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costume wedding rehearsal

Wedding Rehearsal As…Costume Party?

By Amalah

Dear Amalah,

So, one of my oldest childhood friends is getting married soon. We are in our early 30’s and she has waited (for her) a loooong time to find the right person. I think her fiance is great and a perfect match for her and I couldn’t be happier. I’m also excited about the wedding as other old friends will be there as well as her family (many of whom I haven’t seen in years and they are great!). So you say, “What’s the problem?”

Advice Smackdown ArchivesLet me tell you the problem… The Rehearsal Dinner invitation came in the mail this week (stuffed inside the wedding invite but that’s another story) and it is a costume party! Specifically, the invitation says we should come dressed as a cowboy or Indian…WTF?!?! This wedding is NOT at Halloween (not that I would like it any more but at least it would make some sense). We are grown-ups and this is a grown-up function at a foofoo mountain spa, I don’t get it.

I’ll also add that my husband has been out of town and therefore hasn’t seen the invite yet. He will die. I can say with 100% certainty that he would rather not go that dress up, it is just not his thing. Add that to the fact that we own nothing (not even cowboy boots) that would work as costumes, so dressing up would involve purchasing of clothes and/or supplies to create costumes… One other thing, I just found out that I’m about 6 weeks pregnant with our 2nd child (turns out if you don’t take your pills, that can happen…). I’ll be about 12 weeks along at the wedding but hadn’t planned on telling anyone at the wedding as to not take away from her special day. The issue there is who knows what will actually fit at that point, much less a cowboy or Indian costume?

So, my question to you: Would we be complete party poopers if we did not dress up? I can totally rock some jeans and a cute top. My husband can do jeans and a button down. I don’t want to be a dud but I know my husband won’t dress up and I don’t really want to hunt down a costume for me. If you think we will be party poopers, can you give suggestions of something that might work without a lot of fuss?

Even if this question doesn’t make the smackdown, thanks so much for allowing me to vent! I can’t really say much to our real life friends as I’m not sure who agrees with me. I definitely don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings!

(not) John Wayne!

Okay, so this was not even one of your points of contention, and I realize my overly-sensitive PC liberal roots are showing, but…cowboys and INDIANS? WHAT? I mean…WHAT? Like feathered headresses and war paint and tomahawks and I know I’m probably imaging a worst-case scenario of a bunch of white people dressing up in essentially, offensively stereotypical redface kinds of costumes (FAKE SCALPS! WOO WOO WOO. SMOKUM PEACE PIPE. HA HA HA IT’S FUNNY BECAUSE IT’S RACIST), but…WHAT? This strikes me as a colossally bad idea, from a possibility-to-offend someone who MAYBE has actual Native American heritage perspective, or if a guest decides to bring a plus-one who does. Or if you invite someone like me, who just plain-old has their sensitivity meter cranked up to 11 about things like this.

I know, I know! I’m SURE the intention is all in good innocent fun and retro and all of that. Maybe everybody will show up as Sacagawea or John Wayne and nobody will show up dressed like a long-ago-vaulted Disney cartoon that the company doesn’t like to talk about, but YIKES. What a potential landmine of a theme.

But let’s shove the specifics aside and just deal with the idea of turning a fancy grown-up function into a costume party. Not incredibly common, but as theme weddings become more and more popular (think Ren-Faire, sci-fi, Disney, etc.), I wouldn’t say this is entirely out of the ordinary. The bride and groom probably genuinely think this will make things more fun, but obviously you and your husband (AND ME) demonstrate that sometimes the compulsory costume thing is not particularly viewed that way by guests. Future brides, take note.

Personally, I LIKE dressing up, when the situation is appropriate and I’m given some creative freedom. Like Halloween! Go as anything you can think of! (I’m going as Jessica from True Blood, with fangs and a Merlotte’s uniform! Jason wants to be Russell with the crystal urn of Talbot Goo or perhaps a nice newscaster spine! I can’t wait!) Or maybe your friends threw a Lost Finale Party and asked everyone to go as a character. People have the choice to get Really Into It…while folks like your husband could wear black pants and a black shirt and say they’re the Smoke Monster.

That said, when hitting people with an Unexpected Costume Party and dictating a theme that likely requires costume purchases, I’d say it’s a very good gesture to provide some options for your guests at the event. Hit the party store for some cheap straw hats and sheriff badges and pistols and make some construction paper (gaaaaahhh) feather headdresses or something. I have no idea if your hosts will do this, however, but just know that even if your husband insists on NOT dressing up, he may have his arm twisted into putting on SOMETHING when he arrives.

