What to wear as a wedding guest for every type of dress code, from casual to black tie (2023)

  • Guests are often confused about what to wear to a wedding.
  • Insider spoke to fashion experts about appropriate attire for different types of nuptials.
  • From casual to black-tie dress codes, this guide has you covered.

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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.

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

"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)

DmitriiSimakov / Karen E. Evans / RoNeDya / Getty Images

"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 cocktail attire and a semi-formal dress code

Although they have different titles, semi-formal and cocktail 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."

What to wear as a wedding guest for every type of dress code, from casual to black tie (2)

Anchiy / Nikola Stojadinovic/ ta-nya

Sabatino agreed, recommending guests wear "a nicer dress or a nicer pant ensemble" to a cocktail 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.

(Video) Wedding Guest Outfit Ideas | ULTIMATE Guide to Wedding Guest Attire!

Formal and black-tie optional weddings call for similar attire

Like cocktail 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 cocktail 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)

Cavan Images/ Tony Anderson / MOAimage / Getty Images

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.

What to wear as a wedding guest for every type of dress code, from casual to black tie (4)

Ornela Lundra / EyeEm / g-stockstudio / Tim Garcha / Getty Images

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.

(Video) Wedding Dress Codes For Men | What To Wear

"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.

What to wear as a wedding guest for every type of dress code, from casual to black tie (5)

Simon Marcus Taplin / Wavebreak / Getty Images

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."

(Video) Dresscode Tutorial (What To Wear) | Camille Co

What to wear as a wedding guest for every type of dress code, from casual to black tie (6)

Oleg Breslavtsev / Mireya Acierto / Getty Images

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.

What to wear as a wedding guest for every type of dress code, from casual to black tie (8)

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 is the dress code for ladies at a black tie event? ›

Traditionally, black-tie attire is a dress code reserved for formal evening events. Guests commonly choose sophisticated floor-length gowns but depending on the occasion, beautiful long dresses are often worn too.

How do you indicate a wedding 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 not to wear to a black tie event? ›

Avoid jeans, shorts, T-shirts, and a tank top that can be black-tie formal wear and are not appropriate for a black-tie event. Opened collar dress shirts without a bowtie or formal necktie should not be worn to a black-tie event. An opened collar dress shirt is considered to be too casual for a black-tie event.

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.

What is acceptable to wear to a black tie event? ›

Understanding the invite to a black-tie event

If your invite says 'Black tie', you should follow the rules and wear the full ensemble. This includes a dinner jacket, matching trousers, pleated white shirt, bow tie and formal black shoes. A waistcoat is optional.

Does black tie dress code have to be black? ›

Although the dress code is 'black tie', dresses do not need to be black, unless explicitly stated on the invitation.

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 I tell guests about dress code? ›

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.

Can you tell your wedding guests what color to wear? ›

Yes, you can definitely ask your wedding guests to wear a certain color! This is a great way to help tie your wedding together and create a cohesive look. Plus, it can be really fun for your guests to get to dress up in their best duds!

Can you wear your hair down for a black tie event? ›

Black tie is usually for weddings held later in the day, although take note: there should be no hats or headpieces worn after this time. Hair should be well groomed. You want to look dressy, sleek and polished - aim for short, slick side partings, barrel tonged waves, ballerina buns and textured updos.

Is it okay to wear a short dress to a black tie event? ›

Unless otherwise specified on the invitation, 'black tie' in general permits any length, so midi and even shorter styles, within reason, are acceptable.

What does all black attire mean? ›

Many people believe that black clothing accentuates or slims their figure. Others, associate black with seriousness, tenacity or power and wish to convey those messages or attitudes to people.

What is not appropriate to wear as a wedding guest? ›

Avoid sequined dresses and any clothing that will draw attention away from the bride. A wedding isn't the proper time to make a bold fashion statement. Ditch your everyday jeans and tee. Even if the wedding initiation says “casual”, wearing sneakers, t-shirts, shorts, and jeans are never appropriate for a wedding.

What to wear as wedding guest if you don t like dresses? ›

Jumpsuits. A jumpsuit is a super chic option – it still gives that all-in-one effect that a dress does. A halterneck style can give a particularly lengthening look, especially when teamed with heels.

What is too casual for a wedding? ›

Avoid jeans, shorts, tank tops, and tennis shoes, unless the invitation specifically says otherwise. Sandals are tricky, as some might consider them too casual for an event like a wedding, while others say sandals are the obvious choice for casual beach nuptials.

Do you have to wear a long dress to a black tie wedding? ›

For a formal event, a full-length gown is the standard. Anything that hits above the knee would be a cocktail dress better worn to a semi-formal event. With that said, you can get away with a dress that doesn't graze the floor, but to look appropriate for the formal occasion, go for calf-length or longer.

