From black-tie to casual, we break down what each wedding dress code means.
Shortly after you RSVP to attend a wedding, you'll likely start thinking about what to wear. While most wedding invitations include the preferred wedding dress code, it might be hard to decipher exactly what the to-be-weds envision when it comes to the attire. Plus, with the rise of creative wedding guest attire suggestions (like "whimsical garden party" or "tropical formal") amid the wedding boom, you might be stumped when it comes to interpreting what they mean. And while more wedding dress code clues can often be found on the couple's wedding website, choosing what to wear isn't always easy—but that's where we come in.
To help you find the best wedding guest outfit, we're breaking down exactly what wedding attire wording means. We tapped industry experts to define the most common wedding dress codes, from black-tie to cocktail and casual wedding attire. In this fashion cheat sheet, you'll also find tried-and-true styling hacks that'll help you decode the invitation if you're not sure what certain terms look like. Brush up on the basics of wedding dress codes below, and use this guide to find an outfit that's perfect for celebrating the couple on their big day.
In this article:
- White-Tie Attire
- Black-Tie Attire
- Black-Tie Optional Attire
- Formal Attire
- Cocktail Attire
- Beach Formal Attire
- Semi-Formal or Dressy Casual Attire
- Daytime or Casual Attire
White-tie wedding attire is the most formal of all dress codes. Also called full dress, white tie attire is often reserved for elegant events like state dinners, royal banquets and very formal weddings. While white-tie weddings aren't as common today, it is important to dress appropriately if you're invited to one. White-tie wedding attire for men includes a long and dark tuxedo tailcoat with fabric extensions that reach to the back of the knee. A white piqué button-down shirt should be worn under a white vest with a bow tie and a cummerbund. Pants should match the color and fabric of the jacket, and white-tie trousers often include a satin or grosgrain stripe along the outer seams.
As for women, a formal dress is a must for this attire suggestion. An evening gown with a full-length A-line or sheath silhouette is appropriate, though you could also consider a floor-length ball gown depending on the formality of the venue. If you are attending a white-tie wedding, this is your chance to accessorize with glittering jewels, sleek dress shoes and elbow-length white silk gloves.
Following white-tie, black-tie is the next most formal wedding dress code. Black-tie weddings often take place later in the day, and they require formal outfits. "Traditionally, black-tie weddings happen after 5:30 or 6:00 pm," explains Virginia-based wedding style expert Monte Durham. "Black-tie means just that: Expect to see tuxedos with black bow ties, a simple long black tie or even a long string tie. Formal gowns are also expected, and they should touch the ground or the top of the shoes." It's important to note that black-tie wedding attire is one of the stricter dress codes with little room for interpretation. "Black-tie requires a tuxedo—not a black suit, and definitely not suit separates," explains Jian DeLeon, Men's Fashion & Editorial Director at Nordstrom. "You don't have to wear full tails and cummerbund, but today there are plenty of great formal options at any budget."
Attending a wedding with a black-tie dress code is a great opportunity to dress up your outfit with accessories too. "Cufflinks on French cuffs are a great way to enhance any tuxedo," explains Andrew Roberts, CEO of luxury formalwear brand Del Toro. And, for women, you can't go wrong with pieces that sparkle to your outfit, "Refined jewelry like pearls or diamonds are the best options to dress up an evening gown," explains Ranu Coleman, CMO of wedding fashion brand Azazie.
Black-Tie Optional Attire
If your wedding invitation says "black-tie optional" for the dress code, you might be confused as to whether or not you actually need to wear a black-tie wedding outfit. Think of black-tie optional guest attire as a fusion between black-tie and formal fashion. You can wear a tuxedo or a floor-length evening gown if you want, but a dark suit with dress pants and nice loafers would be acceptable too. Similarly, a midi or knee-length cocktail dress would also be appropriate instead of a floor-length gown.
The time of day the event is taking place can also be a helpful indicator of what the wedding dress code means. Evening weddings often indicate a more formal wedding style. In that case, you might consider an outfit that feels a little more upscale. Or, for a black-tie optional wedding in the early afternoon, it's perfectly appropriate to trade the tuxedo or evening gown for something on the less-formal end of the black-tie spectrum.
One of the most popular wedding dress codes is formal attire. And, while you might see this wedding attire wording on a lot of invitations that land in your mailbox, that doesn't make it any easier to decide what to wear to a formal wedding. "A formal wedding dress code is slightly less formal than a black-tie event, and in general it tends to have fewer specifications," says Coleman. "Women can get away with a nicer cocktail dress and, for men, tuxedos are not required."
