What to Wear to an Outdoor Wedding in Northern Michigan

Dressing for Northern Michigan weddings is a tricky beast, especially if the wedding is outdoors. As a vacation destination, Northern Michigan demands a more casual style, but throwing on a pair of jeans for a wedding is—mark my words!—still not appropriate in most cases. Then there’s the weather to contend with: it can be hot in the afternoon sun, but temperatures drop quickly in the evening. To sort out all these issues, we’ve enlisted the help of Smitten in the Mitten Events in Harbor Springs and boutiques Cali’s and Ella’s in downtown Traverse City to make it a bit easier for you to figure out what to wear to an outdoor wedding in Northern Michigan (hopefully before the panic sets in!).


Stick with Cotton

Many dresses from Cali’s in Traverse City are made out of cotton, which is a versatile and breathable summer fabric that will allow sweat to escape. This goes for men, too. A cotton suit will keep you a bit cooler and it also evokes a more casual elegance, which fits with the vibe of Northern Michigan. You just need to be careful of wrinkling. If you’re flying or driving to the wedding, avoid folding these pieces and instead keep them on hangers.

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The dress to the left has a fun pattern, a cool structure, and the V-neck and slight cap sleeve will highlight your arms and collarbone. It’s cotton, so it’ll keep you cool, too. ($89, available at Cali’s)
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Don’t be fooled by these “jeans” to the right. If you’re going to a more casual wedding, these light green pants make a cool statement. They’re soft and comfortable to boot. ($178, available at Ella’s)
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Bring Layers

Ellen VanderZee, from Smitten in the Mitten Events, doesn’t suggest packing light.
“Weddings in Northern Michigan are so unpredictable. I feel like you need to pack everything from your down winter coat to your sundress and flips flops,” she says.
This isn’t an exaggeration. The expression, “layering is key,” may seem obvious, but it’s important for weddings in which you’ll be outside for extended periods of time. By dusk, you’ll want to have sweaters handy when temperatures start to drop. To avoid making your outfit too matronly photo 2with a plain sweater, look for a cropped jacket with some structure.
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Left: The gray and blue tones of this dress look great when contrasted against a white sweater. This cotton sweater is easy to move in but still has some shape. (White sweater, $93, Dress, $69, both available at Cali’s)
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This sweater/button-up shirt combo to the right is perfect for when temperatures drop. Peach and navy complement each other nicely and the look feels nautically-inspired without being too preppy. (Button-up, $79, Sweater, $85, both available at Ella’s)
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Be Wary of ‘Casual’ Weddings

Ellen says the most common misconception is that a “Northern Michigan wedding” is equated with being casual, too, because it’ll likely be occurring outside. Not true.

“Just because a ceremony and/or reception is held outdoors doesn’t mean it’s casual. A lot of Northern Michigan venues are considered to be “fancy.” You can get a good feel for the type of wedding based on the invitations. If not, just ask! We would hate for you to feel underdressed,” she says.

It’s always safer to dress up than to dress down, but to avoid looking terribly out of place, chose structured pieces in more casual fabrics, i.e. cotton and linen.

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Left: this cotton dress has shape — it cinches at the waist and then flares out — which keeps it from looking too casual. ($73, available at Cali’s)
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Right: this modified seersucker blazer and patterned tie combo is not for the faint of heart but it’s a great way to look hip, put together, and casual enough for a beach or outdoor wedding. (White button-up, $85, Blazer, $195, Bow tie and Pocket Square, both $50, Available at Ella’s)
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Don’t Forget the Shoes

Shoes are an under-discussed yet equally important part to dressing appropriately for a summer wedding. For example, the thought of stilettos sinking into wet dirt makes everyone cringe. For women, look for something with a small heel to add some glamour to your outfit without overdoing it.

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These shoes have a small heel that will still lengthen your legs but allow for easy walking across various terrains. They’re also super comfortable, so standing on your feet all day won’t be a problem. ($67, available at Cali’s)

For men, think about where the wedding will be held. Going to the beach? You’ll want a shoe that you can slip on and off easily. But if you’ll be on solid ground for the entire day, go for something a little fancier.

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These leather driving moccasins are great for the beach. They’re easy to take on and off and they’ll match well with lighter, summer colors. ($158, Available at Ella’s)

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These lace-up shoes go great with almost everything and will spruce up your outfit, whether it’s a linen suit or a pants/sweater combo. ($248, Available at Ella’s)


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