A Guide To Wedding Guest Attire By Dress Code

June 14th, 2022 Wedding Ideas, Tips and Inspiration

Wedding Guest Attire Options By Dress Code

Receiving a wedding invitation is exciting, but oftentimes you’re then faced with the challenge of deciphering the dress code that’s given. 

The language used to describe the appropriate type of attire for the event may leave a lot to be desired, especially if you don’t attend these occasions often. Oftentimes, the invite may include specific examples, but you may still have questions on what’s acceptable. So, if you don’t know your “black tie optional” from your “dressy casual,” here are some guidelines to get you on the right track and some outfit ideas to boot.

Wedding Dress Codes Explained

Wedding invites often include specific dress codes that the couple is requesting guests to follow. Here are some of the dress codes you may see: 

  • White Tie (uncommon for modern weddings) 

  • Black Tie

  • Formal or Black Tie Optional

  • Creative Black Tie or Festive Formal 

  • Semi Formal 

  • Dressy Casual 

  • Beach Formal 

  • Daytime

We provide further details on each of these attire types below. 

White Tie

A white tie wedding is the most formal wedding attire of the lot. Traditionally, this means floor-length gowns for women and tuxedos for men. Suits often include tails and a white dress shirt is commonly found underneath. 

This is an appropriate time for women to wear opera-length gloves, either in white or color-coordinated with the dress, but the addition of gloves is optional. Men are also encouraged to have a set of gloves in either white or gray for the affair.

Dress shoes that best match a gown or suit should be chosen and finer jewelry is often worn to the event. It’s important to note that wearing a watch can be considered inappropriate during a white tie affair, as it suggests you are watching the time because there might be somewhere else you’d rather be. Limit any bags to only a small clutch, and make sure hair and makeup choices reflect the formal nature of the event.

Black Tie

Black tie weddings are also highly formal, though they provide more flexibility than their white tie counterparts. Black tie weddings are still an evening affair, and men are still typically expected to wear a tuxedo, but there is no need to wear gloves. Women get additional options aside from full-length formal gowns in that upscale cocktail dresses, dressy separates, and formal “little black dresses” can be appropriate.

The most important part for women is that regardless of the length, the gown should be formal. When in doubt, consider whether the look would be appropriate when pictured next to a tuxedo. If it doesn’t seem to fit that level of attire, then it is best to consider other options.

Formal and Black Tie Optional

Formal attire for a wedding is common, but what does it mean? An invitation that states there’s a formal dress code or black tie optional dress code can leave things feeling a bit ambiguous. 

However, finding options to fit this look may be a bit easier. Men can attend in tuxedos within the black tie dress standard or dark suits. Just as men are given the option to dress somewhat less formally, women can often select anything from a long dress to one that falls more into the cocktail dress category.

For both men and women, the look is still intended to be formal, so it is better to air on the side of slightly overdressed rather than under. But, don’t shy away from having a little more fun with the accessories, such as a statement necklace or an attention-grabbing shoe.

Creative Black Tie and Festive

The idea of a creative black tie or a festive formal event often leads to confusion when guests first read the request. However, this simply means it is encouraged to exhibit a little more personality when it comes to attire. The idea is to strike a balance between formal and fun.

In some cases, the creative or festive elements are designed to have guests dress based on the theme of a wedding. For example, if the bride and groom are having a 1920s-inspired wedding, then dressing festively means guests should wear attire that works with that theme. Similarly, a festive dress for winter weddings could include seasonally appropriate colors and even the sparkle of some beads and sequins.

Semi Formal

When an invitation requests semi-formal attire, it is often easier to think of it as cocktail attire or business formal. Men will traditionally wear a suit in a style that would apply to a more formal work environment. Women may choose pantsuits, jumpsuits or a similar work-appropriate dress.

In some cases if the word ‘casual’ is included, it even releases guests from the traditional suit and tie requirement. Men can wear slacks with a collared shirt while women may choose pants and a blazer or a pencil skirt and blouse. The key here, again, is not to aim too informal. And this means jeans, no matter how nice, are simply a no-go.

Dressy Casual

Dressy casual is the first point where jeans may be an option. However, they should be in good repair and not overly worn or faded. Additionally, they should be dressed up with items like a sharp blazer or dressy blouse. Shoes should remain on the more formal side, as sneakers or anything similarly casual would be inappropriate.

Beach Formal

A ceremony on the beach automatically means certain formal attire is likely not required, as it is understood that beach wedding attire needs to be appropriate for the sand and surf guests will encounter. 

However, that doesn’t mean jeans and t-shirts with flip-flops are going to fly. Since it’s located on a beach, remember you will be up against the elements. Men could choose a summer suit (no ties required) that works with sandals – while women could select a dressier sundress or midi dress that can be tea or knee-length with a flat sandal.


A daytime event is typically less formal than an evening wedding. This means, unless a specific attire is requested, you’re likely attending a casual wedding. Think of an outfit that would be suitable for a country club or similar environment.

Women tend to have a lot of options to work with including mid-length and tea-length dresses, rompers, skirts, and more. Floral prints and other patterns are common along with fun shoes and accessories. For men, shirts with collars including button downs and polos are appropriate. Both short and long-sleeve shirts will do as long as they’re tucked in. For bottoms, slacks such as khakis or gray pants, accompanied by boat shoes or dress shoes can work.

Often, you can take cues from the environment in which the ceremony will take place. A church ceremony followed by an indoor reception may suggest a more formal approach than a garden wedding with an outdoor reception.

Where to Get More Information

If you receive a wedding invitation and aren’t sure what attire is appropriate, you may want to consider getting more information. However, try not to call the bride or groom (they have enough on their plate). Instead, see if a member of the wedding party can help because they will often have a good understanding of what the couple is requesting.

If there are no specifics about attire on the invitation, use your best judgment and ask the bridal party questions if needed. 

Ready to find your perfect wedding guest dress? Visit one of our Val Stefani authorized retailers today to find your look!

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