From black-tie to casual, we break down what each wedding dress code means.
Shortly after you RSVP to attend a wedding, you'll likely start thinking about what to wear. While most wedding invitations include the preferred wedding dress code, it might be hard to decipher exactly what the to-be-weds envision when it comes to the attire. Plus, with the rise of creative wedding guest attire suggestions (like "whimsical garden party" or "tropical formal") amid the wedding boom, you might be stumped when it comes to interpreting what they mean. And while more wedding dress code clues can often be found on the couple's wedding website, choosing what to wear isn't always easy—but that's where we come in.
To help you find the best wedding guest outfit, we're breaking down exactly what wedding attire wording means. We tapped industry experts to define the most common wedding dress codes, from black-tie to cocktail and casual wedding attire. In this fashion cheat sheet, you'll also find tried-and-true styling hacks that'll help you decode the invitation if you're not sure what certain terms look like. Brush up on the basics of wedding dress codes below, and use this guide to find an outfit that's perfect for celebrating the couple on their big day.
In this article:
- White-Tie Attire
- Black-Tie Attire
- Black-Tie Optional Attire
- Formal Attire
- Cocktail Attire
- Beach Formal Attire
- Semi-Formal or Dressy Casual Attire
- Daytime or Casual Attire
White-tie wedding attire is the most formal of all dress codes. Also called full dress, white tie attire is often reserved for elegant events like state dinners, royal banquets and very formal weddings. While white-tie weddings aren't as common today, it is important to dress appropriately if you're invited to one. White-tie wedding attire for men includes a long and dark tuxedo tailcoat with fabric extensions that reach to the back of the knee. A white piqué button-down shirt should be worn under a white vest with a bow tie and a cummerbund. Pants should match the color and fabric of the jacket, and white-tie trousers often include a satin or grosgrain stripe along the outer seams.
As for women, a formal dress is a must for this attire suggestion. An evening gown with a full-length A-line or sheath silhouette is appropriate, though you could also consider a floor-length ball gown depending on the formality of the venue. If you are attending a white-tie wedding, this is your chance to accessorize with glittering jewels, sleek dress shoes and elbow-length white silk gloves.
Following white-tie, black-tie is the next most formal wedding dress code. Black-tie weddings often take place later in the day, and they require formal outfits. "Traditionally, black-tie weddings happen after 5:30 or 6:00 pm," explains Virginia-based wedding style expert Monte Durham. "Black-tie means just that: Expect to see tuxedos with black bow ties, a simple long black tie or even a long string tie. Formal gowns are also expected, and they should touch the ground or the top of the shoes." It's important to note that black-tie wedding attire is one of the stricter dress codes with little room for interpretation. "Black-tie requires a tuxedo—not a black suit, and definitely not suit separates," explains Jian DeLeon, Men's Fashion & Editorial Director at Nordstrom. "You don't have to wear full tails and cummerbund, but today there are plenty of great formal options at any budget."
Attending a wedding with a black-tie dress code is a great opportunity to dress up your outfit with accessories too. "Cufflinks on French cuffs are a great way to enhance any tuxedo," explains Andrew Roberts, CEO of luxury formalwear brand Del Toro. And, for women, you can't go wrong with pieces that sparkle to your outfit, "Refined jewelry like pearls or diamonds are the best options to dress up an evening gown," explains Ranu Coleman, CMO of wedding fashion brand Azazie.
Black-Tie Optional Attire
If your wedding invitation says "black-tie optional" for the dress code, you might be confused as to whether or not you actually need to wear a black-tie wedding outfit. Think of black-tie optional guest attire as a fusion between black-tie and formal fashion. You can wear a tuxedo or a floor-length evening gown if you want, but a dark suit with dress pants and nice loafers would be acceptable too. Similarly, a midi or knee-length cocktail dress would also be appropriate instead of a floor-length gown.
The time of day the event is taking place can also be a helpful indicator of what the wedding dress code means. Evening weddings often indicate a more formal wedding style. In that case, you might consider an outfit that feels a little more upscale. Or, for a black-tie optional wedding in the early afternoon, it's perfectly appropriate to trade the tuxedo or evening gown for something on the less-formal end of the black-tie spectrum.
