Every Wedding Guest Dress Code, Explained (2023)

Have you ever received a wedding invitation that left you completely clueless about the wedding guest dress code? Between "black-tie optional" and "semi-formal," the language can be tricky to decipher. "While many couples would like their guests to arrive in black-tie attire, the most common wedding dress code is formal attire," says Alicia Mae, CEO of the New Jersey-based wedding planning company ILÈ Events.

But while formal attire may be a go-to for many couples, there are plenty of other dress codes that can (and will) appear on a wedding invitation. For instance, semi-formal and casual attire are also popular in the wedding space, but they're a bit more ambiguous than, say, black-tie, and it can be difficult for guests to settle on the level of formality if they don't have a general understanding of each look. Luckily, we're here to help!

If you're stressed out about style formalities and/or what dress to wear to a wedding, we've got you covered with our handy guide. Here are the most common wedding guest dress codes explained, so that you arrive appropriately—and stylishly—outfitted for the celebration.

Meet the Expert

Alicia Mae is a New Jersey-based wedding planner and the CEO of ILÈ Events. She has planned over 50 successful weddings and events.

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Every Wedding Guest Dress Code, Explained (1)

White-Tie

This is the most formal wedding attire possible (think: White House state dinners and royal events). Simply put, women should wear a formal, floor-length evening gown—no exceptions—with jewelry, heels, and an elegant clutch. Men are required to wear a tuxedo with tails, a formal white shirt, a vest, a bow tie, white or gray gloves, and formal footwear, such as derby shoes or oxfords.

Every Wedding Guest Dress Code, Explained (2)

(Video) Every Wedding Guest Dress Code Explained from Black Tie to Casual

Black-Tie

A step down from white-tie attire, black-tie dress codes usually indicate a formal, evening event. Women should wear a floor-length gown that does not reveal the ankles, in sumptuous fabrics like silk and organza. If the wedding seems a bit less formal, however, a sophisticated cocktail dress might be acceptable, but be sure to consult with the bride first. Additionally, it's okay for women to sport elegant pantsuits if they're more comfortable with that specific silhouette. As for men, tuxedos are a must. A black bow tie, black vest or cummerbund, and patent leather shoes are also recommended. For summer weddings, a white dinner jacket and black tuxedo trousers are lovely and acceptable choices, to boot.

Formal or Black-Tie Optional

As the wording here suggests, this dress code is slightly less formal than a black-tie wedding. So, a tuxedo isn't required, but can still be worn if preferred. If opting for a suit, however, a formal dark suit, white shirt, and a conservative tie are acceptable. For women, the outfit choices remain the same: a floor-length gown, a fancy cocktail dress, or a dressy pantsuit. In fact, there isn't much of a difference between black-tie and black-tie optional, although Mae says it's more acceptable to wear a dress that shows the ankles (which is not true of a black-tie dress code).

Every Wedding Guest Dress Code, Explained (4)

Cocktail

A small step above semi-formal (which we'll get to next), cocktail attire is an extremely popular choice within the wedding space. It's a balance between elegant and comfortable and fancy and pared-back. Instead of a floor-length dress, women should opt for a tea-length, knee-length, or midi look. And while tuxedos are no longer an option, men are required to wear a suit and tie, regardless of the wedding's setting.

Every Wedding Guest Dress Code, Explained (5)

Semi-Formal or Dressy Casual

Part of dressing for a semi-formal or dressy casual wedding is paying close attention to when the ceremony will take place. For evening events, darker, more formal colors are recommended, while light colors and airy fabrics work best for daytime affairs. Women can wear below-the-knee dresses, slip dresses, a dressy skirt and top, or an elegant pantsuit (styled with heels, nice wedges, or formal flats). As for men, opt for a dress shirt and slacks, with the option to wear a tie. "Semiformal gives you flexibility on comfort, but be sure not to dress too casually," Mae adds.

Every Wedding Guest Dress Code, Explained (6)

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Festive

This dress code is relatively new and will leave many guests scratching their heads. To break it down, festive attire allows you to have fun and play around with your looks. Women are encouraged to wear cocktail party attire featuring bolder colors, playful accessories, and unique silhouettes. Men should sport a patterned or textured suit, jazzed up with a bright tie or creative pocket square.

Every Wedding Guest Dress Code, Explained (7)

Casual

Casual attire will typically indicate that the wedding is being held outdoors or on the beach, meaning the event will be much more laid-back. With that said, jeans, shorts, tank tops, t-shirts, flip-flops, and sneakers are absolutely not appropriate unless specified by the couple. Women can wear a summer sundress or a floral patterned mini, with wedges or dressy sandals. Men should choose to wear dress pants or khakis paired with a collared shirt, with the option to also style their look with a tie or sports jacket.

Every Wedding Guest Dress Code, Explained (8)

Tropical or Destination

Since tropical weddings are usually humid and hot affairs, you should be mindful of what you choose to wear and lean into lightweight fabrics and airy silhouettes. What's more, always err on the dressier side of caution, and if you're questioning whether your look is appropriate, check with the bride.

As with a casual wedding, women should look for cotton sundresses and nice sandals or wedges. If the wedding is being held outside and the weather is blazing, consider topping the look off with a sunhat. For men's attire, guayabera shirts are wonderful for the tropics. Known more commonly as "Mexican wedding shirts," these short-sleeved, button-down tops usually have decorative square pockets and some form of embroidery.

Although linen shirts and pants are also appropriate for a tropical wedding, be cautious in selecting them when you're traveling. Linen usually wrinkles easily, and there may not be a dry cleaner to press it back out in a more remote destination.

