Are white shoes okay for a wedding? It’s actually a bit of a dilemma.
Traditionally, it was considered a huge faux pas that could earn you some serious side-eye at cocktail hour. But nowadays, many brides and grooms are throwing out old etiquette rules and taking a more freewheeling approach to their celebration.
So if you’ve found your absolute dream pair of mules and they’re—shock horror—white, then what should you do? Can you wear white shoes to a wedding or will it make you a total social outcast?
Let’s talk you through this common conundrum to help you make the best decision. But first of all, where does the taboo against wearing white shoes at a wedding come from? It all roots back to the symbolism of white, which represents purity and new beginnings. For this reason, it is traditionally reserved for the bride, representing her specialness on the big day.
The History of the White Wedding Dress
The origin of this is thought to be Queen Victoria’s wedding dress that she wore for her marriage to Prince Albert in 1840. Prior to this iconic affair, 19th century brides actually wore an assortment of colors. But after Victoria’s big moment, everyone wanted to emulate her and white became the shade of choice.
It has stayed that way for nearly 200 years, proving that Victoria was a trend-setter to rival Kim Kardashian. Traditionally, the view has been that if you show up wearing white, you’re insulting the bride—and maybe even trying to upstage her (eek).
Yet as fashion evolves, so do the rules. So the question remains—to wear white shoes or not? Here are our smart tips on how to make an informed choice and avoid a potential fashion scandal.
Your Failsafe Guide to Wearing White Shoes at a Wedding
1. Avoid combining with an all-white outfit
While attitudes to footwear are becoming more laidback at weddings, the cardinal rule persists—never wear white attire to a wedding.
So if you’re opting for white shoes, make sure they’re combined with a dress or suit that’s anything but that color. Leave white to the bride and don’t steal her thunder.
That said, little touches like a white corsage or ivory scarf is considered tasteful and can add a classically romantic feel to your outfit.
2. Don’t wear white shoes to an outdoor wedding
Nature’s elements can be unforgiving, especially to light-colored shoes. So if you’re heading to an outdoor wedding, the last thing you want is to get muck all over your sleek new stilettos—that gunk is never coming off properly and will ruin your beautiful footwear.
If there’s any chance that the ceremony or reception will be near grass, slush, or soft sand, then use common sense and avoid white. The same goes if the wedding is taking place in autumn or winter, as the weather is likely to be wetter and much less forgiving to paler shoes.
3. Consult the wedding dress code
The couple’s preferred dress code is often indicated on the wedding invitation and will give you a guide to what’s expected. Some couples are opting for single color themes these days, so an all-white affair is a green light to wearing the alabaster shoes of your dreams. But if the dress code is stated as being “formal” or “traditional”, then white might be a big no-no.
It’s also worth finding out what color of shoes the bridesmaids will be wearing—if they happen to be white, then you know that tradition is being relaxed for this wedding (check out our top tips for choosing the perfect bridesmaids).
4. Take into account cultural sensitivity
Going to a wedding where the bride and groom have an Indian or Chinese background? It’s not traditional for brides from those cultures to wear white—yet that doesn’t give you the green light to trot in wearing white shoes.
That’s because wedding customs vary and white doesn’t universally symbolize happy times. In some cultures it’s actually a color of mourning worn at funerals, meaning it might look odd showing up in pearly shoes. So make sure you have an understanding of the couple’s cultural background and align your fashion choices with their traditions.
5. Consider an alternative to white
If you’ve got your heart set on a paler shade of shoes because they’ll look amazing with your outfit, then why not choose a hue close to white? Taupe, beige, bisque, seashell, and eggshell can all make terrific neutral alternatives, but tread very carefully with this (no pun intended).
For instance, if you’re going for cream, then you have to make sure that the shade is unmistakable—if it’s on the lighter side, then your shoes could be mistaken for white at a glance. So if in doubt, go for shade closer to vanilla. Let’s not forget Oprah Winfrey’s wedding crisis when she realized on the night before Harry and Meghan’s big day that she had chosen a pale beige outfit that looked too close to white—and had to have Stella McCartney sit up all night to sew her a new dress (it’s great to have friends in high places).
6. Talk to the bride
If in doubt, just ask. The bride will be able to tell you straight about whether she’d be comfortable with you wearing white shoes. If the happy couple are planning a wedding that’s super traditional, then it will probably be a polite “no” but they’ll also appreciate you asking. At the end of the day, sometimes it’s best to forgo the guesswork and just pick up the phone. That way, there’s no risk of you raising any eyebrows at the ceremony.
Because wedding customs are changing so rapidly, the question of white shoes isn’t as clear-cut as it would have been a decade or two ago. Tradition will whisper caution but contemporary attitudes champion self-expression.
That’s why it’s best to find out everything you need to know about the big day in advance. This includes wedding color schemes, themes, cultural customs, dress code, overall vibes, and the preferences of the bride. That way, you can step into the wedding with confidence, whatever shade of shoes you’re wearing.
Know someone who’s planning a wedding?
Tell them about Il Tulipano in Cedar Grove, the perfect New Jersey wedding venue. Our recently revamped space includes a chandelier ballroom, Italian gardens, and gorgeous Tuscan-style piazza, so spread the word to brides-to-be.
Want more wedding tips? Head over to our blog.