One of the most popular wedding dress codes is formal attire. And, while you might see this wedding attire wording on a lot of invitations that land in your mailbox, that doesn't make it any easier to decide what to wear to a formal wedding. "A formal wedding dress code is slightly less formal than a black-tie event, and in general it tends to have fewer specifications," says Coleman. "Women can get away with a nicer cocktail dress and, for men, tuxedos are not required."
So, with less guidance, what should you wear for a formal dress code? Durham, who also appears on TLC's Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta, encourages guests to start with the basics. "A formal wedding might include a jacket and tie or a traditional suit," he suggests. "An elegant dress or a nice pantsuit would also be appropriate."
If you're confused about what's appropriate when it comes to formal wedding attire, you can never be too overdressed. When in doubt, a dark, well-tailored suit or a floor-length dress are safe choices. But, if you're feeling adventurous, you can experiment with trendy jumpsuits or a suit with a colorful jacket or bold accessories. As you're choosing what to wear to a formal wedding, remember that erring on the side of caution with a more formal look is always a safe choice.
When it comes to cocktail wedding attire, guests have more flexibility with hemlines, colors and patterns. "The phrase 'cocktail' comes from the 1950s," Durham explains. "This style requires a formal dress with a shorter hemline. It might also be accented with jewelry or a nicer pair of shoes—embellishment is key for a cocktail dress code."
Since cocktail wedding attire is slightly less formal than black-tie and black-tie optional, tuxes and floor-length gowns are not required. (However, you can always opt for longer skirts or formal jackets if you'd like, which are popular choices for winter wedding attire). When it comes to deciding what to wear to a cocktail wedding, a suit and tie with a crisp black or white shirt with dress pants is a no-fail choice. You can also wear a short formal dress or an elegant jumpsuit with jewelry.
Beach Formal Attire
Fashion rules tend to be a bit more lenient for beach weddings. Whether you'll be heading to the tropics for a destination celebration or a classic summer wedding, it's important to prepare for the elements when deciding what to wear to a beach wedding. "If you're going to a wedding on the beach, opt for a linen dress shirt and slacks with a blazer, or a sundress with a straw hat or bag since that fits the aesthetic," explains Durham.
As with most outdoor weddings, consider your shoe choice wisely. You might want to swap stiletto heels for wedges or thick sandals, especially if you'll be walking on sand. And for nuptials that'll take place in warmer climates, shorter skirts and light, airy fabrics like linen and cotton will help you stay cool while keeping in line with the preferred wedding dress code.
Semi-Formal Attire or Dressy Casual Attire
Semi-formal wedding attire may seem like one of the tricker dress codes to nail. And, since cocktail and semi-formal wedding attire can sometimes be used interchangeably, you might feel confused when it's time to pick an outfit. "Semi-formal falls in the grey area between casual and formal," says Coleman. "However, cocktail attire tends to be a little more dressy than semi-formal." So, what do you wear to a semi-formal wedding? "Some ideas include a midi dress, a chic jumpsuit or a wrap dress," Coleman continues. "For cocktail attire, stick to a structured dress or a sleek black dress—you can never go wrong with an LBD."
Embellishments and additional features on an outfit can also help differentiate cocktail attire from semi-formal wedding attire. "A dress for a semi-formal wedding might not include any sort of beading or statement accessories," says Durham. "A suit and tie are also appropriate."
In recent years, the phrase "dressy casual" has risen in popularity for wedding dress codes. Think of dressy casual wedding attire wording as a spin on business casual. Dressy casual wedding attire is most closely related to semi-formal attire, and should be interpreted appropriately. Depending on the time of the event, choose an outfit that falls in between formal and casual. It's encouraged to wear darker, more formal hues for an evening fete, while light colors and fabrics would be appropriate for a daytime wedding.
Daytime Attire or Casual Attire
You might be tempted to think that a casual dress code means anything goes—but that's not necessarily the case. Casual wedding attire is the most relaxed out of all the dress code wording examples on this list, but it's important to remember that a wedding is still a formal event, after all, so there are some rules to keep in mind. "With the rise of backyard weddings, casual dress codes are common," Durham says. "But it's important to remember that you are attending a wedding, after all, and this kind of event requires a certain kind of outfit."
