A Wedding Guest's Guide to Festive Attire

And no, this doesn't mean dressing for the holidays.

wedding guests in festive attire

Photo by Erich McVey

Have you been invited to a wedding that states the dress code is "festive attire"? When you think of festive, the first thing that might come to mind may be the holidays, and perhaps you're picturing Christmas-themed red, green, and gold. That makes sense, but festive attire actually transcends the holiday season.

To start, this style of dress code is actually much more versatile than you might think. A relatively new term, it allows guests to really have fun with their looks and show off their personal style—plus, it works for any season, any time of day, and in most venues. What's more, festive attire is likely the way wedding dress codes are headed, so it's definitely a good idea to know what it means and how to dress for it.

Meet the Expert

  • Ericka Plackowski is a bridal stylist based in Detroit, Michigan. Her goal is to help brides create and put together the best looks for their special day.
  • Lara Mahler is the founder and chief planner of The Privilege is Mine, a wedding planning collective based in New York.

To make things as clear as possible, we consulted with two stylists to fill us in on everything you need to know about festive attire, and how to nail the dress code as a wedding guest.

What is Festive Attire?

"Festive attire is a fun and colorful spin on semi-formal wear," says bridal stylist Erika Plackowski. "It's an excuse to wear bright colors and prints to a wedding." This style of dress code is also perfect for couples who want to stray a bit from tradition without going too off the wall.

Simply put, festive attire is fun, but not casual. It's a mix of cocktail and semi-formal, so while you should expect to wear something on the fancy side, you can also let your personal style shine through. "Festive attire is cocktail attire but with a fun colorful flair," says wedding planner Lara Mahler. "Guests are encouraged to have fun and play with their look with bold colors and accessories."

Festive Attire for Women

As usual, wearing a dress or formal pantsuit will be your best bet. While you don't need the same formality of a black-tie, full-length gown, you should opt for something that looks put-together and stylish. "For women, we are looking at cocktail or party dresses paired with playful heels and accessories," Mahler notes.

You can also think outside the box and opt for a jumpsuit or something unique. Plackowski recommends a party dress or a cocktail dress in a fun color or a bold print. "You can definitely have fun with some Carrie Bradshaw-type accessories," she says. "What's great about this is [that] you can wear heels or flats."

Of course, you also have to keep the season and location in mind. Mahler notes that the weight of the fabric will change depending on the climate. "If you're in a warmer climate you may opt for a chiffon dress, linen, or cotton outfits," she says. "Something lightweight and breathable. For cooler climates, you can go for something heavier, like velvet, satin, or something heavily beaded."

Festive Attire for Men

Men should also feel free to play around with their looks, and instead of wearing a simple black suit, get creative with different textures and colors. Think green, brown, or cream-colored, and patterned suits (or a suit jacket), like houndstooth. Additionally, "Opt for a suit in a fun color with a nice printed tie," Plackowski advises. "If you're bold, wear a nice dress shirt in a fun print to complement your plus one."

If you feel most comfortable with a classic black suit, Mahler recommends jazzing up your attire with a colorful tie or pocket square, and Plackowski agrees. Accessories like fun jewelry can also change up your look without feeling overwhelming.

For the men who aren't afraid to take a risk, a floral suit can be fun for spring or summer, or a really bright shade like pink or yellow. Don't want to go that offbeat? Mahler says to play around with materials. For summer and warmer climates, she recommends seersucker, linen, and other breathable fabrics.

For fall, winter, and cooler climates, Mahler says to opt for "pea coats, turtle necks, corduroy, and velvet suit jackets." In general, find a look that is dressed up and put together, but more fun than just a classic black ensemble.

Festive Attire Etiquette

Since festive attire tends to be more fun, there aren't many etiquette rules to follow. According to Plackowski, the only rule is that you should not upstage the couple. That means not wearing white, and also avoiding anything that's so bold that it will become the center of attention.

Mahler also recommends dressing for the season. "If we are around New Year's Eve, it might be fun to wear a festive mini dress. If the wedding is around Christmas, it might be nice to opt for a festive maxi dress option," she says. "I think in the end, what we are working towards with festive attire is to really channel the time of year: the colors surrounded by the season and the weather."

And don't mistake festive attire for casual. "Men are still expected to wear a suit and women should wear fun dresses," Plackowski says. You should still be dressed up since a wedding is a formal affair, but a bit more bold with your fashion choices.

  • Is festive attire the same as cocktail attire?

    Festive attire and cocktail attire are similar, but with a few differences. While both require a level of formalwear, a festive dress code allows guests to have more flexibility and fun with their looks.

  • Is festive attire casual?

    Festive attire does not translate to casual, but is basically a more fun version of cocktail (or even semi-formal) attire. You can show off your personal style and play with bold colors, but should absolutely not show up in sneakers or anything that could be considered laid-back.

  • What should you never wear for a festive dress code?

    First and foremost, avoid wearing white as you would to any wedding. While you can wear something bold and fun, try and stay away from a look that is too revealing and an ensemble that would overshadow the bride. If you're stuck on what to wear, consult with the couple before locking in an ensemble that may be inappropriate for the occasion.

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