From Black Tie to Casual: Wedding Guest Dress Code Explained

Because fall weddings are coming

Updated 07/31/19

Photo by Olivia Rae James

Have you ever received a wedding invitation in the mail that left you completely clueless about the wedding guest dress code? Between "black-tie optional" and "semiformal," the language can be tricky to decipher. But we've got you covered. Here are the most common wedding guest dress codes explained so that you arrive appropriately—and stylishly!—dressed to the celebration.

Wedding Dress Codes Decoded
 Jessica Olah / Brides

White-Tie Wedding Dress Code

This the most formal wedding attire possible (think: White House state dinners).

For the Ladies

Women should wear a formal floor-length evening gown, no exceptions. Pair your dress with jewelry, heels and an elegant clutch.

For the Men

Men are required to wear a tuxedo with tails, a formal white shirt, white vest and bow tie, white or gray gloves, and formal footwear, such as derby shoes or oxfords.

Black-Tie Wedding Dress Code

This is the next most formal wedding dress code, and usually means the wedding is an evening event.

For the Ladies

Women have options — they can go a bit dressier and wear a formal floor-length gown, or they can choose a dressy cocktail dress, paired with heels or dressy flats. Dressy pants suits are also acceptable.

For the Men

Men must wear a tuxedo. A black bow tie, black vest or cummerbund, and patent leather shoes are also suggested. For summer weddings, a white dinner jacket and black tuxedo trousers are also acceptable.

Formal or Black-Tie Optional Wedding Dress Code

The wording here indicates something slightly less formal than black tie is acceptable. So, a tuxedo isn't required, but the event is still formal enough for one to be appropriate.

For the Ladies

The choices are the same as with black-tie: a floor-length gown, a fancy cocktail dress, or a dressy pants suit. As far as women are concerned, there's no difference between black-tie attire and black-tie option attire. The "optional" part comes in for the men.

For the Men

Men have the option of wearing a tuxedo or a formal dark suit, white shirt, and conservative tie.

Semi-formal or Dressy Casual Wedding Dress Code

Part of dressing for a semi-formal or dressy casual wedding is taking the time of the wedding into account. Wear darker, more formal colors for an evening wedding; opt for light colors and fabrics for a daytime event.

For the Ladies

Try a cocktail dress or a dressy skirt and top. An elegant pantsuit is also appropriate. Floor-length gowns, however, would be inappropriate. Pair with heels, nice wedges or elegant flats. Note: If the ceremony is being held outdoors, and you'll be walking across lawn, avoid traditional heels that will likely get stuck in the grass!

For the Men

Men should wear a suit and tie, dark or light depending on the time of day.

Festive Attire Wedding Dress Code

This dress code is relatively new, and will leave many guests scratching their heads. Basically, guests are given the go-ahead to have fun and play with their look. Opt for cocktail-party attire featuring bolder colors and playful accessories.

For the Ladies

Women should wear a cocktail dress or party dress in a fun color, paired with playful accessories and heels or dressy flats.

For the Men

Men should sport a suit, jazzed up with a bright tie or creative pocket square.

Casual Wedding Dress Code

This indicates the wedding will likely be held outdoors or on the beach, meaning the event will be much more laid-back, especially when it comes to attire. That said, jeans, shorts, and tank tops are probably not appropriate unless they're specifically noted as acceptable.

For the Ladies

A summer sundress is appropriate (just make sure the fabric isn't overly formal). Wedges or dressy sandals are perfect footwear for a casual wedding, but sandals and sneakers are not.

For the Men

Wear dress pants or khaki pants with a collared shirt tie. You can add a tie or sport jacket if you'd like, but it's not required. If it's chilly, feel free to add a sweater, as well. Steer clear of any t-shirts or tennis shoes.

Tropical or Destination Wedding Dress Code

Tropical weddings are usually humid and hot affairs, and you have to dress accordingly. Remember, always err on the dressier side of caution. If you're not sure if what you're planning to wear is dressy enough, it's probably not. Upgrade it a notch and you're certain to be just fine.

For the Ladies

As with a casual wedding, look for cotton sundresses and nice sandals or wedges. If the wedding is being held outside and the weather is blazing, consider topping the look off with a sunhat.

For the Men

Guayabera shirts almost always count as appropriate wedding attire in the tropics. Known more commonly as "Mexican wedding shirts," these short-sleeved, button-down shirts usually have decorative square pockets, and often have embroidery. They're available in a huge variety of colors and styles. Most designer labels also have their own version of the guayabera, if you're looking for something a little fancier.

Although linen shirts and pants are also appropriate for a tropical wedding, be cautious in selecting them when you're travelling. Linen usually wrinkles easily, and there may not be a dry cleaner to press it back out in a more remote destination. Don't wear shorts unless specifically instructed to do so.

What Not to Wear to Wedding, Regardless of Dress Code

There are a few rules that apply to all dress codes across the board. Whether you're wearing casual or black-tie attire, avoid all of the following faux pas.

1. Wearing White

Pick any other color to wear to the wedding. Wearing white will just have heads turning in your direction for all of the wrong reasons. Plus, it will most likely upset the bride, who won't want to feel anything but pleased by her guests throughout the night. The only exception, of course, is if the couple has specifically asked all the guests to wear white — in which case, respect their request and find yourself a white outfit. (Here are tips for what to wear to a wedding with an all-white dress code!)

2. Picking a Dress That Looks Like the Bridesmaid's Dress

If you can get a heads up on the style and color of the dress the bridesmaids will be wearing, try to avoid wearing anything similar. If not, you may have to spend the night explaining to everyone that you're not a bridesmaid and you didn't mean to dress like one.

3. Underdressing

Whether or not the dress code is black tie, try not to under-dress for the wedding. Unless it was stated that wearing jeans is okay, try to at least wear clothes that you would feel comfortable wearing to a formal office party.

4. Dressing for the Club

It's a party, so you might be tempted to dress like you're heading out to a nightclub, but remember for a wedding, you should keep it classy. You'll be surrounded by someone else's family and friends so keep it appropriate.

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