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The Death of the Traditional Wedding Dress Code

Because black-tie is overrated.

Over the last few years, the way we work, shop, and go about our daily lives has changed, and while our previously familiar routines were upended, so too was the wedding industry. As an immediate response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the ways couples approached wedding planning had to shift—what no one could have predicted is that many of these changes have been for the better. Case in point? Wedding dress codes. Today, more and more engaged pairs have decided to toss away the traditional dress codes so often associated with ceremonies and receptions in favor of incorporating their personal styles into their special days instead.

If you’re looking to lay traditional wedding-day dress codes to rest, we can help: Brides spoke with experts Ashley Smith, Nicole-Natassha Goulding, and Hannah Costello to learn exactly how to set new guidelines for your wedding party and guests’ attire.

Meet the Expert

  • Ashley Smith is a designer, event planner, and owner of Ashley Smith events.
  • Nicole-Natassha Goulding is the owner of Chic by Nicole, a wedding coordinator, and a stylist.
  • Hannah Costello is a Rhode Island-based photographer who specializes in wedding photography.

How Traditional Dress Codes Are Changing

man and woman holding hands and smiling

Photo by Olivia Rae James / Design by Tiana Crispino

Couples are frequently playing around with color stories instead of feeling tied to classic shades of gray, cream, or black. Now, rich and vibrant hues like orange and purple are trending in terms of décor, and they're extending into fashion, too. "We are seeing couples wanting to create their own attire style. We are seeing lots of bold colors," says Smith. She also adds that suiting is big right now, both for wedding guests and members of the wedding party, and she adds that this trend goes for both men and women. A chic, tailored suit is traditional for most weddings, but more brides are choosing to walk down the aisle in these two-piece looks, too. 

Goulding explains that many couples are creating immersive experiences for their guests by including fun dress codes. "I’ve seen destination couples request that the guests wear festive attire that matches their destination of choice," she notes.

Guests Are an Extension of Style, Too

"Guests and their fashion are an extension of the couple’s visual story. When guests are intentional with their looks, it can really elevate the event and add to the imagery," reveals Costello. "Dressing for the environment and wedding aesthetics, with the couple in mind, is truly an outward gesture to make their day more memorable," she adds.

I think guests that get the couple and their style, and follow suit (and also go all out) are 'your people.'

So, if you’re imagining your attendees highlighting the destination you choose for your wedding, encourage your guests to do so via your invitations or on your wedding website. For example, if you’re getting married in the mountains with a snowy background, instead of requesting that your guests all arrive in black-tie attire, make your day playful and have everyone wear ski-themed looks. 

Smith says that when wedding attendees really lean into the dress code, the whole look of the day can be transformed into something extra special. "I think guests that get the couple and their style, and follow suit (and also go all out) are 'your people,'" she notes. Guest fashion and how well they execute your dress code shows how well they know you as a couple and how willing they are to participate in your big day.

How to Set a Unique Dress Code

Love this idea? Here’s how to set a dress code for your special day that makes a statement. First and foremost, Smith tells Brides that anything goes when creating a dress code for your wedding, so don't be afraid to break the rules!

collage of wedding guests posing

Photos by Emily Melissa Photo / Design by Tiana Crispino

There are endless directions to explore when designing a beautiful, unique wedding, but it's important to remember that creativity can thrive in context, too. Goulding suggests using the environment of your wedding to get your brainstorming process started. Then, you and your future spouse should choose your own big-day attire, which will ultimately inform what you'd like your guests to wear. As you create a wedding palette to share with guests, include the types of colors, fabrics, and clothing styles you'd ideally like to see guests wear. If you've settled on a light and airy color palette for your wedding as a whole, Goulding suggests requesting that your guests come dressed in their very best pastel tones to drive that aesthetic home.

Costello mentions that, in choosing your dress code for guests, "it’s important to think about what will add a modern yet timeless complement to your wedding’s location and feel." For example, "Stay away from rigid dress codes and costume-like directions! A truly unique dress code could hit much differently to your New York City friends than your extended family from Idaho."

When determining the dress code, Costello says that it's important to make sure all of your guidelines are mapped out. "You want to do it in a way that is inviting and not demanding. Visuals are always helpful! Whether that’s specific color tones within the invite suite, using a font to convey the vibe, intentional word descriptions, or going more specific with outfit inspiration on the wedding website. This can be done in a light and fun way," she says.

Whatever you do, be sure to clearly communicate your dress code wishes with guests, especially if it's something more unexpected. "Your overarching dress code should be placed on your main invite. For example, [writing something like,] 'Formal dress code required,'" Goulding adds. "If a custom dress code is the couple’s preference, then the details can be placed on your details card as well as on your wedding website."

Trending Dress Codes to Try

male and female wedding guests wearing blue outfits

Photo by Ryan Ray / Design by Tiana Crispino

Whether you want to get rid of traditional dress code expectations but still err on the side of timelessness or you want to think entirely out of the box for your wedding day, our experts have your back with a solid overview of the current trends they're seeing everywhere right now.


"Recently, we did have one that had a colorful monochromatic theme (formal attire), but tone-on-tone was suggested," Smith shares. The result was a space filled with vibrant shades of contrasting colors, and female guests arrived in everything from head-to-toe jewel-toned looks to bold pantsuits; for men, a coordinated suit, shirt, and tie fit the bill. "The guests really showed up, and it was super fun. This client went as far as to put a mood board of suggested attire on their website. Visuals are the best way to communicate style," she adds.

Playful Colors

When it comes to setting a unique dress code, Costello says asking guests to arrive in an array of specific colors is a trend that's on the rise. "Color tones are really fun and can be taken in multiple directions," she adds. "I always recommend unique and modern pieces, paired with fun and chic accessories."

Creative Formal Dress

If you like the idea of a formal dress code but don't want your celebration to feel stuffy, consider a modern twist on the classic. Goulding says, "I saw a couple ask for 'creative formal dress,' which meant they wanted the guests to wear a statement piece—whether a funky pocket square for men or statement jewelry for the ladies—to show off their personal style for the occasion." The important thing is to remember to give your guests direction. "Anything from a bold necklace, cocktail ring, or patterned socks would suit that fun dress code," she adds.

Main Image by Ana Hinojosa.

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