From Black Tie to Casual: Wedding Guest Dress Code Explained

Etiquette

Have you ever received a wedding invitation in the mail that left you completely clueless about what to wear? Between "black tie optional" and "semiformal," the language can be tricky to decipher. But we've got you covered. Here are the most common wedding-guest dress codes explained so that you arrive appropriately — and stylishly! — dressed to the celebration.

The Invitation Says: "White Tie"
This the most formal of all dress codes (think: White House state dinners).
•For the ladies: A formal floor-length evening gown.
•For the men: A tuxedo, a long black jacket with tails, a formal white shirt, white vest and bow tie, white or gray gloves, and black formal shoes.

The Invitation Says: "Black Tie"
This is the next most formal wedding dress code, and usually means the wedding is an evening event.
•For the ladies: You can go a bit dressier and wear a formal floor-length gown, or choose a short, dressy cocktail dress. (If you're unsure about the appropriate dress length, the bride, wedding party, or friends should be able to answer your questions.)
•For the men: A tuxedo. A black bow tie, black vest or cummerbund, and patent leather shoes are also suggested. For summer weddings, a white dinner jacket and black tuxedo trousers are also acceptable. (You might be able to get away with a conservative black suit as a substitute for the tux.)

The Invitation Says: "Formal" or "Black Tie Optional"
The wording here indicates something slightly less formal than black tie is acceptable. So, a tuxedo isn't required, but the event is still formal enough for one to be appropriate.
•For the ladies: A long dress, dressy separates, or a formal cocktail dress.
•For the men: A tuxedo or a formal dark suit, white shirt, and conservative tie.

The Invitation Says: "Semiformal" or "Dressy Casual"
Take your cues from the time of the event: Wear darker, more formal colors for an evening wedding; opt for light colors and fabrics for a daytime event.
•For the ladies: A cocktail dress or a long, dressy skirt and top.
•For the men: A suit and tie, dark or light depending on the season and time of day.

The Invitation Says: "Festive Attire"
Relatively new, this one can leave many guests scratching their heads. Basically, guests are given the go-ahead to have fun and play with their look. Opt for cocktail-party attire featuring bolder colors and playful accessories.
•For the ladies: A cocktail dress or party dress in a fun color, paired with playful accessories.
•For the men: A suit and tie, jazzed up with a bright tie.

The Invitation Says: "Casual"
This indicates the wedding will likely be held outdoors or on the beach, meaning the event will be much more laid-back, especially when it comes to attire. That said, jeans, shorts, and tank tops are probably not appropriate unless they're specifically noted as acceptable.
•For the ladies: A summer sundress is appropriate (just make sure the fabric isn't overly formal).
•For the men: Dress pants or khaki pants with a button-down shirt, tie (though you might be able to get out of wearing a tie), and sport jacket or sweater.

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