What to Wear to a Wedding
Wedding guest attire guidelines can be tricky, but we’ll decode the dress codes for what to wear to a casual wedding, a beach wedding, a semi-formal wedding, and the most formal events.
When your next wedding invitation arrives, guests typically get all the details of who, when, and where – but the specifics of the other “w”s–namely, what to wear to a wedding are sometimes left for guests to interpret between the lines.
Wedding Guest Attire Guidelines
In general, daytime weddings are more casual, and so lighter fabrics, festive colors, and less-formal attire is the rule. For omen, a nice daytime dress, skirt or jumpsuit. For men, a well-tailored suit in a mid-to-dark neutral color like gray, blue, or charcoal is appropriate. For evening weddings, more formal styles, longer dresses and gowns special occasion fabrics are appropriate. Men should wear darker suits in navy. black, gray. ( Although sometimes a white dinner jacket or tuxedo in a fun color, can work too! We’ll go into more detail!)
What Not To Wear
The standard rules of being well-dressed for a wedding still apply. Please don’t wear white or off white dresses And of course, don’t wear anything too short or revealing, don’t look unkempt or wrinkled. But even after those general guidelines, there can still be many gray areas. We’ll go in to much more detail below!
A Visual Guide: Wedding Dress Codes Decoded
Why Follow the Wedding Dress Code?
It is a sign of respect for the couple and the event to get dressed up for a wedding, and your attire should always be respectful, conservative, and appropriate. But keep in mind, the rules of etiquette were designed to help one feel more at ease and comfortable in all social situations. So simply remember your cheerful presence at the wedding is what counts here, and you’re likely to have a good time no matter what you decide to wear.
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Quickly find attire for your next wedding by dress code, or read below for the guidelines of what to wear!
If both the wedding ceremony and reception will start and end before 5, it’s a daytime wedding! Morning or early afternoon weddings are usually slightly more casual. (But if your invite still requests formal attire, then certainly defer to that! )
In general, lighter colors and more casual styles and fabrics like floral prints, soft chiffons, and even cottons will work for daytime casual or dressy casual weddings. Here’s a bit more decoding the daytime dress code
While this type of dressing sounds the most relaxed, it can also be the most open-ended, and, therefore, sometimes the most mystifying! The venue may help you better determine the best level of formality –or lack thereof. Usually this casual style is reserved for a morning or daytime wedding in an outdoor or informal venue.
For Women: A skirt and top or nice pants with a pretty top, and a casual sundress or casual cocktail would certainly be appropriate.
For Men: If it’s a very casual event, just a nice collared or button down shirt in a short or long sleeve, worn with a tie, and some dress pants might suffice. However, unless it’s a casual outdoor wedding or a beach wedding, usually little more formality is good. If you’re sure it’s casual enough that a full suit isn’t required, try a navy or subtly patterned blazer and dress pants with a crisp collared shirt with no tie, or if you forgo that tie, vest, and shirt can work. After all, it’s a wedding, and still calls for a little more formality. So err on the side of being overdressed; it’s easy enough to take off the tie or blazer if you feel like you’ve gone overboard.
For the Feet: Heeled or structured sandals (not flip-flops) for footwear for women are fine, and dress shoe like a loafer or similar style would be nice for men. Sneakers or sneaker-like shoes should be avoided.
What not to wear: jeans, tank tops, t-shirts, stretchy pants, cargo shorts, flip-flops and athletic clothing would still be a poor choice, unless specifically approved.
It is almost always better to err slightly on the side of being overdressed, so dress as you would for meeting with clients in a business casual setting. And, if you accidentally go dressed too casually, as long as you have a smile on and your best manners, you’ll probably be just fine. Find a casual wedding look, and check out The Wedding Guest Boutique
Some Favorite Casual Wedding Guest Attire Styles
This style of wedding sounds soothing and peaceful at first, but can be very intimidating to dress for. Again, let the venue, weather, season and time of day be your guide. Are you headed to the local State Beach at sunset for an informal exchange of vows, or are you going to be at a four-star hotel’s private beach club, with elegant cabanas and white-gloved waiters surrounding you?
If it’s the former, wearing approximately the same thing as a casual wedding – but with a beachy twist and beach appropriate fabrics should be fine.
Women can also wear a beachy look with a linen or cotton shirt and nice pants, or a pretty, light, flowy skirt, tunic dress, or casual sundress.
Men can wear a festive linen shirt, a cotton short-sleeved shirt or button down, or a tasteful tropical printed shirt. I’d pair this with dress pants in linen, cotton, or twill, or – if you have the knees, socks, and courage for it– Bermuda shorts.
If it’s the more formal venue, women can wear a sundress, a casual maxi dress, or beachy-but-elegant skirt and top, and make the look a little bit dressier with some dazzling accessories.
At a more formal beach affair, men’s shirts should be of an elegant linen, or crisp cotton. A summer suit or sport coat in a madras or seersucker or linen would fit well here. A tie is not required, but some of the lovely preppy or beachy print ties would certainly look wonderful, just be sure to wear them with a shirt with a full length sleeve.
Because of the sand, you’ll want to wear flat shoes with some grip in case there’s a slippery rock step or two for you to navigate. Or, be prepared to swap out your heels for some flip flops, and then change back if you find yourself on solid ground again.
Find attire for a beach wedding guest, or check out The Wedding Guest Boutique
Some current favorite beach wedding guest dresses and styles:
This designation is bit of a contradiction but if you combine elements that are little bit dressy with casual you should be just fine.
