The dress isn’t the only big fashion decision involved in a wedding! Fellas and folks who wear suits, listen up: What you wear should feel just as special—which means there’s no need to confine yourself to a black tuxedo or charcoal sport coat if that’s not your vibe.
“Find something that’s naturally you and that fits well,” says stylist Grant McNamara. “Beyond that, there’s always room to play with the dress code.” Still, it always helps to know the rules before you start bending them—and that’s precisely why we tapped McNamara for his seasoned sartorial wisdom.
Meet the Expert
Chicago-based men’s stylist and custom clothier Grant McNamara helps grooms and groomsmen develop their wedding-day looks through his company GPS (Gentlemen’s Personal Stylist).
Whether you’re a groom, groomsman, or wedding guest, consider his guidelines to men’s wedding attire a solid jumping off point for all your suiting decisions.
Men’s Wedding Attire by Dress Code
A wedding’s dress code will undoubtedly yield the most influence on what you wear. Here are McNamara’s suggestions for men’s wedding attire for some of the most common ones:
White tie is the most formal of all event dress codes. “Absolutely wear a tuxedo, with a black or white formal jacket,” says McNamara. “You also must be in a bow tie, though it can be white or black.” This is also where you can wear tails (a jacket with a back that hits at knee length), but know this is a rare necessity for American celebrations. Shoes should be black, but they don’t have to be patent leather.
If you see “black tie required,” “black tie requested,” or “black tie welcome” on an invitation, you’ll need to wear a formal outfit. That can mean a traditional matching tuxedo, but it doesn’t have to be black (navy, hunter green, and burgundy are all trending options), or trousers and a formal dinner jacket, which do not have to match. (i.e. a navy jacket and black pants). In black tie attire, a bow tie is still your best bet for neckwear—though, these days, you can occasionally get away with a regular necktie—and shoes should still be black.
Black Tie Optional
According to McNamara, “semi-formal” and “black-tie optional” are the same level of fancy. If you see either on an invite, know it is better to err on the side of formality, but don’t feel pressured to rent or buy a tuxedo if you don’t have easy access to one—a dark suit will work just fine.
“No one actually really knows what cocktail is,” McNamara says with a laugh. “Which means you can experiment.” That said, we’re not quite in casual territory yet, so you’ll still want to don a jacket. Neckwear, however, is optional—there’s no need for a bow tie or a tie; if you do wear one, colors and textures are welcome.
If you’re going the suit route and want to play it safe yet still stylish, McNamara suggests light gray or silver—it’s “something different,” but doesn’t dramatically stand out. If you do want to stand out, now’s the time—patterned and colored jackets and suits are welcome in cocktail attire. (As are non-black shoes.) Whatever you choose, respect is key for nailing a more risk-taking look. “If you think something might be inappropriate, don’t wear it—because it probably is,” says McNamara.
Beach-y or Beach Formal
Choose a suit in a lighter color (tan, light gray, light blue) or material (i.e. linen). Neckwear is typically not necessary; if the celebration veers more casual, you can also pair a solid white linen shirt—“it works 100 percent of the time,” says McNamara —with a lighter color trouser. As for Hawaiian and floral shirts? They can be a hit when done right, but if fashion isn’t your area of expertise, or you’re unsure of how dressy the wedding truly is, it’s better to avoid.
This is another excellent opportunity to play with pattern and color. McNamara loves a suit or jacket in a Prince of Wales or plaid fabric for a garden wedding, and also encourages his clients to play with color: muted pastels, such as salmon red, sage, and slate blue, will all feel appropriately festive. If you’re donning a traditional gray or blue suit (avoid black), try a knit or patterned tie in a more colorful shade.
No matter how low-key a wedding may be, you want to show respect for the sanctity of the union and what you’re there to celebrate. At the very least, don trousers and a button-up.
Men’s Wedding Attire By Season
Now’s the time to play with heavier, textured fabrics—velvet being a big one. “Textures make an outfit dynamic,” says McNamara. “When you mix a plain dress shirt with a textured jacket and patterned neckwear, an outfit stands out beautifully—especially around the holidays.”
Lighter color suits—light gray, light blue—are a great option for this transitional season. Another idea: Try a pink or lavender dress shirt underneath your go-to navy or charcoal number.
Breathable fabrics such as linen, wool-linen blend, and even silk-linen blend are key for surviving outdoor weddings in the summer heat.
Don’t over-do it on the dry-cleaning. “Dry-cleaning suits and jackets can give them a weird sheen,” says McNamara. “Unless you’ve got a stain or profusely sweated through a piece, you’ll save a lot of time and money if you buy a steamer to keep at home. Otherwise, take it to the cleaners and ask for ‘steam press only.’”
“Flannels are amazing,” says McNamara. “They drape well because it’s a heavier fabric, there are beautiful colors and shades, and they feel like pajamas.” They also come in delightful plaid patterns, which work wonderfully for cocktail attire dress codes. Pair a flannel sport coat with a more traditional trouser for a winning fall wedding look.
Men’s Wedding Attire by Time of Day
For wedding-related events that take place at night (i.e. the rehearsal dinner), think dressy cocktail—unless the event has a specific dress code. A light gray or silver suit really shines in this moment, as do gray trousers paired with a sports jacket. “If you want to do something really cool, play with the details,” adds McNamara. “Add a funky tie or a funky pocket square, and have fun with the shoes.”
For a welcome party, dark denim can be acceptable if the location is a bar or restaurant, but pair it with a button-up shirt or a jacket. “Dress like you’re going on a really nice date,” he suggests. “You could even do a bomber jacket with trousers or slacks.”
For a daytime wedding, follow the dress codes for casual or garden affairs as described above, and don’t wear black shoes. (They’ll feel out of place.) If it’s a post-wedding brunch you’re attending, jeans are likely acceptable, but sweatpants will always be a no-go—no matter how hungover you are.
Men’s Wedding Attire By Venue
If the dress code is unclear, your next best wardrobe cue is where the wedding takes place. Here, McNamara’s suggestions for men’s wedding attire according to venue:
At minimum, think black tie optional, or go with a dark suit (navy, charcoal, black) and dark necktie. “It’s always better to be overdressed than underdressed,” says McNamara.
When it comes to offbeat venues such as breweries and art galleries, “cocktail attire is perfect,” says McNamara. “Think cool plaids, cool textures, and different colors, such as rust and red.”
If the ceremony is directly on the sand, you can likely go more casual. If it’s not, do a mix of cocktail and beach attire. “Wear a jacket and trousers, but they can be lighter colors or linen,” says McNamara.
For a wedding in a more traditional institution, veer formal: dark colors, jacket and trousers, and definitely neckwear. “You can always take the tie off later on,” says McNamara.
Vineyard or Outdoor Venue
Cocktail or garden attire works here. The alfresco nature of the space makes it a touch more casual than a ballroom, but settings can vary widely in terms of formality, so be sure to do your research. Google past weddings that have occurred at the venue and make your decisions from there.
2020 saw a surge in at-home weddings. While the trend was born out of necessity in the pandemic, it will likely stick around as an option for couples looking for a more intimate way to celebrate. For a backyard wedding, McNamara recommends going with cocktail attire if you want to dress up, but otherwise sticking with the garden or casual dress code.