As fun as a big, glamorous wedding is, a marriage is really about the love between two people—and you don't need an expensive venue and large crowd to make things official. A civil ceremony, often done at a courthouse, city hall, or a local county clerk's office, can be as romantic (or as casual) as you want it to be. And since this is obviously a more laid-back option, you have a lot more room to play around with your look. Selecting a wedding dress for a civil ceremony can allow you to get creative and really have fun with your outfit.
There are really no fashion rules or etiquette tips to follow when opting for a civil ceremony. Some brides choose to go more casual and low-maintenance and wear a mini dress or a matching set. While others don't want to skimp on the glamour and go all out in a gown or a nice maxi dress. There are even some who skip the dress altogether and opt for a jumpsuit or a chic blazer and pants set.
You can wear traditional white or ivory, or you can go completely out-of-the-box and wear a pattern or a bright color. Florals can be fun and a jewel-toned dress can be beautiful. It's all about your personal style here, and it's nice to be able to select the look you love without having to worry about expectations.
The world is your oyster when it comes to civil ceremony bridalwear, and to help start your search, here are some of our favorite options.
For the Casual Bride
Khaite The Esme Dress
Sizes: XS-XL | Material: Dense cotton | Length: Mini
This refined mini dress, made with compact Italian cotton that feels and looks luxe, is a great casual option. The scoop neck silhouette features bust darts and a nice Basque waistline, and a back tie can be made into an elaborate and adorable bow detail.
Price at time of publish: $1,180
Best with a Cape
Erdem Austin Cape-Effect Chiffon Midi Dress
Sizes: 6-22 UK | Material: Sequined chiffon | Length: Knee-length
This dress is whimsical and fun with a classic feel to it. The sequined chiffon material makes it glitter with a lightweight feel, and the cape-effect look makes it perfect for cooler weather. This is a great way to do something glamorous without feeling over the top.
Price at time of publish: $3,765
Lulus Devotion White Lace Short Sleeve Midi Dress
Sizes: XS-XL | Material: Cotton, nylon | Length: Mini
This is a great casual, laid-back option that is also super versatile and can work for almost any season. Sheer cap sleeves and a rounded top make this ideal for a bride who doesn't want anything too revealing.
Price at time of publish: $69
Reformation Santino Dress
Sizes: 0-12 | Material: Linen | Length: Midi
Made of lightweight linen, this halter dress is a great option for a summer civil ceremony. It's casual on its own, but could easily be dressed up, especially with the front slit. And if you don't want white, it comes in three other color options.
Price at time of publish: $248
Best for Photos
Show Me Your Mumu Brandy Maxi Dress
Sizes: XXS-XXL | Material: Organza | Length: High-low
Light and frothy, this organza confection would show up beautifully in photos. The ruffled off-the-shoulder neckline and long train make this the best dress for the bride who wants to do something different and fun.
Price at time of publish: $298
Tadashi Shoji Louisa Jumpsuit
Sizes: XS-XL | Material: Polyester, spandex | Length: Floor-length
A jumpsuit is a sleek and chic option if you don't want to wear a dress. This one features an unexpected cut-out and a one-shoulder detail that makes it feel extra glam.
Price at time of publish: $230
Best Blazer Dress
Rumer Lou Lou Blazer Dress
Sizes: XS-XL | Material: Linen | Length: Mini
A blazer dress feels effortlessly stylish and cool and seems like such a good fit for a civil ceremony. This one features lightly padded shoulders and is made of lightweight linen. It also comes in blush and a green color if you don't want white.
Price at time of publish: $359
Best Feather Detail
Huishan Zhang Reign Feather-Trimmed Crepe Mini Dress
Sizes: 6-18 UK | Material: Crepe | Length: Mini
Whimsical but with a traditional feel, this mini dress features feather detailing on the sleeves that make it so much fun. The back cinches with a small bow detail and it's made of a stretchy crepe material.