Every Wedding Guest Dress Code, Explained (9)

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Concept Style or Themed

Concept or themed weddings are exactly what you think: guests should wear attire in accordance with a particular theme dictated by the couple. This is especially popular in the instance of an "all-white formal" dress code, as it's a stylistic choice that helps the couple create their desired aesthetic. "Another option is inspired looks, like Gatsby or Roc Nation Brunch," Mae says. For this form of attire, guests can look for inspiration from films or celebrities, depending on the theme.

Every Wedding Guest Dress Code, Explained (10)

Come as You Are

According to Mae, some couples may ask their guests to show up how they see fit. And while this dress code allows you to take the lead, it can be a little confusing, so take into account the location of the wedding and the time of day when selecting a look to wear. "An essential tip is to know yourself as a guest," Mae says. "As the saying goes, 'If you look great, you feel great!' Make sure you’re confident in your attire to not feel under or overdressed."

FAQ

  • Where can I buy a wedding guest dress?

    There's a range of options when it comes to purchasing a wedding guest dress or outfit, from department stores to online retailers. Top choices include Nordstrom, Macy's, Dillard's, and David's Bridal for more formal attire, or places like Anthropologie, Free People, ASOS, or even Amazon for casual dress codes.

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  • What should I wear to a wedding with no dress code?

    If no dress code is indicated on the wedding invitation or by the couple, use context clues to decide what to wear, like the formality of the wedding invitation, the venue, the time of day, the season, and the religion of the ceremony. When in doubt, a knee-length cocktail dress for a woman and a dark suit for a man will usually suffice.

  • What should I not wear to a wedding as a guest?

    First and foremost, don't wear a white dress (unless the couple requests all-white attire as a stylistic choice). Further, avoid matching the colors worn by the bridal party, wearing anything that is too revealing, sexy, or flashy, or opting for clothes that are overly casual, like jeans and sneakers, even at a casual-attire wedding.

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FAQs

Every Wedding Guest Dress Code, Explained? ›

Formal Wedding

As the name suggests, it allows more flexibility than a black-tie dress code. Men can wear tuxedos or formal dark suits, and women can wear anything from evening gowns to dressy cocktail attire.

When a wedding invitation says formal attire What does that mean? ›

Formal Wedding

As the name suggests, it allows more flexibility than a black-tie dress code. Men can wear tuxedos or formal dark suits, and women can wear anything from evening gowns to dressy cocktail attire.

How do you answer wedding dress code questions? ›

3. What should I wear?
  1. “The wedding is casual, so please feel free to wear whatever you'd feel best in!”
  2. “The wedding is semi-formal, so we encourage you to wear cocktail attire [for evening events] / Sunday best [for daytime events].”
  3. “The wedding is formal, so we encourage you to wear black tie attire.
Oct 2, 2019

How do you inform wedding guests of dress code? ›

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.

What is the dress code when attending a wedding? ›

Women should wear a formal floor-length evening gown, no exceptions. Pair your dress with jewelry, heels, and an elegant clutch. Men are required to wear a tuxedo with tails, a formal white shirt, white vest and bow tie, white or gray gloves, and formal footwear, such as derby shoes or oxfords.

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.

Does formal attire mean cocktail dress or evening gown? ›

Traditionally formal or black-tie events require the wearing of a long gown; for a cocktail event, shorter frocks or pant or jumpsuit outfits are the go.

How do you tell guests attire? ›

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.

How do you talk about dress codes? ›

  1. Thoroughly Detail Acceptable Dress. Acceptable dress should be detailed in an employee handbook and discussed even before hire so that new employees can prepare to comply. ...
  2. Be Consistent with the Policy. ...
  3. Have Reasons to Back up the Code. ...
  4. Send Out Reminders or Updates. ...
  5. Meet with the Employee Privately.

How do you have a dress code conversation? ›

One way to ask about the dress code is to be direct. If you spoke with a recruiter or hiring manager on the phone, you can simply ask them what the dress code is ahead of your interview or the first day of work. If you have already been hired, they might forget to mention the dress code to you.

How do you tell wedding guests to wear certain colors? ›

Can You Ask Wedding Guests to Wear a Certain Color?
  1. Be Upfront from the Beginning. If you're going to request a certain dress code or color from your guests, be upfront about this from the beginning. ...
  2. Be Clear and Concise. ...
  3. Give Options. ...
  4. Consider Guests Preferences. ...
  5. Make Exceptions as Needed.
Jul 19, 2022

Does formal attire for a wedding mean a long dress? ›

While there are exceptions for different situations, the formality of a dress tends to depend on length and tailoring. Typically formal dresses are floor length, though midi or knee-length options can work for certain occasions.

What do you wear to a formal attire event? ›

For men, a dark suit is always a safe choice. A white shirt and black tie are also standard formalwear options. For women, a little black dress is always a good option, or you could choose a dress in a more subdued color like navy or olive green. Avoid bright colors and loud patterns.

What would be considered formal attire? ›

The standard dress code in a business formal environment is a full matching business suit, including a jacket and dress pants or a dress skirt. The darker the suit, the more formal!

How do you dress formal attire? ›

Know that formal business attire is tailored, conservative clothing.
  1. For men: Formal suit, dress shirt, dress shoes, tie. Sometimes dressy slacks and sport coat are acceptable alternatives for a business suit. ...
  2. For women: business suit with skirt, blazer, blouse, dress shoes. Pants are also acceptable.

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