From black-tie to casual, we break down what each wedding dress code means.
We have included third party products to help you navigate and enjoy life’s biggest moments. Purchases made through links on this page may earn us a commission.
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 "dressy casual" or "beach formal"), you might be stumped when it comes to interpreting what they mean. And while more 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 on the rack. 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
- Semi-Formal or Dressy Casual
- 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 elevate 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 add 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," 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 imply 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, choosing what to wear requires careful consideration. "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 still stuck on what formal wedding attire looks like, you can never be too overdressed. When in doubt, a dark, well-tailored suit or a simple long 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 elegant look is always a reliable 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 you're choosing 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.
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 you're attending a classic summer wedding, it's important to dress for the elements. "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 or Dressy Casual
Semi-formal wedding attire may seem like one of the tricker dress codes to nail. And, since semi-formal and cocktail attire can sometimes be used interchangeably, you might feel confused when it's time to pick an outfit. "Semi-formal falls in the gray area between casual and formal," says Coleman. "However, cocktail attire tends to be a little more dressy than semi-formal. Some examples of what to wear to a semi-formal event include a midi dress, a chic jumpsuit or a wrap dress. For cocktail attire, stick to a structured 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 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 too. Think of this 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 fête, while light colors and fabrics would be appropriate for a daytime wedding.
Daytime 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 event requires a certain kind of outfit; Shorts, running gear and tennis shoes should be off-limits for a casual wedding."
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 and khaki pants," Durham adds. "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."
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.
You can include your Dress Code on the lower left or right-hand corner of the invitation. Alternatively, the Dress Code can be placed at the bottom centre of the design.How do you suggest a wedding dress code? ›
Casual is the most laid-back of dress code options, but that doesn't mean guests should show up wearing jeans and a t-shirt. Instead, guests should wear nice clothing they'd wear to the office or to church. For women, that means a day dress, a blouse and slacks, or a nice jumpsuit or romper.What should wedding guests wear? ›
Women should wear a formal floor-length gown that does not reveal the ankles at the hem of the dress, but if the wedding seems a bit less formal, a sophisticated cocktail dress may also be acceptable. Women may also wear elegant pantsuits. Men must wear a tuxedo.How do I describe my wedding website dress code? ›
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.How do you ask wedding guests to wear a certain color? ›
Rather than telling your guests what to wear, ask if they have a favorite color. For example, you might say, “I was thinking it would be nice if everyone wore a touch of blue. What do you think?” By phrasing it in this way, you give them the option to wear the color but not force them.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!Do you include dress code on wedding invitations? ›
The easiest way to get your point across is to include your desired dress code on the bottom of the invite or on a separate details card. "Black tie," "cocktail attire" or "dress casual" are all acceptable templates. (And trust us, your guests will appreciate the heads-up).Do weddings have dress codes? ›
- White tie. White tie is likely the most formal dress code that you'll see on an invitation — even more formal than black tie. ...
- Black tie. ...
- Formal/black-tie optional. ...
- Cocktail/semi-formal/dressy casual. ...
- Beach/destination. ...
- Themed/festive. ...
- Casual/come as you are.
- White. One of the most obvious mistakes at a wedding is to match the bride. ...
- A Black Tuxedo. ...
- Anything Too Revealing. ...
- Denim or Jeans. ...
- Low-Cut Outfits. ...
- Sheer Material. ...
- All Black. ...
- Flip Flops.
Formal attire is definitely defined as a full-length gown, very fancy cocktail attire from dresses to a really glamorous pantsuit. When it comes to the men, formal wedding attire means a tuxedo. And definitely, a bow tie, which I love! The only time a tuxedo is not required is when it's black-tie optional.
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.
