant is, by necessity, in every. Single. Picture.

I thought of my beautiful friend Erica. Her handsome fiance, Logan. And myself, planted squarely in the middle.

I was gonna have to look goddamn perfect.

I was gonna have to look goddamn perfect.

The wedding was going to be outside, on a cliff overlooking the ocean, in the Dominican Republic. I had seen the bride’s dress already — a gorgeous, silk Nicole Miller gown — and knew the groom was wearing a tux. Guests had been told to "look fancy — it’s a wedding!" and there was no bridal party or wedding color theme to match. My mission: Dressy. Beach-y. And... official.

First thing’s first, I turned to my mother, and asked her what she thought I should wear. "A black robe and collar?" Right.

Second line of defense: Google. But searching "what should a wedding officiant wear" didn’t help; the answers skew a bit sexist, with too many limiting/traditional options. ("A suit and tie!" was the most common suggestion.)

The only female officiant I remembered seeing in pop culture was the rabbi in Transparent, who A) was a rabbi, and B) helped by the fact that everyone who attended the wedding wore all white. Erica was a very relaxed bride, but I’m not sure she’d find an all-white ensemble from me as "California cool" as the characters in Transparent do. (And anyway, that marriage didn’t even last the reception.)

Anthropologie and Reformation, two trusty go-tos when it comes to dresses to wear to weddings, proved fruitless. Sure, I had imagined myself in a floaty, tropical maxi dress, dabbing my eyes from the fourth row — but joining people in matrimony requires a level of salubrity that a floral maxi with cut-outs just doesn’t have. Eventually, I found a patterned Tracey Reese in a cut that I felt was demure enough to pass. But when I showed the dress to my mother, she nixed it immediately.

"You don’t want them to look back on their wedding pictures and think, ‘Oh my god, what was she wearing?’"

"You’re going to be in every single picture," she said (as if I'd forgotten!). "You don’t want them to look back on their wedding pictures and think, ‘Oh my god, what was she wearing?’"

According to my mother, bright colors and patterns age quickly — better to opt for a more subdued look.

So, with a twinge of regret, I bade goodbye to boho-chic, and logged on to one of the mass purveyors of wedding apparel needs: J. Crew. Most women who have even idly thought of getting married have perused the bridal section of J. Crew, but it’s the bridesmaid department where the brand really shines. Every color — black! salmon! green! — available in every style — asymmetrical! floor length! strapless!

A lot of the dresses were — naturally — too bridesmaid-y. I wasn’t sure I’d quite look the part in a pinky chiffon floor length, for example.

I felt both the satisfaction and vague ennui of making a utilitarian purchase, the way I do when I pay my health insurance, or buy a new closet organizer from Ikea.

And I found the Elsa; an all lace shift dress, above the knee, with a lightly scooped out back, which was about as "business in the front, party in the back," as I figured I’d get. Heeding my mother’s advice, I selected slate gray color, in what I hoped would be a nice mix between her white dress and his black tux. I felt both the satisfaction and vague ennui of making a utilitarian purchase, the way I do when I pay my health insurance, or buy a new closet organizer from Ikea.

The afternoon of the wedding was gray, the sea a foreboding dark slate. I had wanted to blend in, and I quite literally did.

I looked fine. Appropriate. Neither distractingly good or distractingly bad.

Erica and Logan both looked beautiful, radiant.

It was perfect.

(But just in case anyone else is Googling "what to wear to officiate a wedding woman," here you go: a gray dress. Something pretty and demure. Not distracting. That will age well. And good luck!)


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View all stories in Weddings