What to wear as a wedding guest for every type of dress code, from casual to black tie (2024)

More people are getting married this year, which means more wedding guests—and more dilemmas over what to wear.

Celebrating your loved ones is often a blast, but that excitement can easily be derailed by the eternal question: What outfit? Many of us know the unique challenge of decoding the appropriate attire as a wedding guest.

So Insider spoke to wedding fashion experts Samantha Brown, a celebrity stylist, and Julie Sabatino, the founder of wedding styling company The Stylish Bride, for all the inside tips on every type of dress code.

First things first, do some research on the wedding venue

The dress code listed on an invitation or the wedding website is your best indicator for what you should wear to a wedding. Beyond that, Sabatino and Brown recommend taking a sneak peak at the wedding venue before you pick an outfit. It's as simple as googling the website for pictures of the property.


"It's always important to look at the venue because dress codes and venues should be somewhat in alignment," Brown said. "Let's say it's a barn wedding that's black tie. That's probably not your New York City hotel black tie because maybe you'll be on grass and maybe you'll be somewhere a more country."

That goes for casual attire too. It could imply two totally different visions based on where the wedding location.

"If it says 'casual' for the Thursday night clambake and you're on the beach, you can certainly show up in khaki shorts and a button down or a polo," Sabatino said. "But if it says 'casual' and you are in New York City at a restaurant, then the dress is different."

Jeans aren't appropriate at a casual wedding

If you are invited to a casual wedding, appropriate attire includes dresses, jumpsuits, khakis, and lightweight jackets, according to Brown and Sabatino. Not included? Denim jeans.


"Regardless if a wedding is casual or formal, it's respectful to dress nicely for your hosts," she said. "I would not wear something that you're going to hang out in on Saturday afternoon."

Brown suggests a sundress or other look that feels breezy. The trick is to style it more elevated than day-to-day casualwear.

What to wear as a wedding guest for every type of dress code, from casual to black tie (1)

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"Something in a floral would be really lovely, especially in spring and summer," Brown said. "You could also go for a linen suit or a lightweight tropical jacket. It's something you could style with a t-shirt underneath, instead of doing the button down or tie. You can loosen it up and even pair it with a sneaker."

It's a broad range, but comes with a stipulation: Sabatino recommends avoiding everyday fabrics like denim to show respect to the couple.


There's little difference between co*cktail attire and a semi-formal dress code

Although they have different titles, semi-formal and co*cktail weddings basically call for the same type of outfit, say both Brown and Sabatino. It means dressy and stylish.

"That's when you can go a little bit more glitzy," Brown said. "Instead of a cotton sundress, you can look for more luxurious fabrics or fun jewelry to take it up from casual attire."

Anchiy / Nikola Stojadinovic/ ta-nya

Sabatino agreed, recommending guests wear "a nicer dress or a nicer pant ensemble" to a co*cktail or semi-formal wedding, though a dress wouldn't need to be floor-length.

"There are a lot of cute jumpsuits out there these days, so I don't want to rule out the pants entirely," she added.


Men can don a button down shirt with a suit. You don't need a tie, Brown said, but it could be accessorized with a pocket square or trendy loafers.

Formal and black-tie optional weddings call for similar attire

Like co*cktail and semi-formal, formal and black-tie optional weddings imply similar levels of dress, according to Brown and Sabatino.

"Black-tie optional means that you can wear a tux or a gown, but you won't be underdressed if you wear a formal co*cktail dress or a suit," Brown told Insider. "But definitely, it means suit and tie, if not a tuxedo."

What to wear as a wedding guest for every type of dress code, from casual to black tie (3)

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Sabatino also said tea-length dresses are appropriate for a black-tie optional wedding.


"I wouldn't go super short, but ankle length or tea length are more appropriate today than they have been in the past," Sabatino said.

Also welcome? Costume jewelry, glam makeup, and pocket squares.

The dress code at a black-tie wedding is strict

Black tie means black tie, and you risk being a fashion faux pas if you don't stick to the dress code.

"Traditionally, black tie means a gown and a tux," Brown said of the attire for women and men.


The gown should be floor-length for women, and men should don a tuxedo. It's what differentiates it from a black-tie optional wedding, Sabatino explained.

