A Guide To Wedding Guest Attire By Dress Code

March 31st, 2017 Wedding Ideas, Tips and Inspiration

Wedding Dress Codes Demystified: Choosing the Right Attire

At some point in our lives, most of us face a challenge that is only presented on wedding invitations: deciphering the dress code. Often, the language used to describe the appropriate type of attire for the event leaves a lot to be desired, especially if you don’t attend these sorts of occasions often. 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.

White Tie

A white tie wedding is the most formal of the lot. Traditionally, this means floor-length gowns for women and tuxedos for men. This is also 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. In fact, even men are encouraged to have a set of gloves in either white or gray for the affair.

Women also need to select shoes that best match the gown and should select some of their finer jewelry for the event. It is also 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 may be somewhere else you’d rather be. Limit any bags to only a small clutch, and make sure all 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 that 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 they should stay with formal dresses regardless of the length. 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 formal attire, then it is best to consider other options.

Formal and Black Tie Optional

An invitation that states the dress code is formal or black tie optional can leave things feeling a bit ambiguous. However, that doesn’t mean it is a challenging look to find. Men can attend in tuxedos within the black tie dress standard or in dark suits. Since 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 than under. But don’t shy away from having a little more fun with the accessories such as with 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 wedding 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 have the option of choosing attire that works with that theme. Similarly, festive dress for a wedding near the major winter holidays could include seasonally appropriate colors and even the sparkle of some sequins.


When a wedding invitation requests semiformal or dressy casual, it is often easier to think of it as a business formal event. Men will traditionally wear a suit in a style that would apply for a more formal work environment. Women may also choose pant suits or a similar, work appropriate dress.

In some cases, the casual 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 important part, 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 wedding on a beach automatically means certain formal attire is likely not required, as it is understood the 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 a beach wedding you will be up against the elements men should choose a summer suit (no ties required) that works with sandals while women should select a dressier sundress that can be tea or a knee length dress with a flat sandal.


A daytime wedding is typically less formal than an evening affair. This means, unless a specific attire is requested, it is often appropriate to lean casual, such as an outfit that would be suitable for a country club or similar environment.

Often, you can take cues from the environment in which the ceremony will take place. A church wedding 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 exactly 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 provide the clarity you need. Often, they have a good understanding of what the couple is going for and can provide you with an overview or what is being requested.

Ready to find your perfect wedding guest dress? Visit an authorized retailer today to get wedding ready!

A Guide To Wedding Guest Attire By Dress Code
A Guide To Wedding Guest Attire By Dress Code


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