Can you wear any color dress to a black tie wedding? ›

What Colors Are Appropriate for a Black-Tie Wedding? All colors are fair game except white, off-white, or anything else that's even close to white.

Can you wear black to a wedding? ›

"It is perfectly acceptable and chic to wear black to evening, black tie, and winter weddings." Ryncarz agrees that it's wise to gauge the attire of the wedding attendants. "When wearing black to a wedding, keep the outfit in line with the dressiness of the bridal party and wedding as a whole," she suggests.

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

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.

What does black tie optional mean for a wedding? ›

What is Black-Tie Optional Attire? “Black-tie optional dress codes are a desire from the couple for everyone to dress up,” says Gonzalez-Ramirez. “Men are not required to wear tuxes, but it's a plus if they do. Women should wear full-length dresses, but if someone is wearing a cocktail dress, it would be acceptable.”

How do you say no plus one on an invitation? ›

Add a section saying “We have reserved __ seat(s) in your honour”, and fill in this gap with the number of people you're inviting. For example, if you're inviting your cousin Mary and she's not allowed to bring a guest, you should write “1 seat”.

How do you tell someone they can't bring a plus one? ›

Be sure your tone isn't going to make her defensive — delivery is everything. Politely say, “Unfortunately, your desire to bring a guest can't be accommodated this time, but I am looking forward to seeing you at the event.”

What is a smart casual dress code? ›

Smart casual includes items like blazers, sports jackets, dresses, sweaters, trousers, khakis, skirts, blouses, button-down shirts, polos, dress shoes, boots, heels, flats, scarves and jewelry.

How do you say casual attire on a wedding invitation? ›

"We ask that you wear semi-formal attire such as a cocktail-length dress or dressy separates for women and a suit and tie for men. Please note that the venue does not permit blue jeans or sneakers." "The dress code is Dressy Casual Attire.

How do you ask wedding guests not to wear a certain color? ›

Be Clear and Concise

If you want them to stay within a certain color palette, be sure to list out the acceptable colors and even provide a picture of them! If you want them to avoid certain colors, for example, the bridal colors, so guests don't end up looking like accidental bridesmaids, be clear about that as well.

Is it OK to wear a dress to a wedding that is the same color as the 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 you wear blush to a wedding? ›

Is pink appropriate for a wedding?” There's no rule here, but it depends on the shade of pink. 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.

Can you wear red or black 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.”

Should I wear my hair up or down for wedding guest? ›

"If you are wearing a strapless dress, either hair down or half up, half down will look pretty and feminine while still showing off the neckline," advises Mar. Loose waves and a soft, flowing style is key. If your dress has a higher neckline, our pro says to consider an updo.

Can you wear a floral dress to a black tie wedding? ›

Florals will always be in style and they make a great pattern for wedding black tie dresses. Floral patterns are romantic and while they're great options for spring and summer, they look gorgeous in every season.

Can you wear a cocktail dress to a black tie event? ›

A full-length dress or a fancy cocktail dress will be just fine. Avoid black and white dresses and stick to colours such as navy, champagne or prints.

Can I wear a tea length dress to a black tie event? ›

It's acceptable to wear a tea-length dress to a black-tie wedding, so long as it feels elevated enough and hits mid-calf or below. Opt for something with elegant embellishments (we're big fans of beading) and stick with darker hues.

Is it OK to wear a short dress to a black tie optional wedding? ›

Short dresses – Adult women should not wear short dresses to black tie optional affairs. Opt for at least a mid-length gown or a longer cocktail dress. Anything overly-casual – Sneakers, t-shirts, sundresses, and anything else that you might think to wear on a normal day, don't.

Can you wear a short dress to a formal event? ›

Yes, you can wear short dresses to formal events! Just be sure to choose a style that is appropriate for the occasion. No matter what you choose, you'll look great as long as you feel confident in your outfit. Looking for similar fashion advice that you can use in all facets of your life?

What skin tones look bad in black? ›

Light Skin with Cool Undertones

Be careful when wearing too much Black or Navy, which can easily overwhelm. Or, look for clothing that is pastel in color, which will perfectly complement your very pale features.

What do female guests wear to weddings? ›

Women are expected to wear a full length gown that is formal and covers their ankles. A formal pantsuit can also be a great option.

