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Wedding Guest Attire Explained

BY: Sarah Gorr | Apr 25, 2018

Wedding trends are constantly evolving—bouquets with succulents! pie instead of cake! blush wedding dresses!—but only one of them has a real impact on the people attending the wedding: the seemingly endless array of dress codes. Wedding guest attire can feel tricky enough to figure out when it's just "black-tie optional" but add things like "beach formal" or "barnyard chic" in the mix and it becomes downright maddening.

But don't fret! We'll break down the most common dress codes (and a few not-so-common ones) with this handy guide so you can march into wedding season with full confidence that your wedding guest attire will be on point.

The Most Common Wedding Dress Codes

Dress Code Says: What It Means For Men What It Means For Women Where Else You'd Wear It
White Tie Black long-tail tuxedo, waistcoat or cummerbund, white bow tie, black patent leather shoes Full-length ball gown (fitted bodice, full-skirted gown), heels Royal Wedding, Met Gala, state dinners, the Nobel Prize ceremony
Black Tie Tuxedo, waistcoat or cummerbund, black bow tie, black patent leather shoes

Floor-length gowns, sophisticated cocktail dresses or jumpsuits, rich fabrics (satin, metallic, velvet), sequins or other glitzy embellishments

Avoid: bold patterns and anything too revealing

The Oscars, upscale fundraisers, ballet and orchestra galas, formal dinners on cruises
Formal or Black-Tie Optional Everything listed above OR a dark two-piece suit, tie or bow tie (get more details here), suits and tuxes can be navy blue, dark grey, or black Same as above Galas, elegant office holiday parties, most modern-day formal events (meaning this is as dressed up as most people get)
Beach Formal or Island Linen suits, lightweight sport coats, loafers, boat shoes, ties are optional, solid or patterned shirts Summery tea- and knee-length dresses, flowy jumpsuits, brighter colors and patterns, flats or wedge heels, gauzy fabrics A nice restaurant on a summer night, a nice cruise
Daytime or Daytime Semi Formal Linen suits, dress pants and blazer combos, dress shoes, solid or patterned shirts, ties are optional but can be colorful or patterned, dress shoes Day dresses, tea dresses, light colors, florals, dressy separates, pastels and brighter colors (avoid dark colors), heels or flats Garden parties, a daytime country club event, the Kentucky Derby (though avoid the boldest prints and hats here)
Evening Semi Formal

Dark suit, dress shoes, understated pocket squares, ties are optional

Avoid: polos, khakis, and sneakers (err on the side of more formal)

Knee-length or midi dresses, dresses or tops with playful details (asymmetry, off-the-shoulder necklines, cool embellishments or patterns), heels, darker colors Similar to formal: galas, fundraisers, special events
Cocktail Attire or Dressy Casual Dark and lightly patterned suits, dress pants and blazer combos, dress shoes, solid or patterned shirts, ties optional Cocktail dresses, clutches, dressy trousers or jumpsuits, midi dresses, statement jewelry, heels A fancy dinner out, holiday and cocktail parties, upscale cocktail bars—this is the most common level of formalwear for most people in their everyday lives!
Casual Dress pants, polos, short-sleeve button downs, blazers and ties are optional, dress shoes Sundress, skirts, maxi and midi dresses, blouses and trousers, flats or heels

Church, a Sunday dinner or family party, work (if your office is more laidback), a nice brunch


How to Deal with Quirky Wedding Dress Codes

Beloved by brides, loathed by basically everyone else, the quirky wedding dress code is showing no signs of going anywhere. And that means more frustration for you because we're not just talking about beach wedding attire or black tie—we're talking about the truly inscrutable. The best rule of thumb here?

If you're not sure what the dress code means, ASK—just don't ask the bride!

Instead, ask another friend or a member of the wedding party like the maid of honor or best man. The bride and groom will have enough on their plate without fielding dress code Qs. Though you could argue that if they didn't want questions, they should've picked a simpler dress code—but still, the polite thing to do is to ask someone else.

That said, here's a quick rundown of some of the more repeated offenses:

Barnyard Chic

For men, think upscale, dark-wash denim, brown-leather accents, and a more casual yet sharp blazer.

For women, florals and gingham prints (if they're on a sophisticated enough cut), gauzy fabrics in warmer weather, and flats or wedge heels.

Brooklyn Formal

This is really just code for "hip" so while you won't raise any eyebrows in a standard cocktail ensemble, jazz things up with more on trend pieces. Men can try swapping out dress shoes for a killer boot or trendy (clean!) sneaker. Women can get funky with vintage-inspired accessories and quirkier silhouettes.

Bohemian Black Tie

Black tie is still the key part of this dress code, so skip anything too casual. Instead, guys can get a little more playful with the color of their tux (dark maroon or deep forest greens for a splash of color) and ladies can lean into the theme with elegant sandals, lacy fabrics, and looser, more comfortable maxi dresses.




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