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Wedding Guest Attire: What to Wear For Each Dress Code

Wedding dress codes are not as clear cut as people make them out to be. If you’re confused about what is appropriate to wear to a wedding, you’ve come to the right place! Here is everything you need to know about dressing for a wedding based on specific dress codes or wedding locations. 

White-Tie Wedding

Though their popularity has decreased significantly in recent years, a white-tie wedding is the most formal wedding attire option possible. For reference, white-tie events include stately dinners, royal ceremonies, balls and galas, and other formal gatherings. 

 

What She Should Wear

floor length ball gown

Women are expected to wear a floor length evening gown or even a lavish ball gown if they so choose. Dresses should always be formal. In terms of footwear, it is best to opt for high heels.

Moreover, women can wear opulent and striking jewelry. Additional items that are not required include a tiara and elbow length white gloves. Nothing is too much at a white tie affair.

 

What He Should Wear

man in full suit

Men are expected to wear black pants with a matching coat with tails that reach the backs of their knees and a formal white shirt with cufflinks. They must also wear a bow tie. Pre-tied or clip on bow ties are completely unacceptable.

Footwear must be formal and can include oxfords, derby shoes, or others of a similar style. Gloves are optional, but highly recommended. 

 

Black-Tie Wedding

Black-tie is one step down from white tie in terms of formality and is usually reserved for evening events. Though black-tie is less formal than white-tie, this kind of event will still have you dressing to the nines. 

 

What She Should Wear

floor length formal gown

When it comes to black-tie weddings, there is a bit more flexibility in terms of dress length. Women can choose to wear either a floor length gown or a formal, sophisticated cocktail dress.

If someone is concerned about the length of their dress, they should ask the couple what their expectations are. If the couple is not giving direction, opt for a longer dress to be on the safe side.

Another clothing option for those who prefer not to wear dresses is a stylish and elegant pantsuit. 

 

What He Should Wear

man in suit and bow tie

Men should wear a full tuxedo to a black-tie wedding. A full tuxedo can include tuxedo pants, a tuxedo jacket, a pleated dress shirt, a black bow tie, a cumberbund, and black patent leather oxfords.

The bow tie, cumberbund, and oxfords are optional, but highly encouraged in this scenario.

 

Formal or Black-Tie Optional

What falls under the category of “formal” varies from couple to couple. Formal attire can encompass white-tie or black-tie attire so you can choose to dress based on those dress codes.

Often many couples use formal as a way to describe clothing that is less formal than black-tie. If you are unsure whether the couple intends for you to dress less formal than black-tie, dressing more formal is always the safest option. 

 

What She Should Wear

formal floor length green dress

The dress code for women is either a floor length gown, a formal cocktail dress, or an elegant pantsuit. While the dress code is not much different from black-tie, formal and black-tie optional are much more relaxed in terms of dress length. 

 

What He Should Wear

dark formal suit

While a tuxedo is not required, it is a good option for a formal or black-tie optional wedding. It is the best choice if someone is worried about being underdressed.

Otherwise, men can wear a formal dark suit, white dress shirt, and a tie. 

 

Cocktail Attire Wedding

Cocktail attire is the next step down from formal and black-tie optional, and is one of the most popular options for weddings. Cocktail ensures that women do not have to wear floor length gowns and men do not have to wear tuxedos. 

 

What She Should Wear

nude cocktail dress

There are a few options for women in terms of cocktail appropriate attire. Depending on the desired dress length, women can either wear a midi dress, a knee length dress, or a tea length dress. A nice cocktail dress at any length will work, so long as the length is appropriate (no mini skirts!)

Again, pantsuits and jumpsuits are also great options for a wedding. 

 

What He Should Wear

blue and gold suit and tie

In lieu of a tuxedo, men are required to wear a classic suit and tie combination. Lean toward a darker colored suit in colder months and a lighter colored suit in warmer weather. The goal is to look professional and classy, but not too over the top and fancy. 

 

Semi-Formal Wedding

Semi-formal is another popular option for wedding dress attire. What you wear to a semi-formal wedding often depends on the time of day of the wedding. It is best to opt for darker colors for an evening affair and lighter colors for a daytime affair.

Be sure that your outfit falls somewhere between formal and casual, but is still elegant and tasteful. Men and women should avoid shorts, sneakers, and other casual articles of clothing. It is still a partially formal event after all. 

 

What She Should Wear

red jumpsuit

The outfit options are pretty flexible and include anything from a knee length dress or a jumpsuit to a nice blouse and skirt combination. It is not appropriate to wear a floor length gown because it is too formal and over the top. 

 

What He Should Wear

man in dress shirt and slacks

He should wear a dress shirt and slacks. A tie is optional, but helps to dress up the outfit and bring it together nicely. A jacket is not necessary because it makes the outfit more formal than it needs to be.