For instance, a cotton dress in a formal cut will work, or a chiffon dress made in a casual style would also be fine. Overall, I take this dressing designation to mean more festive, elegant attire. Casual fabrics like cotton or knits are acceptable here if the overall style of dress is correct. The time of day and venue again will be a good guide here. If it’s daytime, then a sundress would be fine. If it’s evening, then wear cocktail-esque attire in darker, richer colors, and fabrics like silk or satin in a casual length and cut. Make it dressy with more accessories and a simple dress. Find a Dressy Casual look or check out The Wedding Guest Dress Boutique
This style label brings me back to school semi-formal homecoming dance, but the style of dress gives me less anxiety than those dances did!
In my view, semi-formal dress is an evening style of dress with formal fabrics like a satin, chiffon, silk, and a bit of beading. A rich fabric like velvet or velveteen in the winter months would also be very nice.
Generally, the dress length would be cocktail length—in other words, just above, or at the knee; or a little longer. A tea length, or a longer, ankle-skimming hemline–like a maxi slip dress would also be fine, as long as it is not an overly formal silhouette or material–save those dresses for the fully formal wedding invites you receive!
Favorite Semi Formal Styles
Black Tie Optional Dress Code
This one is such a mind game sometimes! Assume that the wedding party will be wearing formal attire, but the guests need not exactly meet that level of formality
For the women, a dressy cocktail dress, jumpsuit or sleek pantsuit, or a long formal dress or long skirt and top is appropriate here. You can see more details below in Black Tie required.
For male guests, if you or your date is like James Bond, George Clooney, or some other an elegant man who owns his own tuxedo–and has it at the ready or is a person who particularly enjoys bringing these accouterments out for these occasions–by all means wear black tie. However, there will be probably many other men in a dark suit and dark tie or bow tie and these gentlemen will look just as elegant and appropriate as the dapper tuxedo-wearing folks. Find a Black Tie Optional look or Find a black tie optional wedding guest dress.
Formal, to me, is nearly the same as black tie optional, but I also think this implies slightly less pressure for the men to wear a tuxedo. A dark navy or black suit, and crisp white shirt, with a dark, or neutral tie is appropriate here. Look at Formal Styling ideas or find a formal dress in The Boutique
Women should wear an elegant cocktail dress or full length dress, and beautiful jewelry or beautiful tastful costume jewelry with sparkling accessories are encouraged.
This one clears up any ambiguity for the men. In this case, a tuxedo in a dark color is in order with a vest, or cummerbund, or suspenders, and appropriate bow tie or tie. In some cases, a well-cut black suit and black tie will do!
Women should generally wear a full length gown for black tie, but those rules are changing. Many styles of types of mid-length, cocktail, or tiered skirt length are usually be appropriate if the material, cut, or embellishment is highly formal. A long or ball gown style skirt piared with a dressy top, is also a great look. If dresses aren’t your thing, a formal pantsuit or women’s style tuxedo or formal jumpsuit is also appropriate, especially if a skirt or gown isn’t part of your personal style. If you know it’s a very formal event, to be truly correct, full-length is the standard. Find a Black Tie Look or check out The Wedding Guest Dress Boutique
Favorite Formal Looks
This is the most formal type of wedding, so you should adhere to the rules on this one. I had to consult Emily Post again on this, since these types of weddings are rare in my life.
Women should wear a floor-length, formal evening gown (No cocktail length dresses here!)
Men should wear a tailcoat with white vest, white shirt, and tie with white gloves (gray is an acceptable choice as well), and fine black shoes without laces. Find a White Tie Look or check out The Boutique
Cultural Attire at a Wedding
If the wedding party will be wearing some sort of cultural dress that is not your own culture–for instance, kilts or saris you could wear something that might blend to that, as long as you are sure you are not appropriating cultural dress.
For instance, if you know the groomsmen will be wearing kilts, perhaps wearing a tie with a bit of plaid is a way to join in, without upstaging the attire of wedding party. If you were attending an Indian wedding, but not specifically asked to wear a sari, perhaps wearing some Indian-inspired jewelry or a rich-jewel tone dress would be a nice way to be festive, again without detracting from the bridesmaids’ rich attire, or mis-appropriating cultural dress.
If your own religion or heritage states that you wear a certain type of dress to an occasion, as long as you’re sure it’s in keeping with the event and won’t cause offense or detract from the event, then I’m sure most couples would welcome this expression of respect and festivity. I’m eager to hear first-hand stories on cultural dress, so if anyone has experience here, please let me know.
Getting More Information on What to Wear if the Invitation is Vague
If the invitation is vague, more information on what to wear can also be gleaned from the wedding party, since they likely know the attire in advance.
I think it’s nice not to request this information directly from the bride or groom unless you are already communicating daily. The bride and groom have so much going on already, and one of the roles of the wedding party is to support and attend to other details –like assisting guests with questions.
How To Find Out the Wedding Dress Code
If you know and trust the guidance of a member of the wedding party, go that route if you can. Attending the showers, bachelorette parties, and the text messages that surround them are good avenues for getting in touch with the bridal party. Talking to them will also help to ensure you pick a dress that is complimentary to the wedding theme, but not the same exact dress as the wedding party. It’s an easy mistake to make, since many guests and bridesmaids shopping at similar stores.
If you are a total stranger to the couple (perhaps a date of a friend of the betrothed) who has no contact with anyone before the wedding, then you might call the venue if it is a hotel or restaurant and see what type of dress is appropriate, with the caveat that you never know who might be guiding you there, and how rushed they may be when talking to you.
Another idea is to bring a few easily-packed accessories that will either dress up or dress down your core outfit. Then, just adjust once you find out how everyone else is dressed.
Again, no matter how you are dressed, be sure to enjoy yourself!
Editor’s credits: The foundations of this article were written a bit from what has been ingrained in me, along with my own gleanings from weddings I’ve attended, with a few checks at EmilyPost.com and Martha Stewart Weddings.com , to make sure my information is mostly in alignment with their always-wise advice.
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