So, with less guidance, what should you wear for a formal dress code? Durham, who also appears on TLC's Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta, encourages guests to start with the basics. "A formal wedding might include a jacket and tie or a traditional suit," he suggests. "An elegant dress or a nice pantsuit would also be appropriate."
If you're confused about what's appropriate when it comes to formal wedding attire, you can never be too overdressed. When in doubt, a dark, well-tailored suit or a floor-length dress are safe choices. But, if you're feeling adventurous, you can experiment with trendy jumpsuits or a suit with a colorful jacket or bold accessories. As you're choosing what to wear to a formal wedding, remember that erring on the side of caution with a more formal look is always a safe choice.
When it comes to cocktail wedding attire, guests have more flexibility with hemlines, colors and patterns. "The phrase 'cocktail' comes from the 1950s," Durham explains. "This style requires a formal dress with a shorter hemline. It might also be accented with jewelry or a nicer pair of shoes—embellishment is key for a cocktail dress code."
Since cocktail wedding attire is slightly less formal than black-tie and black-tie optional, tuxes and floor-length gowns are not required. (However, you can always opt for longer skirts or formal jackets if you'd like, which are popular choices for winter wedding attire). When it comes to deciding what to wear to a cocktail wedding, a suit and tie with a crisp black or white shirt with dress pants is a no-fail choice. You can also wear a short formal dress or an elegant jumpsuit with jewelry.
Beach Formal Attire
Fashion rules tend to be a bit more lenient for beach weddings. Whether you'll be heading to the tropics for a destination celebration or a classic summer wedding, it's important to prepare for the elements when deciding what to wear to a beach wedding. "If you're going to a wedding on the beach, opt for a linen dress shirt and slacks with a blazer, or a sundress with a straw hat or bag since that fits the aesthetic," explains Durham.
As with most outdoor weddings, consider your shoe choice wisely. You might want to swap stiletto heels for wedges or thick sandals, especially if you'll be walking on sand. And for nuptials that'll take place in warmer climates, shorter skirts and light, airy fabrics like linen and cotton will help you stay cool while keeping in line with the preferred wedding dress code.
Semi-Formal Attire or Dressy Casual Attire
Semi-formal wedding attire may seem like one of the tricker dress codes to nail. And, since cocktail and semi-formal wedding attire can sometimes be used interchangeably, you might feel confused when it's time to pick an outfit. "Semi-formal falls in the grey area between casual and formal," says Coleman. "However, cocktail attire tends to be a little more dressy than semi-formal." So, what do you wear to a semi-formal wedding? "Some ideas include a midi dress, a chic jumpsuit or a wrap dress," Coleman continues. "For cocktail attire, stick to a structured dress or a sleek black dress—you can never go wrong with an LBD."
Embellishments and additional features on an outfit can also help differentiate cocktail attire from semi-formal wedding attire. "A dress for a semi-formal wedding might not include any sort of beading or statement accessories," says Durham. "A suit and tie are also appropriate."
In recent years, the phrase "dressy casual" has risen in popularity for wedding dress codes. Think of dressy casual wedding attire wording as a spin on business casual. Dressy casual wedding attire is most closely related to semi-formal attire, and should be interpreted appropriately. Depending on the time of the event, choose an outfit that falls in between formal and casual. It's encouraged to wear darker, more formal hues for an evening fete, while light colors and fabrics would be appropriate for a daytime wedding.
Daytime Attire or Casual Attire
You might be tempted to think that a casual dress code means anything goes—but that's not necessarily the case. Casual wedding attire is the most relaxed out of all the dress code wording examples on this list, but it's important to remember that a wedding is still a formal event, after all, so there are some rules to keep in mind. "With the rise of backyard weddings, casual dress codes are common," Durham says. "But it's important to remember that you are attending a wedding, after all, and this kind of event requires a certain kind of outfit."
When you're choosing what to wear to a casual wedding as a guest, use business casual outfit ideas as a guide. "You can never go wrong with a navy blazer, a blue button-down shirt or khaki pants," Durham adds. "This will take you a long way. The minute you put on a tie and a pocket square, you will look fully dressed. Similarly, you can always opt for a dress with a nice neckline and simple accessories. Consider swapping sandals for a pump heel to dress it up more." Adds Coleman: "For women, I recommend wearing a sundress, a high/low dress or a jumpsuit."
