Wedding receptions aren't the only marriage-related events that require you to find just the right outfit. Months or even years before the big day, many couples will throw an engagement party, and if you're close with the soon-to-be-wed duo, you'll likely be invited to this event. However, as fun as it is to toast to the happy couple, figuring out what to wear can be something of a challenge. Many guests wonder if the same wedding attire etiquette rules apply to engagement parties (for example, is it inappropriate for guests to wear white?), and deciding how casual or formal to go can feel confusing.
In general, engagement parties tend to be more casual than a wedding reception, but if the guests of honor choose to go big with their engagement party, you may have to dress up a little more than you thought. Lisa Sanchez, in-house stylist and fashion editor of The Nines, notes that choosing the right outfit depends on the season, time, and venue.
Meet the Expert
- Lisa Sanchez is the in-house stylist and fashion editor of The Nines, an online destination for celebrity style and trends.
- Allie McKenna is a New York-based wardrobe stylist and personal shopper who empowers women to embrace their signature style. She is also a stylist at Bloomingdales in New York City.
If you're feeling completely unsure of where to start, there's nothing wrong with texting the bride or groom and asking about the dress code or venue. But to further help you find the right look, we've put together a list of tips and outfit ideas for the perfect engagement party guest outfit.
How to Decide What to Wear
Before coming up with an ensemble, you need three important pieces of information: the location, the time, and the specific dress code. Most of this information should be available on the invitation, but again, there's always the option of texting the bride or groom if you're unsure.
The dress code of the engagement party will likely fall into one of four basic categories, and as previously mentioned, will vary based on the venue and time of day.
- Casual: This is obviously the most relaxed dress code, meaning it's also pretty versatile. "If the party is in the afternoon, it is generally accepted to skip the tie and keep some of the top buttons undone," Sanchez says, in regards to men's attire. "For women, floral patterns evoke feelings of romance and joy, which is very fitting for the occasion. The length can be short or long, just as long as you are comfortable." Fun patterns and bright and light colors are encouraged.
- Semi-formal: Right in between casual and cocktail attire is semi-formal, which is a step above casual but not quite as dressed up as cocktail. "Semi-formal can also be called 'dressy casual' and the best way to interpret how to dress is a more formal business casual," shares Allie McKenna, New York-based wardrobe stylist and personal shopper. "A more casual wrap dress is a chic choice, and a suit without a tie could also work in this scenario."
- Cocktail: "Think of what your parents might have worn to work," Sanchez says. "In other words, take today's business professional definition and dress it up a little." She notes that for men, ties can be optional, and you can opt for short sleeves or bring a coat or sweater. "For women, dresses are again the norm, but a nice two-piece outfit could fit the occasion. Dress up the look with some elegant jewelry," Sanchez recommends.
- Formal or Black-tie optional: Most engagement parties likely won't be this formal, but on the off chance yours is, you should know what to wear. "It’s important to remember you can never be too over-dressed. A traditional suit and elegant dress or jumpsuit are appropriate for this dress code." McKenna notes. "A tuxedo is appropriate, but a dark suit with dress pants and nice shoes is also acceptable. Similarly, a floor-length gown is always a safe bet for any formal occasion, but a midi or knee-length or cocktail dress will also work."
The outfit you choose for an engagement party in the middle of the summer is probably going to be different than the one you choose for an event around Christmas time. For spring and summer, Sanchez recommends playing around with color, like pastels and brighter shades. Neutrals are always on-trend, but colorful hues are fun when the weather is warm. She also recommends lighter fabrics, especially for the summer, like linen and seersucker.
"For men, socks may be optional, just consider the venue; it is okay to go sockless when wearing loafers for garden parties," Sanchez says. "For women, floral patterns and lace are popular choices."
For fall and winter parties, dress for the cooler weather. This means patterns and colors will be slightly subdued, fabrics will be heavier, and sleeves and hems will be longer. "For men, still consider a suit or maybe even a nice sweater or turtleneck for more casual events," Sanchez says. "Plaid and houndstooth or solid darker colors are recommended."
Sanchez also suggests lace patterns for women, which she says pair nicely with a shawl to stay warm. "Another option would be going with a solid color. If you don't feel like wearing a dress, consider a formal jumpsuit."
