Ceremony vs. Reception Wedding Gowns: What’s the Difference?


Ceremony vs. Reception Wedding Gowns: What’s the Difference?

When the time comes to choose a wedding dress, most brides are presented with a paradox of choice. But why choose just one dress when there are so many styles available? To infuse their wedding with multiple vibes and reveal different sides of their personality, many brides opt for different ceremony and reception gowns. Here’s your quick guide to understanding the difference between the two dresses, the pros and cons of each, and how to put together two perfect wedding outfits!

Why Have Multiple Wedding Looks?

Why do many brides prefer having separate ceremony and reception gowns? The reason for this varies from person to person. In most cases, it typically comes down to the need for having several vibes throughout the wedding day.

The ceremony demands something more conservative, traditional, and opulent like ball gowns, mermaid-style dresses, and more. In contrast, reception is where the party begins so brides often look for something sexy, more accommodating, and something they can dance in.


Before you start the hunt for your wedding gowns, make sure you consider the following questions:

  • Are you choosing two dresses to reveal a different side of your personality?
  • Are you changing because you’re the star of your wedding and you can wear what you feel like?
  • Are you choosing a separate reception to feel more comfortable and dance the night away?

Once you know the answer to “Why should I get a reception dress?” you’ll easily find the right ideas to match your dress with your needs!

Ceremony vs. Reception Gowns

Choosing the type of ceremony and reception dress simply depends on what the bride truly wants. Since the ceremony is often the more formal and serious element of the day, it’s best to choose a classic outfit. On the other hand, once you exchange your vows and get through the wedding formalities, it’s time to party! So, for reception, brides can truly have fun with their style.

African American bride wears lovely white wedding dress with long romantic train as she looks at her husband

Choosing Your Ceremony Dress

The attire you’re going to wear to the ceremony will hands down be the most photographed look. Why? Because this is when you’ll get to capture the getting-ready shots, ceremony pictures, and formal portraits. Your ceremony outfit will also be the most critical element of the day because this is when you’ll be saying the two most important words of your life, “I do!” Due to the preciousness of the wedding ceremony, most brides go with something more traditional and timeless. The “fun look” is often reserved for the reception.

When choosing your ceremony gown, make sure you consider the theme of your venue, the formality, and the wedding season. The goal is to make your wedding gown fit the sacredness of the ceremony and choose a style that fits you the best.

Some of the best ceremony wedding gown styles include ball gowns, mermaid dresses, sheath dresses, and A-line gowns.

BSC_0118_0143Choosing Your Reception Dress

With your traditional wedding gown now occupying the best moments of your ceremony, it’s time to showcase a bolder side of your personality during the reception. The best reception gowns are those that come with a certain “party vibe.”

This is when you get to have fun with silhouettes, necklines, dress lengths, and colors. There is going to be lots of dancing, so feel free to swap your stilettos with comfortable (and dance-able) shoes.

Don’t be afraid to go short with your reception dress. The transition between the ceremony and reception (i.e. the cocktail hour) is perfect for a shorter, more flirty look. You can either go in formal or informal attire. Some ideas include tea-length dresses, mini-skirt styles, halter styles, jumpsuits, and dress sets.

If you’re looking for longer silhouettes, make sure the styles you choose are more comfortable. Empire waist gowns, loose sheath dresses, and gowns with one-shoulder and spaghetti straps can be some great choices. Keep in mind that your reception gown shouldn’t outshine your ceremony dresses.

A growing number of brides today oscillate towards colored reception dresses. When getting your reception attire, feel free to go beyond the whites. The best way to choose a dress would be to match it with your wedding’s color palette. But don’t get the same color as your bridesmaids. The goal is to stand out, not become a part of the crowd!

When is the Best Time to Change into Your Reception Outfit?

If you’ve decided to wear something bolder, breezier, or simpler for your wedding reception, here are a few ideas for when you can change into your second dress:

  • Just after photos. If you want to enter the cocktail hour with a new look, you can change it right after the ceremony and photo session.
  • Between cocktail hour and reception. Let your guests admire your ceremony gown up close during cocktail hour, sneak away for a change after this hour winds down, and make an entrance when everyone is about to take their seats!
  • Before cake cutting. If you’re saving your reception attire for a late-night debut, you can sneak away in the middle of the dance party and arrive just in time for cake-cutting to let the crowd know the party has only just started!

MarissaLadera Absinthe Spectacularweddings2023 073

The Pros and Cons of Getting Two Wedding Outfits

As with everything, two wedding dresses come with their own devils and darlings. The advantages of changing into a reception gown include:

  • You’ll keep your ceremony wedding gown clean and protected from lots of food, wine, and dancing that form a part of the reception.
  • You’ll get to show off a different side of your personality and get into a complete party vibe.
  • You’ll have all the freedom to dance since you no longer have to deal with long trains, ultra-tight bodices, restricting silhouettes, and high heels.
  • With two wedding dresses, you’ll have more diversity in your wedding album.

The disadvantages of wearing two wedding dresses include:

  • Your wedding day will go incredibly fast and changing into a different dress might take away some precious hours from the day (but you can always resolve this issue by ensuring you take no longer than 15-20 minutes to get changed).
  • You’ll need to put additional thought (and time!) into your accessories, jewelry, and hairstyle when changing into your reception dress.
  • You’ll get to wear your traditional wedding gown only once.

Makeup and accessories form an integral part of your attire. When changing into your reception dress, make sure you set some time aside to match them with your dress. You can even choose a hairdo that would work gorgeously for both your ceremony and reception dress.

Author Bio:

Jonah Levine is the Creative Director of NewYorkDress.com. NewYorkDress.com, established in 2008, is the #1 online source for Evening and Prom dresses worldwide. As Creative Director, Jonah works to create the ultimate online and in store luxury shopping experience with a focus on service and personalization.

Photo Credits:

Photos by Marissa Ladera Photography from our recent photoshoot at Absinthe Las Vegas. Hair and Makeup by Makeup in the 702.

Ceremony vs. Reception Wedding Gowns: What’s the Difference?
Ceremony vs. Reception Wedding Gowns: What’s the Difference?