So…if you decide to attend, you probably are better off just hitting the party, costume or toy store yourself and buying a couple cheap stupid props, so you at least LOOK like you tried. (And then you can choose things that can be quickly abandoned at your table.) Jeans (which are easily modified for pregnancy gain/bloat — go with a Belly Band or just a rubber band), button-down shirts (leave yours untucked), a plastic sheriff’s badge, toy gun, etc. Target is a good place for Western-style plaids and cheap sort-of cowboy-ish hats. Go ironic with your shoes to avoid the cowboy boot purchase — have him wear Chucks and you wear heels or something. (Yes, you can wear heels while pregnant!) (And also kick them off if they bother you.)

I feel like, if you don’t dress up, you might not be the only ones…but you might be, and you definitely might hurt the bride and groom’s feelings, or at least disappoint them when they see that you clearly didn’t like their COMPLETELY AWESOME REHEARSAL DINNER IDEA. (Even if it…really isn’t that awesome, from at LEAST a couple different perspectives.) So unless you are actually prepared to make excuses as to why you can’t arrive/attend events until the day of the wedding ceremony, you should swallow your opinions about the appropriateness of the whole event and respond by…being appropriate to the event and making a small effort to roll with it. Something about two etiquette wrongs not making a right, I suppose.

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • Amy J

    August 18, 2010 at 11:32 am

    Oh. My. Cowboys and Indians? You can go ironic I guess and do football/baseball gear?

  • Alison

    August 18, 2010 at 12:24 pm

    I’d be annoyed by this too. Just throw on some cowboy hats and be done with it.

    But … something about this letter-writer’s attitude is rubbing me the wrong way. The snide aside about the rehearsal dinner invite being stuffed into the wedding invitation, the cavalier attitude toward birth control — I don’t know. Rubbed me the wrong way.

  • Elizabeth

    August 18, 2010 at 12:41 pm

    Just wear jeans and nice shirts and say you are Marlboro Man and Pioneer Woman. The End.

  • Stephanie

    August 18, 2010 at 1:11 pm

    I like the PP’s suggestion of wearing a Cleveland Indians or Dallas Cowboys attire. but yeah this is really bizarre.

  • JB

    August 18, 2010 at 1:11 pm

    @Alison – Me too! You’re not the only one who thought she did not have the best attitude.

    And also about waiting a “looooong” time to find someone. In your early 30’s? Hardly. My aunt got married for the first time at 50 yrs old, and they’re the sweetest couple you ever saw. And the divorce rate is exponentially higher, the younger you are at marriage. Sooo….

    –Re: the question, I dislike costumed events too (EXCEPT for Halloween). I usually just take the “path of least resistance” – that is, for this event, jeans, button-up shirt, and buy a cheap cowboy hat (as Amalah said). Done. Because if you Don’t dress up, then you’re the only one and a jerk and etc…but, you can’t get blamed as long as you take the “path of least resistance” for these things.

  • Laura

    August 18, 2010 at 1:22 pm

    THANK YOU AMY for calling out the theme first thing. What. The. ****????? That is NOT OK!!! Seriously, incorporating racism in to your party is NOT OK! Honestly, I thought that’s what the question was going to be about when I first started reading. Ugh.

    I love Amy J’s suggestion 🙂 It all sorts of wide-eyed calling out goodness “Well we thought you *of course* meant this because you *couldn’t possibly* have meant you wanted your guests to engage in racist cultural appropriation as a part of your special day.”

  • Katie

    August 18, 2010 at 1:25 pm

    I guess I don’t see why this would turn into a Letter to Amalah kind of thing. It’s their wedding. It’s their rehearsal dinner. You’re their friends. Right? I can see a WTF eyeroll plus trip to the party store for a $5 cowboy hat, but putting this much angst into it… And btw, I’m saying this as another woman whose husband would rather be dragged across our lawn by rabid cats than dress up. Pretty sure he’d put on the cowboy hat or just. not. do it. 

  • Procrastamom

    August 18, 2010 at 1:46 pm

    I think a lot of commenters are being unnecessarily hard on the letter writer. She said her friend waited a long time (FOR HER). Most likely her friend has been searching all through her twenties for the right person and being friends, they have probably talked about that many times. “Not John Wayne” did not state that people in their thirties are too old to be getting married. And the birth control thing? Cavalier? Uhm, no, just a joke popped in there to lighten the mood I would think (ha, ha, forgot my birth control and now look what happened. But then, I had THREE forgot-the-condom-was-in-the-drawer babies, so maybe I’m just more cavalier about it). Aaaaaanyways, yes, the theme was the first thing that struck me in that letter. Ugh, it’s just wrong. And gross. And wrong. I’d be more likely not to go because of the racist theme than because I don’t like to dress up. Good advice Amy…I’d probably just wear jeans and a nice button down shirt.