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But that is changing as guests put their own spin on their fashion choices. Brown noted that weddings have become less formal as a whole.

"Nowadays the interpretation has become a looser," she said. "You see people wearing shorter hemlines or wearing dressier suits that aren't tuxedos," she said. As long as it's hinting at glamorous and luxurious, you should be in the clear.

White-tie weddings are the most formal nuptials

White-tie is the most formal attire possible for a wedding, but it's a rare choice today.


"It means you're supposed to wear tails," Sabatino said. If you're wearing a gown, you'll be expected to wear white gloves with it, she added.

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Both Brown and Sabatino said white-tie weddings are very uncommon, in part because it puts stress on your guests.

"It's tricky, because in the States you can't really rent white tie," Sabatino said. "What that means is that you would have to buy the jacket with the tails, the white vest, and a white tie. It makes it hard on your guests because they don't really have access to that kind of thing."

The 2022 Met Gala dress code was white tie.


You should defer to the engaged couple if you are invited to a themed wedding

If you are invited to a themed wedding, Sabatino recommends turning to the engaged couple for advice on what to wear.

"If you are going to do that as the host, you need to be specific in what you're expecting people to wear," she said.

But as a general rule, Brown recommends against attending in full costume. "You never want to show up to a wedding, even if it's a theme wedding, feeling like you're in a costume," Brown said.

She suggests embracing the theme through accessories rather than a full ensemble.


"I had a bride who wanted to do a country Western rehearsal dinner because she and her fiance had met in Santa Fe," Brown said. "So we accessorized a very cute dress with white boots, a cowboy hat, and turquoise jewelry."

At a beach wedding, be mindful of your shoes

Beach weddings typically have a relaxed dress code because they take place outside—and in sand.

Brown advises light fabrics like cotton or linen, and you can wear a suit, sun dress, or even shorts if the wedding is during the day.

"You want to be mindful of the fabrics that you choose because you're going to be in the sun," Brown said. "Beach weather is unpredictable in terms of the moisture and the humidity."


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Plus, keep in mind your shoes. You'll be standing in sand, so some footwear is just impractical. (Ahem, stilettos.)

If you're invited to a non-Western wedding, talk to the couple about outfit expectations

Rules for attire and customary clothing for many non-Western weddings is different from Western weddings. For instance, you might be expected to wear a lehanga to an Indian wedding, while it's inappropriate to wear red at a traditional Chinese wedding.

Both Sabatino and Brown said that if a couple expects you to wear clothing that is traditional for their culture, their invitations will likely specify as such.

"If the bride and groom are hoping that their guests will wear traditional clothing, they should add resources on their wedding website for what is specifically requested," Sabatino said.


If the couple has not specified a dress code on their invitation or wedding website, Brown suggests talking to the couple about what they're hoping attendees will wear.

What to wear as a wedding guest for every type of dress code, from casual to black tie (7)


"When you've been invited to a non-Western wedding and the dress code hasn't been specified, it's always best to check in with the bride or groom to inquire about the appropriate attire," Brown said. "When in doubt, don't make assumptions. A simple email or text on the preferred dress code for an upcoming event will always provide clarity."

If you're unsure where to find customary clothing, Brown recommends asking the couple about that too. "You can always ask for recommended retailers," she said.

The ultimate wedding attire faux pas: white

Although attire will vary for different types of weddings, Brown and Sabatino do have one golden rule for all guest attire: you should not wear white at a Western wedding.


"You should never wear white to someone else's wedding ever, or any of the surrounding events," Sabatino said.

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Thomas Barwick / Getty Images

"It's the bride's moment to have that color for the night," Brown added. "I don't even recommend a white base, even if it has a colorful, floral pattern. Anything that's in question should be avoided."

If you have any doubts, Sabatino said, don't do it.

Similarly, try not to wear a color similar to the wedding party, if you happen to know the shade.


"Don't show up in something that looks like you're a bridesmaid, mostly because it's difficult for the guest," she said. "People might ask you questions or approach you thinking that you're part of the bridal party. That's uncomfortable."

