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Top 8 Wedding Dress Codes Explained

Wedding guest in black tie dress code

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According to one Wedding Wire user: I appreciate couples that put the dress code on their website. The only thing I don’t like about dress codes are the made up WTF do they mean dress codes. Last year we went to a “Rustic Formal” wedding. We were overdressed.

With all the different styles and ways to have weddings today, wedding dress codes can have guests scratching their heads confused as to what to wear. We’ve got you covered in this article, where we outline all the possible dress codes you might be asked to follow, with examples on how to dress for them.

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Wedding dress codes explained infographic

1- White Tie Wedding Dress Code

This is the most formal of all the dress codes, and if your wedding invitation dress code states ‘White Tie’ you know the wedding is going to be royal-level fancy. Be prepared to go all out for this one. White tie is also called full evening dress.

For Ladies: Formal evening dress, extending to the floor. For accessories, consider heels, a stylish clutch and jewelry. Add evening length gloves for extra sophistication and formality.

For Men: Wear a black dress coat with coat tails, a formal white starched shirt, a white vest and bow tie with white/gray gloves and formal footwear.

2- Black Tie Wedding Dress Code

The second most formal wedding dress code, black tie indicates that the wedding is going to be a formal evening event. There are several variations to the black tie dress code:

  • Creative black tie – black tie with some color and statement accessories
  • Black tie optional – you’re encouraged to wear black tie but not enforced

Note that you don’t have to literally wear a black tie, although traditionally men would wear a black bow tie for this dress code.

For Ladies: Evening floor length gown, cocktail dress and stylish pant suits are all perfect. Accessorize with heels, fancy flats jewelry and a clutch.  

For Men: Wear a tuxedo, with or without a bow tie

3- Black Tie Optional /Formal Wedding Dress Code

Black tie optional, also known as formal, gives guests a little leeway and more choice when dressing. The idea is that black tie is encouraged but you can still where something just a little less formal than black tie and it’d still be acceptable. For women, the ‘optional’ part isn’t really applicable, as the options for black tie and black tie optional are the same.

For Ladies: The same options for black tie is applicable here too.

For Men: Tuxedo is optional, and a formal suit is also acceptable

4- Semiformal, Cocktail Attire or Dressy Casual Wedding Dress Code

These three terms refer to the same thing – a balance between formal and casual. For this kind of dress code, consider the timing of the event as well as the venue. Typically, bright and breathable fabrics are ideal for daytime ceremonies while darker colors suit evening ceremonies.

 For Ladies: Stylish separates, cocktail dress (knee length or shorter) and pantsuits are all perfect options. A little black dress is also a choice option. Avoid long evening gowns as these could make you look overdressed. Choose your shoes to match the venue and opt for a stylish and dressy pair.

For Men:  A suit and tie is required, preferably in dark colors with a white or light-colored shirt for evening events. For daytime events, you can opt for lighter colors and more patterns for your shirt. Pick a tie to complete the look.

5- Festive Attire Wedding Dress Code

This new wedding dress code can cause some confusion but it’s pretty simple. All you have to do is pick out something fun and creative for your wedding guest attire to reflect the holidays. The idea behind this wedding dress code is to encourage guests to express themselves through colors and accessories. It’s basically cocktail attire with a touch of the holidays.

For Ladies: Stylish separates or cocktail dress (knee length or shorter) in fun and playful colors to reflect the holidays. Pick colorful accessories and stylish shoes.

For Men:  A suit and tie is recommended with a fun tie and pocket square.  

6- Casual Wedding Dress Code

A casual wedding dress code hints at a relaxed ceremony and outdoor venue, like the beach, a backyard or a farm, for example. However, casual doesn’t mean shorts, flip flops, sneakers, jeans and tube tops. Unless this has been specifically mentioned on the invitation or wedding website, opt for something relaxed yet classy.

For Ladies: Summer dress in breathable fabrics, with flats, wedges or dressy sandals.

For Men:  A collared, linen shirt with dress or khaki pants

7- Themed Wedding Dress Code

Themed weddings are becoming popular because they allow the couple to build a fun and creative atmosphere without getting too serious about their nuptials. Some popular wedding themes include Disney, Gatsby, animals and adventure.

For Ladies: As outlined by the couple

For Men:  As outlined by the couple

8- Beach Formal Wedding Dress Code

This is a confusing one as you don’t tend to see this dress code often. It’s also sometimes called dressy resort or island chic. A beach formal dress code is used for beach wedding venues, indicating that the ceremony will be taking place outdoors. The reason this dress code exists is to let people know that they should dress to suit the beach venue, considering wind, sand and water while at the same time looking nice and dressed up.

For Ladies: Summer dresses or jumpsuits in comfortable fabrics with matching accessories and practical yet dressy shoes.

For Men:  Summer suits, linen pants or khakis with a comfortable collared linen or cotton dress shirt.

Some Other Things to Bear in Mind

While dress codes help guide you as to what to wear, it’s important to remember some other etiquette for wedding guest attire that won’t be on the dress code. These are social faux pas that guests should try to avoid.

  1. Don’t underdress for a wedding, even if the dress code says casual. Items of clothing like shorts, tank tops, jeans, tube tops, rompers, flip flops and so on aren’t wedding attire, unless you’ve been specifically asked to come in those. It’s always better to be a little overdressed than underdressed so leave the sweatpants at home.
  2. Keep it classy even though you’re going to have fun and probably dance late into the night. A wedding is a family affair and there’ll be older people and sometimes kids, so you want to come across as stylish and classy.
  3. If the ceremony is at a church or other religious place, it might be appropriate to dress modestly, perhaps covering your shoulders. Double check this if you aren’t sure, as some religious places have certain unspoken dress codes.
  4. Wearing white to a wedding is a major faux pas and one that can cause embarrassment. It can be seen as rude and trying to upstage the bride. Unless the couple have specifically asked all the guests to wear white, for whatever reason, avoid wearing this color.

So, there you have it – the top wedding dress codes explained and what not to wear as a wedding guest. Good luck finding the right wedding guest attire for your next wedding!