 

Casual Wedding

Casual implies that the event is likely being held outdoors or on the beach. If that is the case, it is more laid back and that most anything goes.

With that being said, jeans, shorts, and tank tops are generally not allowed unless specifically approved in the invitation or by the couple. To be on the safe side, dress in business casual clothing to ensure that you are not under dressed. 

 

What She Should Wear

woman in sun dress

Women have a few options available to them. She can choose to wear a sundress so long as the fabric is not too formal. Another option is a sleek blouse paired with a skirt or slacks. 

 

What He Should Wear

man in casual dress

His outfit options are pretty simple. The classic choice is to wear a button down or polo with a pair of dress pants or slacks. Avoid wearing a tie with this outfit. 

 

Themed

theme park wedding

On occasion, couples will choose to have a wedding with a theme. In that case, couples will ask that guests dress according to the specified theme.

Classic themes include Gatsby weddings, where guests dress as though it is the 1920s, and single color weddings, where guests are asked to wear a single color. Themed weddings are generally formal events so men and women should choose options that fall within the theme, but are still sophisticated and formal. 

 

Clothing Options Based on Wedding Location

Did you receive an invite to a wedding but it doesn’t specify a dress code? Unsure of what to wear as a result? Fear not: your safest option is to look at the wedding location and choose your attire based on that.

Here are a few different options for what to wear based on the location of the wedding. 

 

Outdoor Wedding

woman in casual dress

When invited to an outdoor wedding, it is important to consider the time of year that the wedding is being held. An outdoor summer wedding will likely call for light and airy fabrics. She should opt to wear a sleeveless dress or a skirt and sleeveless blouse combination. He should wear dress pants and a short sleeve polo or button down. 

If the wedding is in the fall or winter, it is best to wear layers. She can choose to wear a long sleeve dress. Long dresses are also appropriate for winter weddings. Over that, women can wear a wrap, cardigan, or a formal jacket.

Similarly to summer weddings, he can choose to wear a button down, polo, or long sleeve dress shirt and slacks or dress pants. He can also wear a formal jacket or a suit jacket. It is better to wear more layers that can be taken off rather than not wearing enough layers. 

 

Indoor Wedding

casual cocktail dress

Indoor weddings can be pretty easy to dress for. For both men and women, it is best to opt for more formal clothing options especially if you do not know the dress code.

Indoor weddings tend to be warmer. Women can wear a cocktail length or knee length dress or longer if preferred. A pantsuit is another good option especially since it is possible to take the jacket off if it gets too warm. Similarly, men can wear a suit with a jacket that can be taken off. 

 

Beach or Destination Wedding

tropical wedding outfits

Beach and destination weddings are generally warm and humid so guests should dress in a way that is comfortable and in accordance with the weather. When the dress code is unknown it is always best to dress on the more formal side. 

Women should choose dresses made of a light and airy fabric such as cotton. Looser dresses are a good choice because they allow breathability. Pair the dress with sandals or wedges that are on the more formal side.

Again, men should wear dress pants or slacks paired with a dress shirt, button down, or polo.

Both men and women should choose to wear the lighter, brighter colors that are typical of tropical weddings. 

 

Wedding Guest Attire FAQ

Have more questions about what is appropriate to wear to a wedding? Here are the answers to all of your questions about wedding attire.

 

Is it rude to wear black at a wedding?

woman in black dress

Nope! It is completely appropriate and even encouraged to wear black to a wedding.

In the past, black was associated with mourning, but in recent years, people have been breaking from tradition. Modern dress codes have begun to embrace wearing black to weddings. If you are concerned about wearing black, ask the couple how they feel and then go from there. 

 

Can I wear white to a wedding?

ivory wedding dress

White is traditionally reserved for the bride. Wearing white to a wedding puts you in competition with the bride, which is greatly frowned upon. As a result, even modern dress codes recommend that you avoid wearing white. 

Unless the dress code calls for something like black and white attire only, do not wear white.

 

What colors are bad luck to wear at a wedding?

wedding guest outfits

While there are no colors that are bad luck for a guest to wear, there are colors that are bad luck for the bride to wear. Black, red, pink, grey, green, and yellow are considered to be unlucky colors for the bride to wear on her wedding day.

This is all dependent on your cultural and social beliefs. In some cultures, the bride wears red! In others, it may be considered rude to wear red. Consider the couple, and if you still aren’t sure, just ask!

 

Conclusion

Deciding what to wear to a wedding should not be as difficult as it is. Dress codes and invitations are often unclear and not specific. In the end, it is best to dress on the more formal side. You never want to show up to a wedding underdressed. In these cases, the couple has the final say in what is appropriate and inappropriate to wear to their wedding.

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Laura Gooch

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