Price at time of publish: $2,845
Watters Marlina Dress
Sizes: 0-18 | Material: Polyester | Length: Mini
If you want something more dramatic that isn't a gown, opt for this fun mini dress. The removable skirt acts like a long, billowing train, and when you're ready to let loose, you can take it off so you're just wearing a classic off-the-shoulder dress.
Price at time of publish: $1,500
Best Long Sleeves
Lulus Together In Bliss Lace Mermaid Dress
Sizes: XS-3X | Material: Nylon, cotton | Length: Floor-length
For a more traditional bridal look, opt for this lace maxi dress. It features a slit in the front and a subtle mermaid flare at the bottom. The long sleeves are great for fall, winter, or even spring ceremonies, and the square neckline is so pretty.
Price at time of publish: $99
Daughters of Simone x BHLDN Ledger Set
Sizes: XS-XXL | Material: Nylon, rayon | Length: Mini
Matching sets have never been more trendy, so why not wear one for your civil ceremony? This one is made up of a romantic scalloped lace blazer and matching skirt, and is such a special option. Plus, after your big day, you can always wear the pieces separately if you want.
Price at time of publish: $750
Best Knit Dress
Khaite The Pia Dress
Sizes: XS-XL | Material: Stretch matte viscose | Length: Midi
Perfect for the more casual winter bride, this knit midi dress is a versatile option because it doesn't look traditionally bridal. Made of a luxe Italian knit for a close fit, this is a fairly low-key option that is also so elegant.
Price at time of publish: $1,580
Best Formal Option
BCBG Theodora Off-The-Shoulder Evening Dress
Sizes: 0-16 | Material: Crepe | Length: Floor-length
Some brides want to go more casual for a civil ceremony, while others want to be just as formal as they would for a large celebration. Luckily, there's no right or wrong way to do it. If you want to be more dressed up, this BCBG gown is a beautiful choice, in a sleek crepe with off-the-shoulder tulle sleeves.
Price at time of publish: $428
Katie May Elle Mini Dress
Sizes: XS-XL | Material: Nylon, spandex | Length: Mini
Reminiscent of Kendall Jenner's iconic Giambattista Valli hot pink tulle gown—that she wore to Cannes in 2019—this dress is fun and unique. It would look adorable in photos and just as cute at an after-party.
Price at time of publish: $525
Lulus Radiantly Romantic Ivory Floral Romper
Sizes: XS-XL | Material: Polyester | Length: Shorts
A romper is casual and unexpected, and makes for a great summer ceremony ensemble. This one has a bridal vibe thanks to the ruffled neckline and delicate jacquard fabric.
Price at time of publish: $68
Magda Butrym Strapless Mini Dress
Sizes: 34-42 FR | Material: Crocheted cotton-blend | Length: Mini
It's hard to resist this delightful crochet mini dress, which features a boned bodice and feathers along the hem. It might feel more casual, but it's still the kind of dress you wear for a special occasion.
Price at time of publish: $3,275
Watters Cleo Dress
Sizes: 0-16 | Material: Polyester | Length: Mini
The playful bubble hem of this dress is what makes it so adorable. Spaghetti straps and a lace-up back are two other details we love here.
Price at time of publish: $495
By Watter Palmier Dress
Sizes: 4-8 | Material: Tulle | Length: Mini
Made with Ossetra beading, this mini dress sparkles in all the right ways. Soft netting makes up the unique sleeves and the corset bodice is another romantic touch.
Price at time of publish: $895
BCBG Penelope Midi Dress
Sizes: 0-12 | Material: Cotton sateen | Length: Midi
We love this low-maintenance white midi dress that feels versatile and chic. The fitted bodice, pleated detail, and notched neckline are all lovely details.
Price at time of publish: $268
Best Bow Detail
Rebecca Vallance Genevieve Midi Dress
Sizes: 0-12 | Material: Polyester, spandex | Length: Midi
This silhouette is timeless for a beautiful and elegant look that anyone could love. Details like sparkling beaded straps, a V-neck, and a large bow on the front make it feel extra special.