When you're choosing what to wear to a casual wedding as a guest, use business casual outfit ideas as a guide. "You can never go wrong with a navy blazer, a blue button-down shirt or khaki pants," Durham adds. "This will take you a long way. The minute you put on a tie and a pocket square, you will look fully dressed. Similarly, you can always opt for a dress with a nice neckline and simple accessories. Consider swapping sandals for a pump heel to dress it up more." Adds Coleman: "For women, I recommend wearing a sundress, a high/low dress or a jumpsuit."
A casual wedding dress code also comes with more flexibility in terms of experimenting with trendy colors, patterns and fabrics. So, if you're feeling up for it, you can opt for a wedding guest outfit that you wouldn't normally wear. "Semi-formal and casual occasions come with a little more freedom in what you wear," explains DeLeon. "Avoid pinstripes in favor of a solid color or a less business-oriented pattern like glen plaid, houndstooth, or windowpane. And, while a classic navy or dark charcoal gray suit will suffice, consider switching up the shirt and tie for a floral camp shirt or knit polo instead." Even with more flexibility, though, Durham notes that there are a few wedding dress code rules to abide by. "Shorts, running gear and tennis shoes should be off-limits for a casual wedding."
Ultimately, what matters most is that you feel confident in whatever outfit you choose to wear. As long as your attire abides by the preferred wedding dress code, you'll look (and feel) your best as you celebrate the happy couple.
- Black tie (tuxedos and formal gowns)
- Formal, black tie optional (suit and tie and dresses)
- Semi-formal (suit and tie and cocktail dresses)
- Cocktail attire (suits and party dresses)
- Beach or garden party attire (summer suits and summer dresses)
Try to use familiar terminology such as black tie, cocktail attire, semi-formal, or dressy-casual. It also helps to list some attire suggestions to help guests understand your vision better. For example for a black tie wedding you might add – tuxedos or dark suits for gentlemen, gowns or cocktail attire for the ladies.What do you wear to a wedding as a guest? ›
Evening wear is most appropriate here. For men, this typically means a dark tuxedo, a white dress shirt, a coordinating bow tie, a cummerbund, and suspenders (optional), says Corry. Dress shoes, like oxfords, are suitable. Women can wear either a long gown or a dressy cocktail dress.When a wedding is formal dress code? ›
"Simply put, a formal affair is after six o'clock and the words black tie or white tie are included on the reception card," Kallett says. If your wedding starts after six, expect guests to come a little more dressed up unless you say otherwise.How do you ask guests to wear a certain color? ›
First, get the wording right. Your wedding guests will be looking for your dress code—but might not love being told exactly what to wear. Thus, you should be careful with your phrasing. Alongside your attire, try something along the lines of, "Please indulge us by dressing in white, if you don't mind."How do you ask someone to dress appropriately? ›
Watch your wording. Instead of telling an employee, “Your appearance is too messy,” say, “I think your appearance could be more polished.” Or, rather than say, “Your clothes are too revealing,” explain, “It would be beneficial for you to dress more modestly.” Use language that is clear, but also kind.What does dress to impress mean for a wedding? ›
What Does Dress To Impress Mean? The saying “dress to impress” suggests that women wear dresses: cocktail dresses, floor-length gowns, formal dresses, party dresses, black tie dresses, black tie optional dresses and more! Essentially, any dress that would make your besties ask you for the deets.How do you describe an outdoor wedding dress code? ›
Cocktail or semi-formal attire is common for outdoor weddings and is a bit more casual than formal attire. Good choices include a cocktail dress or formal summer dress, a suit and tie, or a sport coat and dress pants.Is there a dress code wedding FAQ? ›
Ladies should wear cocktail dresses, and the gentlemen should wear a suit and tie or a sports coat.” Tip: Wedding attire can be tricky, to avoid confusion in addition to the dress code, let the guests know specifically what they should wear, for example, a suit and tie, tux, formal gown, or floor-length dress.What can I wear to a wedding without a dress code? ›
Your best bet is cocktail attire. Sure, you might be overdressed if it ends up being a more relaxed affair, but you'll fit right in at a cocktail attire party, and (with the right accessories) can easily dress up for something on the more formal side. Women should opt for a dress in a luxe fabric, such as silk.