  • Karen

    August 18, 2010 at 1:57 pm

    oh man give the OP a break – she’s preg and just found out and wasn’t expecting it and she’s done and vented… bleh. I guess I’m not up on my Disney cultural missteps but what cartoon is Amy talking about? Wiley Coyote?

  • T

    August 18, 2010 at 2:01 pm

    Maybe the costume can be a ratty blanket over a normal outfit, and when people ask what the costume is, she can say it’s a blanket infested with small-pox germs. Or, she can just go in normal clothes and say she is a Native American in 2010.

  • Amalah


    August 18, 2010 at 2:14 pm

    Wow, yeah, you guys are tough today! I thought the OP had a funny, sarcastic kind of tone — I didn’t take so much of it so seriously. And appreciated getting a kind of “different” wedding question about how some of these great! fun! unique! planning ideas actually end up making potential guests feel uncomfortable. 

    LOVE the sports interpretation, though it would definitely depend on the sense of humor of the bride/groom and how important photos/sticking to the (questionable) “theme” is to them. But I still totally LOL’d.

    Karen – I wasn’t really referencing any one specific cartoon,   just the idea of old cartoonish racial caricatures that don’t sit well today cropping up in costume form — I was thinking along the lines of the “Indians” in Peter Pan and African Americans in Song of the South. Both = yuck. 

  • Anne

    August 18, 2010 at 2:21 pm

    Karen – I want to know the Disney character too! LOL. Partly because I worked there and can’t remember any such guy.. .. there were Indians in Peter pan that were stereotypes . . .. .

  • Lady

    August 18, 2010 at 2:26 pm

    @Karen- My first thought was Peter Pan in regards to vaulted Disney movies that the company probably wishes they could sweep under the rug.

    As a teen i watched that movie and thought “Whoa”. That was not cool at all…

  • Lady

    August 18, 2010 at 2:39 pm

    @Karen- I found a little rundown of some of Disney’s offensive characters:

    Check out #3.

  • Bethany

    August 18, 2010 at 3:45 pm

    I would definitely go with sports wear and, if good friends with the couple, gently call them in advance to point out that they might want to clarify that it’s a sports theme in order to avoid appearing racist because the vast majority of people would consider that to be insensitive and we can’t get mad at people for being ignorant if no one ever tries to educate them.

    I’m curious if anyone will show in a sari though…

  • Jenny

    August 18, 2010 at 4:34 pm

    I love the idea of calling the friends to clarify the sports theme — say you didn’t know they had such strong ties to Cleveland or Dallas, but “how fun” it will be to wear jeans and jerseys to a rehearsal dinner. I think it is super offensive to host a themed party of Cowboys and Indians — what if someone hosted a “blackface” party?? Would any of you just suck it up and go? I think someone should call this couple out on their ignorance (hopefully) or racism ( possibly). It can be done nicely, of course, and with 6 weeks to go there is plenty of time for the couple to “clarify” their theme.

  • Christen

    August 18, 2010 at 6:20 pm

    Wow, I’m starting to plan our rehearsal dinner and forcing people to dress in a theme is SO not on my radar. Is this a thing now? Anyway, I wonder if the engaged couple meant a “Western” theme and just happened to phrase things in a decidedly un-PC way? It doesn’t make it right, but I am trying to give these people the benefit of the doubt. If they truly meant “Cowboys and Indians” I’d wear things in the sports-team colors, play dumb and call it good. Or just wear the jeans and button down shirts with cowboy hats or Sheriff badges and then take them off! PS I’m also in my 30’s and planning a wedding (my first) and it does feel like it took a looooonnnggg time to meet my wonderful fiance because I swear I’ve spent the last 12 years going to other people’s weddings and baby showers non-stop. But so help me, NO ONE has to wear a costume to our wedding, tempting as it is to get some payback for ugly bridesmaids dresses.

  • Suzy Q

    August 18, 2010 at 8:20 pm

    Christen, it only took you 12 years to find the right one? Lucky you. I mean that.

    Am I the only person not really offended by this invite? Of course, I think it’s ridiculously stupid and not a party that I would want to have to attend on the stupidity grounds only, but other than that? Not so much. I also have some Native American ancestry – waaaay back – and this kind of thing just isn’t worth getting all offended about. Party store. $5 cowboy hats or Indian headbands that you take off immediately after greeting the couple. Done.

  • Rachel

    August 18, 2010 at 8:51 pm

    @Suzy Q, I’m not terribly offended by it either, and would probably consider it an annoyance more than anything. Just one more pain in the butt to deal with. Then again, I’m not a big fan of dressing up anyways, too much effort.

