A Wedding Guest's Guide to Beach Attire

Leave the stilettos at home.

bride and groom with their bridal party in a beach locale

Photo by Kaylee Chelsea Photography

While sandy shore weddings are a dream for many, they can cause some perplexity amongst guests concerning what to wear. As opposed to traditional dress codes such as cocktail, semi-formal, or formal, the “beach” element often adds a confusing component to many style rules given the comfy, cool, and casual vibe of seaside locales.

“Beach wedding attire is the same as any other wedding where you dress according to the formality of the event, but unlike a normal celebration, there are some small changes to accessories and fabrics that will make you much more comfortable,” shares wedding planner Megan Papageorge. More specifically, the time of the year, the weather, and the venue will all be deciding factors when choosing your look.

To make things as clear as possible, however, we consulted with Papageorge, in addition to wedding planner Pamela Spence, to help break down everything you need to know about beach wedding attire for women and men. Plus, details on how to perfectly nail the dress code for any upcoming nuptials you have to attend.

Meet the Expert

  • Megan Papageorge is the owner of Sweet Peach Planning, an event planning company based in Long Beach and Los Angeles, California.
  • Pamela Spence is the founder of Making Memories, a boutique wedding and event planning firm based in North Carolina’s sprawling Cape Fear coast.
beach wedding attire

Michela Buttignol/Brides

Beach Wedding Attire for Men and Women

In general, Spence notes that “The two biggest differences between beach wedding attire and other wedding dress codes lies in the color palette and footwear. You won't typically see a little black dress and heels at a beach wedding.” That's why it's important for guests to utilize breathable fabrics, fun prints, and simple, high-end staples for an effortless-yet-refined beach wedding look. Avoid denim and cotton t-shirts at all costs, and only wear shorts or sandals if the venue and event are especially casual.

In addition to avoiding black, a traditional wedding guest color, consider small touches that lend toward the theme without going overboard. Carry a sweetgrass clutch or consider a fishtail braid for your hair to elegantly add a beachy vibe.

Beach Formal

A dress, suit, or jumpsuit all work for women to wear to a beach formal wedding. Opt for solid, lighter colors (avoiding black, cream, and white) and breathable fabrics. To up the elegance factor, consider sumptuous fabrics like lace and tulle, both of which are light and airy but have an upscale vibe. As for shoes, since stilettos are a hazard on the sand, wear chunky heels or formal wedge sandals. If the wedding isn't taking place on the beach, however, you can bring a formal pair of heels to wear for the evening.

As for men, wear either a suit or a long-sleeved shirt and tie with a jacket and slacks. Opt for solid colors, like beige and light blue, avoiding black, cream, and white, if possible. Additionally, be sure to select a look with a breathable fabric such as linen, khaki, or seersucker (you don't want to burn up under the summer sun). Dress shoes or a nice pair of shoes that compliment the slacks are required, while shorts and sandals are not permitted.

Beach Semi-Formal or Cocktail

For women, a dress, suit, formal romper, or jumpsuit all work for a semi-formal or cocktail affair. Feel free to include prints, avoiding anything too loud or any style that might clash with the venue. If you choose to wear a beachy dress, specifically, consider it in either tea-length or maxi to avoid looking too casual. What's more, dressy sandals, chunky heels, and wedges are acceptable footwear options.

For men, while a jacket isn’t required, a breathable sport coat or unique blazer is a fun addition. Feel free to include prints, avoiding anything too loud as well. Shoes can be a little more casual, but they still need to be closed-toe, such as a loafer or deck shoe. Again, shorts and sandals are not permitted.

Beach Casual

Women should opt for a simple sundress, breezy maxi dress, or high-quality romper. And while dressy sandals are acceptable, avoid standard, beachwear flip-flops.

Nice, short-sleeved shirts, such as polos, are permitted for men, as well as nice shorts (think Chinos) with a belt. In general, stick with lighter colors and/or bold prints, and absolutely avoid denim, cargo, swim shorts, and cotton T-shirts. This is also the only instance when sandals may be acceptable, but ensure your feet are well-manicured before considering an open-toe look. If not, wear a deck shoe or loafer, never sneakers.

Beach Wedding Attire Etiquette

While the formality of the dress code is often stated on the invitation, some couples might just request “beach wedding attire.” If that’s the case, “It's always better to be overdressed than under-dressed,” advises Papageorge. “In the event that the invitation doesn't indicate formality, dress for a semi-formal event.”

Another important rule to remember is that this isn’t a family outing at the beach—it’s a wedding. Leave the bathing suits and swim shorts at home, and if opting for sandals, make sure they’re dressier than your normal beachy flip flops. Sun hats are permitted, but remove them during the procession so as to not block the view of other guests.

Whether it’s a breezy maxi dress, a seersucker suit, a formal romper, or a palm print jumpsuit, beach attire is a fun way to showcase your personality and rock some warm-weather favorites—just be sure to lather on the sunscreen!

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