A casual wedding dress code also comes with more flexibility in terms of experimenting with trendy colors, patterns and fabrics. So, if you're feeling up for it, you can opt for a wedding guest outfit that you wouldn't normally wear. "Semi-formal and casual occasions come with a little more freedom in what you wear," explains DeLeon. "Avoid pinstripes in favor of a solid color or a less business-oriented pattern like glen plaid, houndstooth, or windowpane. And, while a classic navy or dark charcoal gray suit will suffice, consider switching up the shirt and tie for a floral camp shirt or knit polo instead." Even with more flexibility, though, Durham notes that there are a few wedding dress code rules to abide by. "Shorts, running gear and tennis shoes should be off-limits for a casual wedding."
Ultimately, what matters most is that you feel confident in whatever outfit you choose to wear. As long as your attire abides by the preferred wedding dress code, you'll look (and feel) your best as you celebrate the happy couple.
How do you say dress code on a wedding invitation? ›
- Black tie (tuxedos and formal gowns)
- Formal, black tie optional (suit and tie and dresses)
- Semi-formal (suit and tie and cocktail dresses)
- Cocktail attire (suits and party dresses)
- Beach or garden party attire (summer suits and summer dresses)
The easiest way to get your point across is to include your desired dress code on the bottom of the invite or on a separate details card. "Black tie," "cocktail attire" or "dress casual" are all acceptable templates. (And trust us, your guests will appreciate the heads-up).How do you ask wedding guests to wear certain colors? ›
First, get the wording right. Your wedding guests will be looking for your dress code—but might not love being told exactly what to wear. Thus, you should be careful with your phrasing. Alongside your attire, try something along the lines of, "Please indulge us by dressing in white, if you don't mind."What are the four types of dress codes for the? ›
There are generally four types of corporate dress codes: Business formal, business professional, business casual, and casual.What you Cannot wear as a wedding guest? ›
Steer Clear of Anything Too Casual
No one wants to quit their coziest clothing like yoga pants, slippers, and jeans. But these have no place at a wedding. Even if a wedding is casual and relaxed, still dress with respect. No flip, flops, shorts, or jeans should be on your list of options to wear.
- Any shade of white. OK, this is probably pretty obvious, but you really can't wear white to a wedding. ...
- Gold (and other metallics) ...
- Light pastels. ...
- Neon. ...
- The colour the bridesmaids are wearing.
It doesn't matter if the dress code requests "casual" attire; jeans, T-Shirts, shorts, and sneakers are never appropriate to wear as a wedding guest. Show respect for the bride and groom by dressing formally.What are levels of dress code? ›
Classifications are divided into formal wear (full dress), semi-formal wear (half dress), and informal wear (undress). Anything below this level is referred to as casual wear, although sometimes in combinations such as "smart casual" or "business casual" in order to indicate higher expectation than none at all.What are the main instructions of dress code for a woman? ›
Wear tailored shirts or blouses in cotton, silk for a blend. Fit should not be tight. Cleavage is not appropriate to business and job search occasions. No sweaters should be worn for business professional occasions.What is proper attire dress code? ›
Proper attire means, with respect to male members, a suit or sport coat and dress pants worn with a collared shirt or banded collar shirt, with or without a tie. “Proper attire” shall mean, with respect to female members, a dress, pantsuit, skirt with a sweater or blouse, or blazer with dress slacks.
What is not acceptable for dress code? ›
Dirty or wrinkled clothing. Tight-fitting or revealing clothing. Too casual, such as yoga pants, overalls, flip flops or shorts. T-shirts with inappropriate messages or offensive content.
One way to ask about the dress code is to be direct. If you spoke with a recruiter or hiring manager on the phone, you can simply ask them what the dress code is ahead of your interview or the first day of work. If you have already been hired, they might forget to mention the dress code to you.What is dress to impress code? ›
Dress to impress, also known as festive dress code is a relatively recent phenomenon, and can be a lot of fun to dress for. The key tenet is that the happy couple wants their guests to have fun with their looks. You'll still want to wear a suit, but you can play with the look by wearing a fun accessories.What wedding colors mean? ›
- Red – Passion, Love, Drama, Energy, Dominance. ...
- Pink – Soft, Sweet, Feminine, Romance. ...
- Blue – Tranquil, Balance, Serenity, Sadness. ...
- Purple – Royalty, Luxury, Power, Mystery. ...
- Orange – Excitement, Youth, Warmth.
Lizzie Post, host of the podcast Awesome Etiquette from the Emily Post Institute, says that no guest should ever feel embarrassed if they happen to wear the same color as the bridesmaids, but they can ask in advance what the colors will be if they're concerned about it.How can a guest look classy at a wedding? ›
- Wearing fine gold jewelry.