What guests don't care about at wedding? ›

Here are 6 things your wedding guests do NOT care about:
  • Professional Wedding Website. We are in favor of keeping it classy and professional, but when it comes to your wedding website, your guests aren't necessarily looking for something fancy. ...
  • Bouquet Toss or Garter Toss. ...
  • The Guest Book. ...
  • Wedding Favors. ...
  • Long Reception.
Jun 16, 2021

What should you avoid in a wedding? ›

By avoiding these fashion faux-pas, you will make a tasteful fashion statement and show respect for the bride and groom.
  • White. ...
  • Denim or Jeans. ...
  • All Black. ...
  • Sparkly Cocktail Dresses. ...
  • Distressed Clothes. ...
  • Something That Mimics the Bridesmaids' Dresses. ...
  • Rompers. ...
  • A Ball Gown or Prom Dress.
May 31, 2018

Can I wear whatever I want to a wedding? ›

According to etiquette expert Lisa Grotts, there's not much a couple can do about what guests wear to their wedding other than state the dress code on the invitation. “If the guests and couple are close friends, they will respect the dress code.

Can you wear a simple dress to a wedding? ›

A plain white dress or white top and skirt are not generally acceptable, particularly in any formal style. Avoid ivory, off-white and light beige, too. However, it is okay to wear a patterned outfit that includes other colors along with white. Wedding colors are not necessarily off-limits, either.

Is it normal to have a dress code at a wedding? ›

Formal attire may be the most common, but there are plenty of other dress codes that may appear on a wedding invitation. Formal, semi-formal, and casual are a bit more ambiguous than, say, black-tie, and it can be difficult for guests to settle on the level of formality they want to go for.

How much do you give for a casual wedding? ›

As a rule of thumb, you can give $50-$500 as a single guest, depending on your relationship to the couple. For a casual guest who might not be making a ton of money, $75 should be sufficient.

What is dressy casual for a woman? ›

"This is where you're thinking more light colors and casual materials," she says, versus fancier fare like satin and sparkles. You can wear things that are a little more flowy, and even bold prints are acceptable. "That really cute sundress or maxi dress is a great example of dressy casual,” Swann says.

Can a woman wear a short dress to a black tie event? ›

A black-tie optional dress code gives guests a couple of formal options to choose from. Men are requested to wear a tuxedo, but can opt for a dark suit. Women can choose either a formal evening gown, a shorter cocktail dress, or dressy separates.

What is the difference between black tie dress code and black tie optional? ›

Black-tie weddings imply the need for a black tuxedo or full-length gown, but black-tie optional wedding attire means you do not need a black suit. Black-tie optional attire is still an invitation to wear traditional black-tie outfits if you wish.

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

A black tie dress code calls for a look that is of elegance and sophistication and there's no rules against wearing a jumpsuit to a black tie event! We recommend a gorgeous floor length suit for your black tie occasion as this is the perfect alternative to a floor length gown.

What is smart casual attire for ladies? ›

For women, this means that items such as a classic two-piece suit or corporate dresses can be avoided. To nail the smart casual look, choose items such as: Tops: Neutral or colourful and/or print blouses and shirts, smart cardigans in dressy fabrics such as crepe knit, silk button up shirts or collared shirts.

Does a woman have to wear a long dress to a black tie wedding? ›

Simply put, black-tie attire is typically reserved for formal evening events. Guests are required to choose floor-length gowns and suits or tuxedos when attending this type of celebration, as this is the most formal dress code after white-tie attire.

What is black tie attire for a woman 2023? ›

Guests attending a black-tie wedding typically wear floor-length evening gowns. Formal dresses in black and navy are also a popular choice for black-tie weddings as are gowns with allover embellishments.

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

Pants are commonly accepted as black tie dress if they're palazzo cut, which means wide-legged and loose. This can also be in the form of a classy-looking tailored jumpsuit in a standout block hue.

Can I wear a little black dress to a black tie optional wedding? ›

Unlike a traditional black tie dress code, no colors are off limits (except white, of course), so choose something that reflects the wedding and makes you feel your best! For black tie optional weddings that take place in colder months or in the evening, darker colors are typically the way to go.

Can you wear sequins to a black tie wedding? ›

A floor length gown is the most suitable choice for a black tie event, and a black colour is a classic choice for the occasion. Don't be afraid to try other colours or even different textures like metallic fabric, sequins or beading that will add extra glamour to your ensemble.

Can I wear a floral dress to a black tie event? ›

All About Florals

Florals will always be in style and they make a great pattern for wedding black tie dresses. Floral patterns are romantic and while they're great options for spring and summer, they look gorgeous in every season.

Is a jumpsuit dressy enough for a wedding? ›

Are jumpsuits appropriate to wear to a wedding? Absolutely! Jumpsuits are an appropriate and stylish choice for any type of dress code and wedding.

Can you be overdressed for a black tie wedding? ›

Traditionally a black tie wedding takes place after 5:30 p.m., necessitating evening attire like a tuxedo or long gown. It's fancy and you can't really be too overdressed (just don't wear a floor-length white gown)," she says.

What is smart casual dress 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.


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