There’s No Dress Code on My Friend's Invitation. What Should I Wear?

Play it safe with these basic dress code rules

Updated 11/14/17

Photo by Carrie Patterson

Deciphering a wedding dress code can be tricky if it’s creative instead of clear, and it’s even harder to know what to wear when there’s no dress code at all. The good news? There are a few clues that will definitely help you figure it out—possibly even before you pick up the phone and give the bride a call. Here’s what to look for to help you figure out the proper wedding guest attire if the invitation is missing this key detail.

Even without a dress code printed on the invitation, there are a few ways to figure out what to figure out what your friend wants you to wear to her big day.

The first is pretty obvious: Check the wedding website! This is the go-to spot for any information that doesn’t fit on the invitation. It’s often listed on the “events” page as one of the details surrounding the wedding reception, or might be outlined in an FAQ section.

The next? Take another look at that invitation. It’s full of clues to help you figure out how formal the wedding is (and therefore, how formal your attire should be). Start with the design itself. If it’s fairly traditional, printed on heavy paper, and embossed or letterpressed, there’s a good chance the event will require cocktail or formal attire. Add extra formality points for details like painted edges and swirling calligraphy. An invitation that features colorful graphics, modern fonts, or other playful touches is most likely for a celebration that’s more relaxed.

You should also read the wording carefully. A more formal wedding will “request the honour of your presence,” while a less formal wedding will “request the pleasure of your company.”

The biggest clues, however, lie in the chosen venues and the timing. Do a quick Google search to see if they’ve chosen a fancy country club, an elegant ballroom, or a trendy restaurant downtown. Opt for attire that is fitting for the location, bringing a wrap or jacket to cover your shoulders in a house of worship. A reception that begins later in the evening is more likely to be formal (particularly because tuxedos are only appropriate attire after 5pm!), while one that takes place during the daytime will, by default, be slightly more casual (even if that means cocktail dresses instead of ballgowns).

Still not sure? Your best bet is cocktail attire. Sure, you might be overdressed if it ends up being a more relaxed affair, but you’ll fit right in at a cocktail attire party, and (with the right accessories) can easily dress up for something on the more formal side. Women should opt for a dress in a luxe fabric, such as silk. Wear a darker color for evening weddings, or something brighter during the day. And of course, little black dresses are always welcome! Men should wear suits in either dark gray or black, which transition well between cocktail attire and formal events.

Don’t forget a tie, which you can always tuck into your pocket if the rest of the crowd is looking more relaxed. You can trust that a black tie wedding will state as much on the invitation, so don’t feel the need to don a tux unless it’s specified.

If all else fails, ask the couple! Whether they intended to leave out the information or not, they’ll be able to quickly sum up what you should wear to the event. They’ll also be able to provide any specific notes, from asking women not to wear stilettos or encouraging them to wear sturdy heels for an outdoor celebration to letting men know that ties are definitely optional.

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