- Choosing the right colour palette.
- Finding the right dress.
- Wearing the right shoes.
- Men should wear a fitted suit.
- Avoid denim.
- Accessorizing your outfit.
- Don't dress like a bridesmaid.
- Body Shape.
- Balance and Rhythm.
Casual business attire is pretty ambiguous, but generally means slacks, khakis, or a skirt with a dress shirt, blouse or polo. Dresses and seasonal sport coats fall into this dress code as well.What are 3 main fashion categories? ›
- Mass Market Fashion. The first sector of design involves the most straightforward and accessible form of clothing, which is the mass market. ...
- Ready to Wear Fashion. ...
- Haute Couture Fashion.
Yellow, pink, and green dresses are all great options to wear. Dresses with patterns and floral designs also work well for the spring season—just be sure you aren't wearing the same color as the bride's bridal party, and of course, stay away from white!
What color should you not wear to a wedding in 2022? ›
Don't Wear White
It's also best to avoid colors that are white adjacent like light gray or super pale pastels. You never know what those shades will look like in the lighting of the venue so it's better to play it safe and pick a more saturated hue.
You may choose to wear any color except black or white. The guest's goal should be to blend in with the surroundings and let the bride shine. As her guest, you should avoid attire that could be considered informal or in bad taste. Pastels, jewel tones and earth tones are excellent choices, as are most primary colors.What colour is unlucky at a wedding? ›
Wedding dress colour superstitions
Married in white, you will have chosen all right. Married in grey, you will go far away. Married in black, you will wish yourself back. Married in red, you'll wish yourself dead.
The tradition of brides wearing white didn't start until Queen Victoria, but an old nursery rhyme says red, yellow, green, pink, grey and black will bring negativity to the marriage. Specifically, red will make you "wish you were dead."What should a 70 year old woman wear to a wedding? ›
For a formal or semi-formal wedding, grandmothers may choose a formal gown, a longer style dress, or an elegant suit-like style. For a casual wedding, a dress is still appropriate, as is a pantsuit, or skirt and blouse or dress and jacket combination!What should a female guest wear to a wedding? ›
Women should wear a formal floor-length gown that does not reveal the ankles at the hem of the dress, but if the wedding seems a bit less formal, a sophisticated cocktail dress may also be acceptable. Women may also wear elegant pantsuits.What is the most strict dress code? ›
Saudi Arabia: bare skin for women, cross-dressing for men
Muslim women are required to wear a niqab and long black cloak called an abaya, while foreign women can get away with a long coat and bare head, if they dare.
White tie attire is the most formal dress code and is typically interpreted as floor-length gowns for women and a black jacket or coat with tails and matching pants for men. Uncommon for modern weddings, white tie attire has been around for centuries.What is the fanciest dress code? ›
White tie. The absolute most formal form of dress, white tie is typically reserved for the fanciest occasions and places where you're likely to spot the rich and famous — think the Met Gala, the Oscars or a state dinner.What is smart dress code for ladies? ›
What is a smart casual dress code for women? A smart casual dress code is an attire that combines well-fitting, polished business wear with elements of casual attire like blouses, shirts, button-downs, dress pants, dark-wash jeans, and polished, practical footwear.
What factors are important when setting a dress code? ›
The corporate culture and brand image of an organization are major determinants of the dress code. Industries like marketing and technology usually portray such brand images. Organizations dedicated to communicating a formal appearance to their clients usually require their employees to dress formally.Why is proper dress code important? ›
A dress code is one of the most important steps to follow, to set yourself up for the basics of professionalism. If you're unwilling to present yourself as a professional, it could bleed into your work and others' perceptions of you as an employee.What is a dressy casual wedding? ›
What does dressy casual mean? It's a way to describe an overall aesthetic that is basically not-all-the-way-formal-but-please-don't-wear-jean-shorts. Swann explains that dressy casual is typically requested for daytime weddings—and the earlier the event, the less formal the attire.What is dress code in simple words? ›
Definition of dress code
a set of rules specifying the garb or type of clothing to be worn by a group or by people under specific circumstances: a military dress code; The restaurant's dress code requires men to wear jackets and ties at dinner.