You can totally be following the wedding guest's formal dress attire, without having to wear a dress! If you don't like to wear dresses at weddings, and don't want to give them a try, it's okay. Stay true to what makes you feel comfortable, and dazzle everyone with stylish dress alternatives.What do you wear to a formal dress code? ›
A business formal dress code is characterized by a suit jacket with matching pants or a skirt. The darker the suit, the more formal. There are seasonal variations as well as matching accessories to personalize your look, but they should not be a distraction in any way.Can you wear a long dress to a wedding? ›
Absolutely! Wearing a maxi dress to a wedding is a great choice year-round. Be comfortable and fashionable when you spare the gown and wear a maxi-length dress to a wedding. Also known as a tea-length or a full-length dress, a maxi dress is long with a hemline that typically rests at or just below your ankles.Can you wear a black dress to a wedding? ›
Can You Wear Black to a Wedding? Generally, wearing black to a wedding is appropriate. "Guests can absolutely wear black to a wedding," says Shawne Jacobs, President and Creative Director of Anne Barge. "In the past, black was a color typically worn for mourning.Should guests wear wedding colors? ›
The wedding colours are for the wedding party, not guests
Unless you're in that bridal party, you'd be best to steer clear of trying to match them. Think of it a bit like a stage show. The actors, in this case the bridal party, all wear the same colour to identify themselves as being in the cast.
You may choose to wear any color except black or white. The guest's goal should be to blend in with the surroundings and let the bride shine. As her guest, you should avoid attire that could be considered informal or in bad taste. Pastels, jewel tones and earth tones are excellent choices, as are most primary colors.Can you tell people what color to wear to wedding? ›
There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to wedding colors. Many couples choose to forgo traditional colors altogether and go with something more unique. Alternatively, if you want to add some color to your wedding, you might ask your guests to wear a certain color.What is the importance of dress code? ›
Dress codes make managers more identifiable to subordinates, showing that they have the authority to make decisions and the skills to guide the rest of the team. Going back to the first point, there is something about professional wear that gives employees impressions of their leaders.How do you tell someone dress code? ›
Make it a two-way conversation. Be compassionate,” Su suggests. “There may be something going on that you don't know about.” Unless your company asks people to wear a uniform, make it clear that you want people to dress in a way that feels comfortable and authentic to them, while staying within the company's norms.Do you follow a dress code Why? ›
The dress code represents your image and qualities as a professional. The dress code is also important because the first impressions gives a large impact in the future if he/she will meet the people for the second time, and we only get one and only chance to have a positive impression.
At many black-tie or formal weddings, a very short skirt is not acceptable. You can undoubtedly find formal dresses that are shorter than floor-length, but if it is far above the knee, the chances are good that you'll stand out, and not in a good way. Use your common sense when choosing your wedding attire.What is smart casual dress code for wedding? ›
Smart casual: For the ladies, a summery midi/maxi dress or top and skirt combo are appropriate for a smart casual affair, with a more relaxed shoe style like wedges or even dressy flats. For the guys, a suit is definitely not required.Can you wear red to a wedding? ›
“Tradition dictates guests avoid wearing red out of fear that it could take attention away from the happy couple,” explains Hurwitz. “Visually, it's quite bold. In a photo, your eye is immediately drawn to the color, especially if it's next to neutrals like white, black, gray, or beige.”What is formal dress code for ladies? ›
To stay within the confines of “formal,” stick to the basic principles of black-tie dressing: elegant, long or mid-length dresses. This dress code is less conservative, so feel free to experiment with different silhouettes, textures and colors.Can you wear a bridesmaid dress as a wedding guest? ›
Wearing a bridesmaid dress at a wedding
Weddings are one of the few occasions where you can dress to impress, so don't hold back. With a few tweaks and the right accessories, no one will ever know that you're wearing a bridesmaid dress.