What to wear as a wedding guest for every type of dress code, from casual to black tie (2024)


How do you answer is there a dress code for wedding? ›

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 co*cktail 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

What should a guest wear to a casual wedding? ›

“[The] basic dress code for a casual wedding would be [to not wear] something overbearing,” says Moinian. “Don't go above and beyond. Just an easy dress that you could wear day or night.” There's a common belief that it's always better to be overdressed than under-dressed at a wedding, which is true for the most part.

What is the dress code for black tie encouraged? ›

Men are requested to wear a tuxedo, but can opt for a dark suit. Women can choose either a formal evening gown, a shorter co*cktail dress, or dressy separates.

What does a woman wear to a black tie wedding? ›

For Women. For women attending black tie events, full-length formal gowns are typical. This is the most formal dress code, so it's fitting to opt for a full length gown. Alternatively, you can also wear a formal jumpsuit or pantsuit, depending on your personal style.

How do you tell guests what the dress code is? ›

Put It on the Invitation

The simplest way to tell your guests what they're expected to wear is to put a dress code in 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 describe black tie optional on a wedding website? ›

Black tie optional. A black tie optional dress code still encourages formal attire, but gives guests a bit more wiggle room. It's more acceptable for guests to choose a suit and tie over a tuxedo, or a floor length dress that isn't a full evening gown.

How casual is too casual for a wedding? ›

Don't go *too* casual.

Even if the wedding has a more low-key dress code, I promise you: It is not that casual. Meaning no sweats, shorts, jeans, T-shirts—you get my point. "If you have to choose between being underdressed or overdressed, it's always better to be overdressed," Swann explains.

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.

What is the dress code smart casual? ›

Smart casual is an approach to dressing professionally that mixes trendier pieces in with classic staples. The goal is an appearance that's clean and professional but doesn't look too formal. You want to look pulled together but a bit interesting and approachable.

Is it OK to wear black to a wedding? ›

As a general rule, "wearing black is totally acceptable, as the hue is very versatile," says bridal stylist Julie Sabatino of The Stylish Bride. Make the shade work for you—at any type of wedding—with these ideas for choosing the right fabrice, length, and accessories.

What is not acceptable for co*cktail attire? ›

What is not acceptable for co*cktail attire? Best to avoid anything too casual or too formal. Leave the jeans, T-shirts, and casual sandals at home, and save the full-length gowns for a black-tie affair. It's all about striking that perfect balance.

Can a woman wear pants to a black tie event? ›

Wear a dress – or don't

Anything floorsweeping can be relied on to create impact, as will a structured midi. But that doesn't rule out trousers and jumpsuits entirely: flowing palazzo pants or co-ords are eternally elegant – just be sure to pick an equally dressy top.

Can I wear a knee-length dress to a black tie wedding? ›

Black-Tie Optional or Formal

While this is still an elevated event, men are not required to wear a tuxedo (although it's encouraged). A dark suit is acceptable. Women are more than welcome to wear a floor-length dress, but if you prefer a dressy, knee-length co*cktail dress, then feel free.

Is it OK to wear a knee-length dress to a black tie event? ›

The dress code is less specific for women. You don't have wear a long dress (etiquette specialists Debrett's say knee-length co*cktail dresses are fine) but you should definitely go more fancy than what you'd wear on a regular night out.

What colors not to wear to a black tie wedding? ›

The only real color that's off-limits as a wedding guest is white, but there are some color schemes that work best for black tie weddings. "Most guests will stick to darker hues like burgundy, black, navy and gray.

How do you describe dress code on an invitation? ›

If you're going to use a non-traditional dress code, make sure it's clear, like “casual picnic attire”, and add a line that guests will thank you for: “The service will be held on grass. Please wear appropriate shoes.”

What is the dress code if you are invited to a wedding? ›

The wedding party will be in formal wedding attire, and it's optional for all guests. For men, they should wear a classic suit or tux including a tie, and formal evening wear (floor-length dresses or evening pantsuits) for women.

How do you ask what the dress code is for an event? ›

If the invitation does not state the dress code, you can ask the event organizer or other attendees what they plan to wear. This can help you avoid feeling over or underdressed at the event. After determining the dress code, choose appropriate attire that aligns with the occasion.

What is a standard wedding dress code? ›

One of the most popular Dress Codes, according to all of the Wedding Planners we consulted, 'co*cktail' implies dresses of around knee-length for ladies and a suit, or trousers and a blazer, with the option of a tie for men.

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