    I would say wear jeans and some Western-y looking tops, you can find a cute button down anywhere and hubby wears one too (pearl snaps would be a good country touch) and maybe a cheap cowboy hat. Shoes probably won’t be too big of a deal. Also, those sequined tank tops are kinda Western looking, maybe that would work too.

    I’m curious to know where the OP lives. I’ve NEVER heard of a themed rehearsal dinner, and I’m in Texas.

  • Bonnie

    August 19, 2010 at 3:10 am

    I’m glad someone else said they weren’t terribly offended by it. My grandmother was Cherokee and I remember her buying me an Indian dress-up kit as a kid. She didn’t seem to find anything wrong with it.
    @T: Haha, WOW. You don’t hold anything back, do you? I DO see how this could be offensive if they went too far with it. But I don’t see anything offensive about a headdress or a fringed vest. It would be annoying as hell to be hit with this without warning, though. I know if I’d had some theme in mind I would have asked my bridal party if they thought it would be fun, first. I agree jeans and a button-up plaid shirt are the way to go. You don’t even need a hat if you put your hair in pigtail braids. It would be cuter that way, I think.

  • (not) John Wayne

    August 19, 2010 at 10:02 am

    Thanks Amalah for posting my question and especially so quickly! I also appreciate the various points of view and ideas from the commenters (yes, even those who may not have gotten my –apparently not– funny and sarcastic tone) ! 🙂 It just proves what I thought: some people (like me) find this costumer party (especially with the explicit cowboy/Indian instructions) weird if not downright offensive; while others see it as not a big deal. As you said, two etiquette wrongs do not make a right so I want to be supportive of my friend and her big wedding weekend. I really like the idea of the athletic team jerseys. As a huge sports fans, my husband and I could totally pull that off. My friend is also a sports fan (Indianapolis Colts though so I doubt she wasn’t thinking sports with this costume idea) and would probably appreciate the unique twist on the theme. My friend currently lives and is getting married in a different state (on the East Coast) from where we grew up so I can’t speak to if costume parties or themed rehearsal dinners are common where she now lives. She will be back in our hometown over Labor Day weekend for a visit and wedding showers so it will be interesting to see if anyone brings up the costume party and asks for clarification…

  • Tracy

    August 19, 2010 at 11:02 am

    Even if you don’t consider the theme offensive, I’m bothered by the whole idea of turning a rehearsal dinner into a costume party. Of course, we’ve already entered the era of “a plain old wedding isn’t special enough so I need to have A Theme to make it super special” (huh? I thought “wedding” was the theme?) so I guess rehearsal dinners weren’t too far behind.

  • Christen

    August 19, 2010 at 1:24 pm

    @SuzyQ: At the risk of making the Internet barf, I must say I feel like the luckiest person on the planet! And thank you! I guess technically it took me 31 years to meet him, but I’m not counting the cootie years of “Boys are Gross.” What I meant was that I’ve been on a pretty solid wedding circuit for the last 12 years or so and it feels like an eternity when you spend so many weekends standing on a dance floor wating for the bride to fling a bouquet at you as people ask, concerned, “When are we going to be here for YOU, Sweetie?” Gag.

  • Suzy Q

    August 19, 2010 at 2:36 pm

    @Christen: I’m past the age where they even ask that question. They’ve either given up hope on me (as have I) or assume I’m a closeted lesbian. Congrats!

  • Christen

    August 19, 2010 at 4:42 pm

    @Suzy Q: Hope I’m not hijacking the comment thread here, but I just wanted to say that “past the age where they even ask” thing is a matter of perspective. When I lived in SF people thought anyone getting married before 30 was a child-bride, but in the town where I live now I was asked, when I was 24, if my parents were worried that I wasn’t married yet. I am so not kidding. You sound rad as hell and secure to boot so let “them” all wonder!

  • Bear

    August 19, 2010 at 4:56 pm

    Oh my holy racism. A cowboys and Indians party? Perhaps some people have never heard the word genocide…?

    A costume rehearsal dinner seems fine, whatever, it’s their deal and they can do as they like, even if that means issuing every wedding guest a souvenier Klingon-to-English dictionary or requesting that you learn to play poker ahead of time. But the theme really, really frosts my pumpkin, and I’m glad Amalah called it out.

  • erica

    August 20, 2010 at 4:43 pm

    Off topic–Amalah, I’ve often thought your husband looks just like Hoyt from True Blood. If you’re going as Jessica he *has* to be Hoyt!

  • Megan

    August 22, 2010 at 5:48 am

    And here i was going to say you should take theme in the wrong direction by wearing a sari….but the sports idea is a really good one.

  • Tracy

    August 23, 2010 at 4:34 pm

    Megan for the win!