Yellow, pink, and green dresses are all great options to wear. Dresses with patterns and floral designs also work well for the spring season—just be sure you aren't wearing the same color as the bride's bridal party, and of course, stay away from white!What do you put on your wedding website on your FAQ? ›
- Can I RSVP online or do I have to mail in an RSVP card? ...
- What date should I RSVP by? ...
- What are the addresses of the wedding ceremony and reception venues? ...
- What is the easiest way to get to and from your wedding venue(s)? ...
- Is there parking available near your wedding venue(s)?
If this is the case, try this wording “While we would prefer to keep the guest list for the ceremony intimate, we welcome your plus ones at the reception! Please let us know if you plan to bring a guest.”How do you explain black tie optional? ›
It means that guests have the option of wearing their most formal attire (think: an evening gown or tuxedo) but may also choose to wear a formal suit or cocktail dress instead. Generally, a black-tie optional dress code means that the couple and their wedding party will be dressed in black tie.Do you have to put dress code on wedding invitation? ›
The general rule for dress code basically says not to include a dress code on your main invite. Your guests should be able to assume the level of formally based on the venue and time of day of your event.
Classifications are divided into formal wear (full dress), semi-formal wear (half dress), and informal wear (undress). Anything below this level is referred to as casual wear, although sometimes in combinations such as "smart casual" or "business casual" in order to indicate higher expectation than none at all.What guests should not wear to a wedding? ›
Steer Clear of Anything Too Casual
No one wants to quit their coziest clothing like yoga pants, slippers, and jeans. But these have no place at a wedding. Even if a wedding is casual and relaxed, still dress with respect. No flip, flops, shorts, or jeans should be on your list of options to wear.
Long evening gowns and tuxedos are still welcome, but you can also wear something a little less formal, such as a dressy skirt and top combo, a cocktail dress or a little black dress if you're a woman. Men can wear a tuxedo or opt for a dark colored suit with a conservative tie — bow tie not required.Can woman wear pants to a wedding? ›
Yes! Women can wear pants to a wedding, even a formal wedding, with some stipulations. These days, the old gender norms of men wearing pants and women wearing skirts are out the window (thank goodness). There is absolutely no reason why you can't rock pants to a wedding, as long as you do it right.Can I wear jeans to a wedding? ›
We highly recommend that wedding guests avoid wearing jeans to any wedding unless the invitation specifically mentions them. Some weddings have themes that encourage guests to wear jeans, like “Diamonds and Denim” or “Cowboy Casual.”What Colours not to wear to weddings? ›
- Any shade of white. OK, this is probably pretty obvious, but you really can't wear white to a wedding. ...
- Gold (and other metallics) ...
- Light pastels. ...
- Neon. ...
- The colour the bridesmaids are wearing.
It's no longer taboo to wear white!
"According to the Emily Post Institute, it's acceptable to wear white, as long as it doesn't 'distract from the bride or her attendant's dresses.
Decode the Dress Codes
If you ask someone what the dress code at their office is, they'll generally give you one of four dress codes: business professional, business casual, smart casual or casual.
It means the ladies can wear sexy backless or shoulderless cocktail dresses (not long gowns) and the guys should at least not wear hoodies and running shoes.Can you wear a long dress to a semi-formal wedding? ›
Try to avoid going too long or too short.
"Miniskirts and floor-length gowns are off limits," says Dupuis. Shopping for semi-formal dresses is all about finding that happy medium. "If you fancy wearing a maxi dress, just make sure the fabric isn't too dressy," the fashion expert says.
While dark pinks and light reds are appropriate, blush and other shades of light pink have a chance of looking too similar to the bridesmaids, or getting washed out and looking white in photos. If you're set on wearing light pink, break up the color with patterns or vibrant accessories.Can I wear a tea length dress to a formal wedding? ›
Whether you're headed to a semi-formal summer wedding or a black-tie optional winter event, a tea-length dress is always a solid choice to satisfy almost any wedding fashion requirement.Can I wear a sparkly dress to a wedding? ›
Glitter, Glitter, Glitter Everywhere
Avoid wearing anything too shimmery or distracting. All eyes should be on the bride, and your disco-ball-looking dress may ruin her big moment to shine.
