How To Choose Your Civil Ceremony Dress In 5 Steps

What is the difference between a civil marriage and a religious wedding? Nowadays, the only disinction between the two is the ceremony itself, as both forms offer the same legal rights – and even the technicalities of the ceremonies are not too far apart from one another. Before, civil marriages were often far more simple, but with time, they have come to equal the size and extravagance of religious weddings, destroying the myth that only the latter can be beautiful. It is often that the two are incomparable – how can you weigh up a beach against a cathedral?

And it is exactly the same case with the dress. Before, the gowns worn by brides at civil weddings were much more modest and demure, but nowadays all brides have the opportunity to go all out for their big day – every wedding has the same importance after all! However, for civil ceremonies, the kind of dress you should wear does depend a little on how many guests you have in attendance. So now, discover how you to choose your dress for a civil wedding in 5 easy steps, and find out – before you start booking fittings! – what’s hot in the bridal industry right now.

Lora Baar Fotografía
Photo: Lora Baar Fotografía
  1. Forget the past
  2. Intimate weddings
  3. Small weddings
  4. Medium-sized weddings
  5. Big weddings

1. Forget the past

Before we get started on the style, shape and colour details, we need to take apart some of the myths surrounding civil weddings. Only 40 years ago, the vast majority of weddings in the UK were performed in a church – or another religious edifice – and civil ceremonies were a strange exception to the rule, reserved for people who were not allowed to get married in church, such as divorcees. However, since then, the number of religious weddings has fallen, and then some – now, only 1 in 3 weddings are religiously-inclined. 

A lot of the reason for this has come from the great progress made in inclusivity and diversity in society. The legalisation of gay marriage means that now many couples are contributing to the annual civil wedding statistics, and the great diversity within our population means that many couples marry in a style that is typical to their own culture and norms, outside of the church.

As such, the choice of dress you make for your wedding day should depend on the number of guests who are coming. Of course, you’re not going to wear the same style of gown for an intimate wedding with your close family and friends than you would at a huge celebration with 300 people. So, heed our advice!

Luis Tenza
Photo: Luis Tenza

2. Intimate weddings (less than 20 guests)

A short wedding dress can be a great option for this kind of wedding. A 50s style, or ballerina kind of gown is always a stylish and charming idea, with a small bouquet and some great shoes. Another option would be to do something a little different, and wear a long dress that isn’t white – brides nowadays often wear nude, champagne, or even rose, and there are always simple dresses available in a variety of colours. Choose classic fabrics, and not ones that are difficult to work with such as tulle, georgette and chiffon, and accompany the look with some distinctive shoes and some vintage jewellery.

Ugo Camera
Justin Alexander. Photo: Ugo Camera

3. Small weddings (from 40-60 guests)

Here, you will be able to wear a more original dress, but still without some of the more eye-catching details. A boho style, a shirt-dress or a more modest gown with an attractive back design will all make your wedding day feel that much more special. We would recommend abstaining from purchasing a veil in this case: so long as you combine your dress with well-chosen accessories, and a colourful bouquet, then you will be the perfect bride for a small wedding!

Lora Baar Fotografía
Photo: Lora Baar Fotografía

4. Medium-sized weddings (60-120 guests)

Medium-sized weddings are the most popular amongst couples nowadays. Everyone there is someone that you know, there is time to get around to say hi to everyone at the reception, and the bride and groom can still stand out from the crowd. Any style is acceptable here, but we would recommend more feminine gowns, with a manageable train, striking colours, veils and beading. Civil weddings do not require the same kind of modest standards as religious ceremonies, and so here is the place to experiment with a more sensual back, or maybe a side-slit. For an original touch, why not try a bejewelled bouquet?

Ernesto Naranjo
Photo: Ernesto Naranjo

5. Big weddings (120+ guests)

If you have more than 120 guests, then its not a civil ceremony or a religious wedding – it’s practically a festival! Here, the logical course of action is to make as big of a scene as possible, not only with the dress (which a lot of people are going to be looking at!), but all other aspects of the day too! A lot of brides with big weddings such as these take advantage of having all eyes on them, and have two dresses for their wedding – something bold and beautiful for the ceremony, and then a shorter, more manageable gown for their reception.

Hilario Sánchez
Photo: Hilario Sánchez

Without going too far and buying a dress with a cathedral train (reserved for weddings that will take place in the place for which it is named), you can have any kind of accessories that you wanta veil, a tiara and anything else you can think of! We recommend that you choose the most romantic fabrics, such as satin, chantilly lace and guipure, and that you complement your dress with more classic accessories than in smaller-sized weddings.

Most importantly, be yourself and remember that regardless of your religious beliefs, you won’t get another chance to realise the wedding look of your dreams. So, trust yourself, and organise your wedding the way that you want it – and keep in mind our advice!

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