When in doubt, business professional is the default. Shirts are collared and buttoned, and blouses should be conservative and professional. Slacks should be free from wrinkles and be in office-appropriate colors. Knee-length, simple dresses and skirts are appropriate for business professional.Is it against dress code to not wear a bra? ›
Do you have to wear a bra to work? As with many legal questions in the U.S., the answer is yes and no, legal experts say. Yes, your employer can make you conform to a dress code. At work, clothes are not just clothes ― they send status signals about what kind of workplace your employer wants to be.Can your boss make you wear a bra? ›
Although employers may not require their female employees to wear bras, they can still modify their dress codes more eloquently in effort not to target their female employees.Why is dress code a problem? ›
The dress code gives room to alienate and subject people for not fitting into a box. We are seeing short term harmful effects on people's self esteem. Teaching girls that their body parts are inherently bad or important to others implies that how her body looks should be of extreme importance to her.How do you talk about dress codes? ›
- Thoroughly Detail Acceptable Dress. Acceptable dress should be detailed in an employee handbook and discussed even before hire so that new employees can prepare to comply. ...
- Be Consistent with the Policy. ...
- Have Reasons to Back up the Code. ...
- Send Out Reminders or Updates. ...
- Meet with the Employee Privately.
Today, most states have laws that allow school boards to make dress code rules for students within their district to promote a safe, disciplined school environment, prevent interference with schoolwork and discipline, and to encourage uniformity of student dress.
What should be included in a dress code policy? ›
All employees are expected to dress professionally, anything that is revealing or inappropriate will not be tolerated. All attire should be clean and in good shape, any attire with rips, tears or holes will not be tolerated. All employees are required to avoid attire with offensive or inappropriate drawings or sayings.Which Colour is best for dress code? ›
- Green and Yellow. ...
- Pale Blue and Pink. ...
- Red and Blue. ...
- Cobalt Blue and Turquoise. ...
- Orange and Blue. ...
- Tan and Maroon. ...
- Orange and Black. ...
- Pink and Grey.
What is another word for dress code?
|dress policy||rules on attire|
|acceptable attire||acceptable dress|
|dress requirements||standards on dress|
|specifications on dress||requirements on attire|
This policy applies to all employees of [Company Name]. In general, the dress code for employees is [dress code]. [List instances where other dress codes may apply]. If the dress code policy contravenes the prescriptions of your faith or that it is offensive to you in any way, please contact human resources.How do you describe a dress code? ›
Dress code is a standard of dress established for a given environment, as in the military, in a school or business, or in a cultural group – says the Dictionary. When you say that a particular place or a function has a dress code, it means that they have a set of rules as to what kind of clothing can be worn there.How do you tell someone about their dress code? ›
- Have a clear dress code. It helps to have a clear dress code that's outlined to new employees when they start. ...
- Define dress-down Friday. ...
- Talk to them. ...
- Always speak in private. ...
- Be clear on what the problem is. ...
- Be positive. ...
- Act quickly. ...
- Don't get personal.
Smart Dress Code
Smart means no shorts unless you're one of those guys who owns and knows how to wear a shorts suit at a day event. Smart means what it says. You don't necessarily need to wear a full suit with waistcoat, tie, and overcoat but it's probably a safe bet to wear a suit as a start.
1 chic, smart, modish, voguish, elegant.What is it called when you dress nicely? ›
adjectivewell-dressed; neat. clean. dapper. impeccable. neat.
You call the restaurant and ask for the suggested dress, but the standard dress code does not clarify what is expected—it only perplexes you more. For the most part, restaurant dress expectations can be organized into five categories: casual, business casual, casual elegant, formal, or jacket required.
What are the dress code levels? ›
Classifications are divided into formal wear (full dress), semi-formal wear (half dress), and informal wear (undress). Anything below this level is referred to as casual wear, although sometimes in combinations such as "smart casual" or "business casual" in order to indicate higher expectation than none at all.What should you not wear to a wedding? ›
- White. One of the most obvious mistakes at a wedding is to match the bride. ...
- A Black Tuxedo. ...
- Anything Too Revealing. ...
- Denim or Jeans. ...
- Low-Cut Outfits. ...
- Sheer Material. ...
- All Black. ...
- Flip Flops.
Dress codes are used to communicate to employees what the organization considers appropriate work attire. A dress code or appearance policy allows an employer to set expectations regarding the image it wants the company to convey. Dress codes can be formal or informal and might include the use of uniforms.What should a dress code include? ›
For example, we may require employees to wear semi-formal attire for an event. Then, both male and female employees should wear suits, ties, white shirts and appropriate shoes. Our company may also introduce [dress-down Friday] when employees can wear more casual clothing like jeans, simple blouses and boots.Do dress codes improve behavior? ›
Students feel less sense of belonging when uniforms are required. Despite the belief of many parents and teachers, school uniforms don't seem to have any effect on young students' behavior or attendance overall, a new national study found.