Price at time of publish: $630
Reformation Aida Linen Dress
Sizes: 0-12 | Material: Linen | Length: Mini
Go for easy elegance with this button-up linen dress that is versatile and easy to dress up or down. A tie at the back waist cinches things in and there's even a pocket in the front.
Price at time of publish: $198
BHLDN Katarina Gown
Sizes: 0-26W | Material: Polyester | Length: Floor-length
This gown has a boho feel to it, but it was actually inspired by an early Victorian bridal gown found on Portobello Road in London. It features delicate tulle, cotton embroidery, and an allover floral pattern for the perfect texture.
Price at time of publish: $1,495
For a Vegas Ceremony
For Love and Lemons Jules Mini Dress
Sizes: XXS-2XL | Material: Lace | Length: Mini
Las Vegas is known for its civil ceremonies, and this mini dress, reminiscent of lingerie, is a perfect choice. Made with sheer lace, dotted ruffle tulle, and the cutest tutu skirt, this is a bold, but appropriate, choice.
Price at time of publish: $266
Norma Kamali Diana Mini Dress
Sizes: XXS-XL | Material: Polyester, spandex | Length: Mini
Make an entrance with this curve-hugging white mini dress thanks to its asymmetrical hem and billowing long sleeve. It's fun, it's different, and it's definitely a statement maker.
Price at time of publish: $215
Best Vintage Inspired
For Love and Lemons Everly Bridal Gown
Sizes: XXS-XL | Material: Lace | Length: Mini
This vintage-inspired dress is a little bit dramatic and definitely bridal. It features an intricate corset top with a scalloped hemline, and a billowing train-like skirt.
Price at time of publish: $648
Watters Maeve Mini Dress
Sizes: 0-14 | Material: Polyester | Length: Mini
Exclusive to BHLDN, this beautiful strapless mini dress is made up of a pearl-encrusted, corset-style bodice and a flouncy tulle skirt. The two very different fabrics make for a fun texture experience.
Price at time of publish: $1,200
LoveShackFancy Anjanue Dress
Sizes: 0-12 | Material: Polyester | Length: Mini
This lace mini dress has a big surprise in the back: a huge bow detail that hangs almost to the ground for a train-like effect. This is a great mix of casual and dramatic.
Price at time of publish: $695
Shona Joy Frill Cuff Bias Midi Dress
Sizes: 0-12 | Material: Viscose, cellulose | Length: Midi
You don't have to wear white to a civil ceremony. This cream-colored midi dress is sophisticated and effortlessly cool, with fabric-covered buttons down the front and flared sleeves.
Price at time of publish: $380
What to Look for in a Civil Ceremony Wedding Dress
Since civil ceremonies don't follow many of the same traditions as a big wedding event, you're really able to play around with your look a bit more. You can opt for something casual, like a mini dress, or go for something more formal, like a regular bridal gown. However, what's most important is that you find a dress you're most comfortable in. Also, something versatile could be a great option, especially if you're going from a civil ceremony to some sort of party to celebrate your union.
Is there a dress code for civil ceremonies?
There is no dress code to follow, so you really can wear whatever you want. Many brides opt for a casual, traditional white ensemble, but you can feel free to do whatever you please.
What color should a bride wear to a civil ceremony?
You can wear any color you choose. White or ivory are obviously two classics, but if you want to get more creative with your look, go for a bold color or a cool pattern. You could also stick with neutrals like cream, blush, or even a light gray.
How can you make your civil ceremony dress fun?
Wear something that expresses your personal style and makes you feel good inside and out. You can add personal accessories, like a "something old" piece, or play around with jewelry and shoes. Additionally, consider bold dresses with feather details and/or elaborate bows, or skip white and opt for a loud pattern. There are so many ways to make your outfit more fun and exciting.
Why Trust Us
Contributing writer Jessica Booth is a freelance writer and formerly served as an editor for seven years. Her work has been featured in Bustle, Insider, Redbook, and Refinery29.