Navy is a classic neutral that you can rely on for all dress codes and types of wedding attire. This shade pairs particularly well with evening celebrations as well as black tie, formal and semi-formal nuptials.Can a woman wear a blazer to a wedding? ›
Totally fine! Just make sure they're dressy enough for the nuptials. Start with tailored trousers and a polished blouse, or make things easy for yourself by grabbing a matching blazer.Can mother of the bride wear black? ›
For decades, the mothers of the bride and groom would consider any color appropriate to wear to her child's wedding, with two exceptions: white and black. But just as brides now wear whatever color they want down the aisle, moms are now choosing dresses in any color that suits them, including black.How do you write dress code? ›
The dress code: You should clearly state what the general dress code of the company is and should also list exceptions when employees may need to follow a different dress code. Accommodations: To prevent any possible issues, state that employees can address any concerns about the dress code to human resources.What are the levels of dress code? ›
Classifications are divided into formal wear (full dress), semi-formal wear (half dress), and informal wear (undress). Anything below this level is referred to as casual wear, although sometimes in combinations such as "smart casual" or "business casual" in order to indicate higher expectation than none at all.What is smart casual dress code for wedding? ›
Smart casual: For the ladies, a summery midi/maxi dress or top and skirt combo are appropriate for a smart casual affair, with a more relaxed shoe style like wedges or even dressy flats. For the guys, a suit is definitely not required.How do party dress codes communicate? ›
A simple post script works best for dress code guidance. If clothing comfort factors are not obvious from your venue or wedding date, it is best to include a post script to help guests understand what they are expected to wear.
The purpose of a dress code is to provide guidance to students and parents as to appropriate attire for school and at any school function. In addition, the dress code is a primary means of helping students learn a skill, which is required for success in getting and keeping employment linked to attire.Why is it important to follow dress code? ›
Dress codes are used to communicate to employees what the organization considers appropriate work attire. A dress code or appearance policy allows an employer to set expectations regarding the image it wants the company to convey. Dress codes can be formal or informal and might include the use of uniforms.What are the main instructions of dress code for a woman? ›
Women can wear casual pants or skirts. Neither should be tight. Fabrics should be crisp; colors should generally be solid; navy, black, gray, brown and khaki are always safe bets. For the most business-like appearance, pants should be creased and tailored; neither extreme of tight or flowing.What is good dress code? ›
One must dress as per the occasion. Avoid wearing jeans, capris, shorts, T - Shirts or sleeveless dresses to work. Follow a professional dress code. Make sure you feel comfortable in whatever you wear.What is another word for dress code? ›
What is another word for dress code?
|dress policy||rules on attire|
|acceptable attire||acceptable dress|
|dress requirements||standards on dress|
|specifications on dress||requirements on attire|
Couples generally set their wedding dress code to reflect the look and feel they have planned for their celebration. Choosing your wedding day attire according to the dress code will really help to elevate the entire setting!What can I wear to a wedding without a dress code? ›
Your best bet is cocktail attire. Sure, you might be overdressed if it ends up being a more relaxed affair, but you'll fit right in at a cocktail attire party, and (with the right accessories) can easily dress up for something on the more formal side. Women should opt for a dress in a luxe fabric, such as silk.Is it OK to wear jeans at a wedding? ›
Denim or Jeans
While you might assume that a barnyard wedding theme calls for your favorite pair of jeans, this is not the case. Unless the wedding invitation explicitly says to wear denim, opt for some well-tailored trousers instead. Remember, it is better to be overdressed than underdressed at a wedding.
It means to dress in a attractive prosses in public. You, he, she, they have to dress up in fashion so that individuals notice about their person's style. Dress to impress is a confession of proving things in a glamorous effort. Doesn't matter what kind of fashion they waer.How do you state dress code for an event? ›
The simplest way to tell your guests what they're expected to wear is to put it on the invitation. There is a time-honored glossary of dress-code wording short enough to include on invitations, or on a card inserted with the invitation.
The general rule for dress code basically says not to include a dress code on your main invite. Your guests should be able to assume the level of formally based on the venue and time of day of your event.