If you can answer the simple question "What time's the wedding?" you're halfway there -- the rules hinge on whether the ceremony's during the day or in the evening. The fine line between the two? Some say 6 p.m. is the magic hour, others say 7. But according to the Emily Post Institute's Anna Post, author of "Do I Have to Wear White? Emily Post Answers America's Top Wedding Questions," "evening" begins at 5 p.m. -- for both general invitations and traditional wedding invitation wording.
"I've never heard anything after the four o'clock hour called afternoon," she e-mailed.
Post points out that although tuxedos are traditionally worn only after 6 p.m. (the start of the traditional cocktail hour), guests should keep in mind one important exception: A late afternoon wedding with a black-tie reception afterward. "In this case, dress for the evening portion," Post says. "It's OK to have a tux on at 4 or 5 p.m. if you'll be in it well into the evening."
Surprisingly, it usually won't cost a penny more to rent the right threads than the wrong ones. (And note that we're covering only formal attire here. For semiformal weddings, grooms are accorded much wider leeway -- tuxedos for daytime, for example. And for casual or informal ceremonies, grab a sport coat and a clean pair of pants and you're good to go.)
If you're getting hitched before 5 p.m. and you and your significant other have had "formal" engraved on the invites, tradition dictates "morning dress": a gray cutaway coat (a coat that "cuts away" from the front, slanting from waist to thigh and hangs to about the knee in the back), gray, striped trousers, a white dress shirt (traditional fold-down collars are the prevalent style, wing collars are not), a gray waistcoat and a four-in-hand necktie (as opposed to a bow) or ascot.
If formal nuptials are scheduled for after 5 p.m., ask the tuxedo rental shop for a black tailcoat (waist length in front, two tails hanging down in the back -- basically cut like a mullet haircut), black trousers with satin side seams, white dress shirt, white pique waistcoat and white bow tie. (A black bow tie is a common substitute.)
Although buying a tuxedo can make fiscal sense for many men, there's absolutely no reason (unless you're a polygamist, Larry King or plan to conduct an orchestra any time soon) to invest in this kind of finery. The local Friar Tux chain rents an After Six ensemble for $125 (which includes the jacket, trousers, shirt, vest, tie and shoes).
At MW Tux (the chain of tuxedo rental shops that used to be After Hours), all the above sans the dress shirt runs between $140 and $160. Or less: Persuade at least four groomsmen to rent from MW Tux and the groom gets his threads gratis.
Sounds like just enough to buy a round of drinks for the guys.