Decoding the Wedding Guest Dress Code

It’s June and that means one thing…

Wedding season is upon us. Your refrigerator door is probably wallpapered in beautiful, creamy cardstock and it’s starting to feel like there’s another nuptial every weekend.

Besides mustering the energy to attend wedding after wedding, one of the biggest challenges of wedding season is the question of what to wear.Fortunately, most brides and grooms give you a hint about dress code on the invitation. But if you don’t know your black tie from your beach formal, you may need this handy guide to figure out what type of outfit will be most appropriate for each event.

White Tie

The most formal of all, white tie attire is what you see on the red carpet or fancy dinners at the White House.

  • Ladies – Time to pull out all the stops and go full-on glamour! Opt for a floor-length ball gown and don dramatic jewelry, makeup and hair.White & Black Tie
  • Gents – Men should wear the traditional tuxedo that features a long jacket with tails, white vest and bow tie. And don’t forget to make sure your shoes match the formality of your tux. For a bit of fun, you could even throw in white gloves or a stylish hat.

Black Tie

Although still more formal than the average wedding, black tie attire is a rung down the formality scale from white tie.

  • Ladies – For these affairs, you can wear either a long gown or shorter cocktail dress, but if you’d like to err on the side of caution, choose a long gown. As with white tie attire, let the red carpet be your guide and add a fancy updo and your most stunning jewels.
  • Gents – There’s no getting around a tuxedo for a black tie wedding. We suggest a modern design with black bow tie, cummerbund and shoes in patent leather. You can add a bit of personality with unique cufflinks, a subtly colored or patterned cummerbund or stand-out pocket square.

Formal/Black Tie Optional

If you see these words on the invitation, know that black tie attire would be perfectly appropriate but that you can also go slightly less formal.Formal and Beach

  • Ladies – For women, this is pretty much the same as black tie but you may feel more free to wear a formal cocktail dress instead of a gown, if you’d prefer.
  • Gents – You can absolutely still wear a tux, but you can also get away with a dark, formal suit and tie look. Just make sure it fits like a glove and looks dressier than your standard wear-to-work suit.

Beach Formal

You might see this on an invitation to a beach wedding in which the hosts still want to maintain an elegant air that’s a bit above flip flops and sundresses. Think of what you might wear to a fancy restaurant on a summer night.

  • Ladies – It’s best to choose a knee-length or tea-length dress in a light fabric with pretty, flat sandals and a more natural hair and makeup look.
  • Gents – This is the perfect time to wear your linen summer suit or khakis with a lovely linen shirt and simple leather sandals.

Semiformal/Dressy Casual/Cocktail

Essentially, this means that you should dress nicely without going overboard with formality. If you don’t see any reference to attire on the invitation, then you can safely assume that it falls into this category.Cocktail and Casual

  • Ladies – You’ll be right on target in a pretty cocktail dress in any color of your choosing (except white of course) and a cute pair of heels or wedges.
  • Gents – Guys should wear a suit and tie. Depending on the season and time of the wedding, it can be a light or dark suit.


In most cases, a casual wedding means you can wear whatever you’d like but you should avoid things like jeans, t-shirts and sneakers. For a wedding, take “casual” to mean “business casual.”

  • Ladies – Go with a simple sundress or even a nice top with a skirt or pants.
  • Gents – It’s appropriate to wear a nice button down shirt or polo with a pair of dress pants.
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