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)
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 should you dress as a guest at a wedding? ›
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.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."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 are people wearing to weddings in 2022? ›
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 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.
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 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 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.
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.
While it's not uncommon these days to see dress codes like “barnyard chic” or “beach formal” (both actual dress codes to weddings I have been invited to), the most common dress codes are the following: Casual. Smart Casual. Business Casual.How do you tell wedding guests to wear black? ›
If you're asking guests to wear black to your wedding, the best way to do it is to be specific about what you would like them to wear. You can send out invitations with a black-and-white dress code, or even better, include a link to a specific black dress or tuxedo that you would like them to wear.What does semi formal mean for a wedding? ›
Semi formal wedding attire sits at the sweet spot between understated dressy and elevated casual. It's also commonly referred to as “dressy casual” — which can be viewed as a weekend version of business casual. Think: flowy dresses, simple suit jackets, and timeless silhouettes.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.What is elegant dress code? ›
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.What is smart dress code for ladies? ›
What is a smart casual dress code for women? 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's fancier than black tie? ›
White tie is the most formal of all dress codes. It is specified for highly special occasions, such as balls, galas, and weddings, when even black tie won't do. Like all dress codes, it involves a series of outfit rules to which you must adhere.What do I wear to a 4pm wedding? ›
In general, daytime weddings are more casual, so lighter fabrics, festive colors, and less-formal attire is the rule. For women, a nice daytime dress, skirt, top, or jumpsuit are good choices. For men, a well-tailored suit in a mid-to-dark neutral color like gray, blue, or charcoal is appropriate.What color should you not wear to a wedding in 2022? ›
Don't Wear White
It's also best to avoid colors that are white adjacent like light gray or super pale pastels. You never know what those shades will look like in the lighting of the venue so it's better to play it safe and pick a more saturated hue.
- 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.
Don't wear revealing clothing.
Women should take care that their tops are not too low, their skirts are not too high, and that the dress is not too tight. If you cannot sit or bend over without adjusting your clothing, it is probably too revealing.
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.Is it OK to 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.”Can you wear pink to a wedding as a guest? ›
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.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.What is a smart casual dress code? ›
Smart casual is a dress code (dressing style) that combines “smart wear” such as business attire with “casual wear” such as informal clothes and even streetwear. On the spectrum of formality, smart casual lies between business casual (dress pants and pencil skirts) and dressy casual (jeans and blouses).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 a long dress too formal for a wedding? ›
For a more formal wedding, it is typically expected that female guests wear a long dress. But instead of breaking out the gown you wore to prom, try wearing a more appropriate evening gown. If the wedding is during the day, a pretty maxi dress should do the trick.Can I wear a short dress to a formal wedding? ›
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.
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 black to a wedding 2022? ›
Whatever You Do, Don't Wear White
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.
"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. As long as the event calls for a particular level of formality and you won't upstage the couple or the wedding party, it's safe to wear black to the wedding.What is an example of dress code? ›
For example, we may require employees to wear semi-formal attire for an event. Then, both male and female employees should wear suits, ties, white shirts and appropriate shoes. Our company may also introduce [dress-down Friday] when employees can wear more casual clothing like jeans, simple blouses and boots.What is not acceptable for dress code? ›
Dirty or wrinkled clothing. Tight-fitting or revealing clothing. Too casual, such as yoga pants, overalls, flip flops or shorts. T-shirts with inappropriate messages or offensive content.
Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it is illegal for an employer to discriminate against any individual under the protected category of sex. “A dress code could require women to wear bras in theory, but only if it was equally expensive or burdensome for men to do so,” Scafidi said.What does after 6 attire mean? ›
If the event is held in the evening (after 6 p.m.), the semiformal guidelines lean more toward the formal than if it were held during the day. Semiformal attire is typically worn to weddings, holiday parties, and to fine restaurants.Why is 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 your dress code says about you? ›
Clothes reflect who you are, how you feel at the moment and sometimes even what you want to achieve in life? Always remember whatever you wear should reflect the real you. Your dressing sense reflects your personality, character, mood, style and what actually you are as an individual.What was the first dress code? ›
School Dress Code Laws
The first school dress code law was established in 1969 by the U.S. Supreme Court. The case, known as Tinker vs. Des Moines Independent School District, involved several high school students who wore black armbands to school in a planned protest against the Vietnam War.
What does dressy casual mean? It's a way to describe an overall aesthetic that is basically not-all-the-way-formal-but-please-don't-wear-jean-shorts. Swann explains that dressy casual is typically requested for daytime weddings—and the earlier the event, the less formal the attire.How do you ask for a party dress code? ›
If a dress code request is unclear, delicately ask the host for further explanation. "You can say, 'I wanted to check in on the dress code' or ask what people will be wearing and offer what you were thinking of," suggests Lockard. "Just ask for clarification."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.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.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.What are the four different types of dress code? ›
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.
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 elegant dress code? ›
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.What is the main purpose of dress code? ›
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 an example of dress code? ›
For example, we may require employees to wear semi-formal attire for an event. Then, both male and female employees should wear suits, ties, white shirts and appropriate shoes. Our company may also introduce [dress-down Friday] when employees can wear more casual clothing like jeans, simple blouses and boots.
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.How do you tell someone they are not dressed appropriately? ›
Always speak in private
Don't make the mistake of criticising anyone for their inappropriate clothing in front of the whole office. Instead ask to speak to the person privately – you don't want to embarrass them. If necessary make sure a colleague is in the office with you as a witness.
Suits and Dresses
A suit or tailored dress is the most professional attire. Choosing a conservative, classic style is usually a good rule because it is versatile (appropriate in an interview and in many professional settings) and a good investment.
Some example of the types of attire that would be inappropriate for our business environment include: tank, halter, tube, midriff, and spaghetti-strap tops or camisoles; strapless dresses; revealing attire; T-shirts; spandex or other form fitting pants (i.e. stretch pants or leggings); skorts or shorts; blue denim ...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 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.What is another way to say dress code? ›
|dress policy||rules on attire|
|acceptable attire||acceptable dress|
|dress requirements||standards on dress|
|specifications on dress||requirements on attire|