wedding guests

Wedding Dress Codes Explained

Your Complete Guide to Wedding Guest Attire

1. Black Tie

This dress code is pretty straightforward for men, as the name tips you off to wearing a tuxedo. Preferably black with a classic bow tie. However, in recent years there have been many variations on the classic black shawl collar tuxedo. For women, it's a little less specific. Usually, this formality is an event for a formal floor-length gown. Sometimes, if the wedding is a little less formal, a cocktail dress or pantsuit can be on point.

wedding attire


2. Black Tie Optional or Formal

This dress code can be a little less formal than black tie. For men, while a tuxedo is always a great choice, a dark suit works too. For ladies, black-tie guidelines still work—if you’re opting for a cocktail dress or pantsuit, add some elegant accessories to ensure your outfit falls within the formal category.

3. Cocktail

Cocktail attire is the most common dress code people will encounter when it comes to weddings. Traditionally, cocktail attire is less formal but not in any way casual. For men, a suit is still appropriate, however, colors like charcoal or navy will work. For women, choose a pantsuit or dress which is still below the knee but not necessarily floor length. Think tea-length or knee-length. Today, more and more creative clothing options are becoming acceptable—so have a little fun with your cocktail fashion!

Today, more and more creative clothing options are becoming acceptable—so have a little fun with your cocktail fashion!

4. Semi-Formal, Smart Casual, or Festive

When figuring out this dress code, look at the time of day. For an evening event, choose darker colors and lean a little more toward the cocktail attire side. For a daytime event, choose lighter shades and pick more understated accessories. Festive attire is usually associated with a holiday wedding, especially New Year's Eve. It refers to cocktail or semi-formal attire with pops of holiday color or accessories.

5. Casual or Destination

This dress code blurs lines the most. Casual attire refers to informal and comfortable clothing, but also something that most people would consider professional attire. Destination attire will absolutely depend on the destination! You should dress differently for a ski lodge wedding than you do for a beach wedding. Think khakis or nice jeans, light button-downs, and sundresses, all depending on the climate.

Know Where to Start

Start with the wedding invitation for clues about how to dress. The date, time of day, and location of the wedding will give you many silent clues.

  • The Date: A weekday or Friday night wedding may be slightly less formal than a weekend event. Additionally, a holiday wedding may, depending on the invitation's style, give you a nod to some more festive clothing options.
  • Time of Day: An evening wedding is usually more formal than a daytime one.
  • Location: A wedding ceremony inside a house of worship will likely be more formal than a ceremony at a beachfront resort where the wedding ceremony could occur outside. Keep in mind that some areas of the country may dress more conservatively than others.
  • Occasionally, black tie or black tie optional may be included in the lower right-hand corner of a formal wedding invitation.
  • Look to the couple’s wedding website, if they have one, for additional information on the dress code. If you’re the couple getting married, this is the perfect place to share those helpful details.
  • If it’s an outdoor wedding, ladies should consider flats and wedges over heels that might get stuck in the grass.
  • A beach wedding might require a different dress code than a beachside wedding.


Hero photo courtesy of Eastlyn and Joshua, Featured in Casual-Chic Wedding in Jackson Hole


View the full feature in Volume 1 of The Aisle magazine.

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