As a general rule, "wearing black is totally acceptable, as the hue is very versatile," Sabatino affirms. However, you should avoid wearing white unless you are told otherwise. That shade, she says, is reserved exclusively for the bride.How do you tell guests to dress for an outdoor wedding? ›
In general, the formality and location of the wedding should help guide your attire. For example, if you're attending a black tie outdoor wedding, a tuxedo or floor-length gown are appropriate choices. Conversely, if you're attending a casual beach wedding, a sundress or lightweight suit are safe bets.How do you politely say no plus ones on a wedding invitation? ›
Therefore, we regretfully our guests to please not bring a plus one, unless they are specifically named on the invitation. Thank you so much for understanding! This should provide a clear message for those who were previously planning to bring a plus one.What is smart casual for a 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 you tell guests to wear all white? ›
Alongside your attire, try something along the lines of, "Please indulge us by dressing in white, if you don't mind." Spread the word by including it on your wedding website and save-the-dates.How do you state dress for a wedding? ›
- 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)
Is it OK for a Wedding Guest Wear Red to a Wedding? One of the questions we hear most often is: Can I Wear Red Dress to a Wedding? The short answer is yes, as long as it's tasteful and elegant, and not against the cultural traditions of the couple or event.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.
Dress to impress!: Wear your best clothes for this event! idiom.
It's true that most short dresses won't do for a formal event. But with the right embellishments, you can easily pull off short dresses for formal events. Look for short cocktail dresses with sequins, lace and beading. Those added fun elements will take your dress up one big formal notch.How do you reply to a wedding invitation? ›
- Mr and Mrs Smith accept with pleasure your kind invitation for Saturday, 7th July.
- Dear Mr and Mrs Morrison,
- Thank you for the kind invitation to your wedding. ...
- Is there a gift registry?
- Thank you very much.
- Thank you very much for the invitation.
Think Casual Restaurant
If a workplace has no dress code, most likely it has an informal casual dress code. You can wear what you want, though keep in mind some aspects of your appearance are assumed, such as a neat, clean look. Consider what you would wear to a Sunday brunch or casual dinner with friends.
Don't go too casual with pants.
So you wanna wear pants? 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.
Formal wedding guest dresses include both evening gowns and elegant cocktail frocks, so pick the hemline you feel best in. That being said, you don't have to wear a dress at all.Can I wear a full length dress to a wedding? ›
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.What should you not wear? ›
What Not to Wear is an American makeover reality television series based on the British show of the same name. The show premiered on January 18, 2003, and aired on TLC in the United States. What Not to Wear was hosted by Stacy London and Clinton Kelly, though Stacy London's Season 1 co-host was Wayne Scot Lukas.Can you wear black to a wedding as a guest? ›
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.Can you wear a tight dress to a wedding? ›
It's okay for your dress to be tailored to fit you, but be sure you're dress is not too tight. Make sure that your cleavage is tasteful, if any. If you're wanting to show off a particular area, such as your back with a low back dress or your torso with a very small or thin cutout, it's okay but keep it to one area.Can you wear white to a wedding? ›
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. ' For example, a colorful, cocktail-length dress with a white lace overlay is acceptable," says Lehman.
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.Can you wear yellow to a wedding? ›
Yellow is a cheery color for wedding guest attire, especially for daytime weddings in the spring or summer season. It's also a great color for sunny or tropical weddings! These yellow dress picks are made with wedding guests in mind, but these yellow dresses can be worn for nearly any wedding event.Can a wedding guest wear the same color as bridesmaids? ›
Lizzie Post, host of the podcast Awesome Etiquette from the Emily Post Institute, says that no guest should ever feel embarrassed if they happen to wear the same color as the bridesmaids, but they can ask in advance what the colors will be if they're concerned about it.Can a guest wear the same color dress as the mother of the bride? ›
While the mother of the bride, mother of the groom, and special guests always have the option to match the bridal party by wearing the same color, or choosing a lighter or darker shade, the design team at David's Bridal created these handy guidelines to help make further color-coordination effortless.Can you wear nude to a wedding? ›
As you can see, it's pretty evenly split down the middle. Personally, if you're happy with people wearing whatever they want to your wedding, and there isn't a strict dress code, then by all means, wear a "naked" dress.Can you wear navy to a wedding? ›
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 you 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.”Why does a woman wear a white wedding dress? ›
The practice likely traces back more than 2,000 years, with roots in the Roman Republic (509 B.C. - 27 B.C.) when brides wore a white tunic. The color white represented purity, symbolizing both a woman's chastity and her transition to a married Roman matron.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? ›
A smart casual dress code is an attire that combines well-fitting, polished business wear with elements of casual attire like blouses, shirts, button-downs, dress pants, dark-wash jeans, and polished, practical footwear.