Once you get your invitation, immediately do a google search on the venue, as it is essential for figuring out the vibe you should be dressing for. "A venue is key to planning an outfit for an engagement party," McKenna shares. "Not only does the venue help in dictating how formal your attire is, if it's indoor or outdoor it also determines shoe choices, accessories, and outerwear."
Backyard, or similar outdoor locations, generally dictate that the attire is pretty casual (unless noted otherwise on the invitation, of course). "A backyard party may not be suitable for heels as they would most likely sink into the grass, so a dress with a wedge or block heel would be the optimal choice," McKenna notes. She also recommends khakis or nice jeans for a daytime or backyard celebration.
Sanchez advises that for outdoor parties, men can wear boat shoes or loafers, as well as short sleeve collard shirts or polos. For more formal venues, McKenna suggests sticking with a suit or a dress.
Time of Day
The time of day will also clue you in on what an appropriate outfit would be. McKenna recommends a floral mini dress or a printed maxi with flat sandals for a daytime engagement party. "For men, a classic button-down, clean jeans, and a sports coat" are appropriate, she notes. Sanchez also adds that daytime parties typically call for lighter colors and can be considered business casual or garden party attire.
And if daytime events are typically more casual, evening events tend to veer on the more formal side. McKenna recommends more formal attire with heels or a suit for an evening event. "Swap the jeans for slacks and the patterns for solid colors," she adds.
Engagement Party Attire Etiquette Rules
Before we jump in, it's important to note that there are no strict rules for engagement party guest attire. That said, there are some etiquette guidelines to keep in mind, which Sanchez and McKenna explain:
- Avoid wearing white. It may not be their wedding night, but it's still a wedding-related celebration.
- Pay attention to the dress code recommendations. "If no dress code is advised, then you can assume business professional attire is appropriate," Sanchez says. You can also reach out to family and friends of the couple if you don't want to ask the couple directly.
- Skip the jeans. "Generally, jeans are a no-go, but the venue could affect the style," Sanchez shares. "For example, if the event is at a pub, then dark jeans paired with a nice shirt and jacket for a man and a formal top for a woman could work." She recommends avoiding lighter and distressed jeans so you're not overly casual.
- Wear something tasteful that isn't too bold. "Your goal as a guest is to celebrate the special couple, so it would be in poor taste to overshadow the event with a lavish, show-stealing outfit," Sanchez says. "You are not expected to totally mute your individuality, but be respectful."
Engagement Party Attire for Men
Keeping in mind the venue, dress code, and time of day, it's pretty easy to come up with a basic engagement party outfit formula for male guests. Sanchez recommends coming up with a go-to look that would work well with or without a tie and sports coat. "Bring a tie with you and take notice of your fellow guests to gauge whether you should wear it or not," she says. "The same goes for a sports coat."
A basic outfit idea that would work with almost any venue and dress code would be slacks, a nice shirt, nice shoes, and an optional shirt and jacket. "You can't go wrong with a neutral button-down shirt and a nice pair of slacks," McKenna says. "If it's a more formal venue, top off the look with a sports jacket and freshly shined shoes." If the dress code calls for it, a simple suit works well too.
Engagement Party Attire for Women
For women, a go-to outfit is even easier: a dress works for almost any venue, season, and dress code, especially one in a neutral shade that can easily be dressed up or down. McKenna recommends a silk or satin slip midi dress in a neutral hue for most occasions.
Of course, nice pants and a top are a great option for those who don't want to wear a dress. "In order to be comfortable, you need to be confident," Sanchez says. "I recommend finding a dress or outfit to fit the dress code and matching it with complementary accessories." Have fun with your look, but keep the statement-making pieces to a minimum.
Should guests wear white to an engagement party?
For any wedding-related event, like an engagement party, it's best for guests to avoid wearing white. The shade has such a strong bridal association that it's just considered respectful not to wear it. Instead, opt for neutral shades like beige, black, or blush, or for a daytime casual event, play with patterns and brighter hues.
What should guests not wear to an engagement party?
Unless the engagement party is in a casual bar or in a backyard for an "I do" BBQ, guests should avoid wearing jeans. And even if the dress code is more casual, avoid wearing light-colored, distressed jeans. You should also generally avoid sneakers, and instead opt for flat sandals or dressed-up shoes.