What Is Dressy Casual Attire? Dressy casual attire (also called smart casual) is a combination of relaxed and refined pieces—think blouses, dress shirts, button-downs, dress pants, dark jeans, and clean shoes.Do you think dress codes should be adhered to if requested on an invitation? ›
Not adhering to the dress codes especially if it is underlined in the invitation, they can take it as disrespect since they specifically stated the dress code and even if they didn't weddings overall are formal attire.Why is having a dress code important? ›
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.What is the purpose of dress codes? ›
Dress codes are typically implemented by school districts and employers to promote learning, safety, and image. Although such regulations face First Amendment challenges by students, parents, and employees, the courts generally support the schools and employers.What guests should not wear to a wedding? ›
- White. One of the most obvious mistakes at a wedding is to match the bride. ...
- A Black Tuxedo. ...
- Anything Too Revealing. ...
- Denim or Jeans. ...
- Low-Cut Outfits. ...
- Sheer Material. ...
- All Black. ...
- Flip Flops.
Ideally, smart clothing should be comfortable and elegant, instead of too tight or revealing. When in doubt, wear clothing that won't go out of fashion, such as trousers, polo-neck tees, sheath dresses, midi skirts or shirts. Go for well-fitted clothing. Loose clothes end up looking too casual.Is a black dress smart casual? ›
Unless you're going to a creative event, a smart casual dress code usually means muted neutrals. Blacks, whites, creams and beiges are always a safe bet. Don't just wear business clothes.How can a woman look smart? ›
How can a lady look smart? Appearance can go a long way for making you look smart. Always go with clean, well-fitting clothes such as a casual dress instead of baggy clothes like sweatpants and a hoodie. If you wear glasses, put them on to enhance your image and make yourself look smarter.Can you wear black to a wedding? ›
As a general rule, "wearing black is totally acceptable, as the hue is very versatile," Sabatino affirms. However, you should avoid wearing white unless you are told otherwise. That shade, she says, is reserved exclusively for the bride.How many dresses should a woman own? ›
In general, aim for 40 to 50 items, including 3 to 5 casual dresses or skirts. Refer to this ultimate guide on how big your wardrobe should be for inspiration. Only keep the essentials and what you truly need to earn more time, space, and money for the things you truly love.
Generally, casual means anything goes. That said, jeans, shorts, and tank tops are probably not appropriate unless they're specifically noted as acceptable. For the purposes of wedding wear, assume business casual to be on the safe side. He should wear: Dress pants with a button-down shirt or polo.Is it rude to put a dress code on a wedding invitation? ›
Your guests are unlikely to feel you are being rude by including dress code information in their invitation, but might be grateful that you have given them plenty of time to find something to wear and have saved them the embarrassment of turning up, either under or overdressed.Do you include dress code on wedding invitations? ›
The easiest way to get your point across is to include your desired dress code on the bottom of the invite or on a separate details card. "Black tie," "cocktail attire" or "dress casual" are all acceptable templates. (And trust us, your guests will appreciate the heads-up).How do you politely say no plus ones on a wedding invitation? ›
Therefore, we regretfully our guests to please not bring a plus one, unless they are specifically named on the invitation. Thank you so much for understanding! This should provide a clear message for those who were previously planning to bring a plus one.