We’ve all been there: the quirky save-the-date, the beautifully-embossed invitation, the excitement of booking your travel and finding the perfect place to stay… and the question of what to wear. From “black tie required” to “beach casual,” wedding dress codes have gotten more specific and more confusing in recent years. Each invitation prompts a slew of outfit-related questions, like, what’s appropriate for a casual wedding? What is black-tie attire, exactly? And do people really have white-tie weddings anymore?
As weddings get less traditional and more creative and fashion trends evolve beyond ballgowns and tuxedos, wedding guests have less clarity and more options when they’re deciding what to wear. But don’t stress! We found our favorite wedding guest dresses and whipped up some wedding guest dress ideas to break down what’s acceptable for each type of wedding.
What to Wear to a Casual Wedding
At first glance, casual wedding attire seems like a no-brainer. But there is such a thing as dressing too casually, so it’s important to know what’s wedding-appropriate and what to avoid. What is casual wedding attire? Casual weddings allow the most options and versatility. Guests should decide what to wear depending on the season, the time of the ceremony and the wedding location.
For example, for a daytime summer beach wedding, opt for a short printed dress, a lightweight romper, or a breezy, lightweight maxi dress. A spring wedding guest would fit right in wearing floral prints. Separates, like a matching set or a flowy top paired with a midi skirt, are also an excellent choice.
Flats and sandals are always acceptable, but stay away from flip-flops, casual tanks, shorts and any type of denim. When in doubt, single pieces like jumpsuits, rompers, maxi dresses or midi dresses are a simple, can’t-go-wrong choice.
Possibly the most confusing of all wedding dress codes, semi-formal wedding attire is a little bit of everything. What exactly does semi-formal mean? Simply put, when a couple requires semi-formal attire, they expect their guests to dress up, but they don’t want guests to have to purchase a full-length gown or a tux. Think cocktail dresses, midi dresses and chic jumpsuits.
Don’t be afraid to think outside the box for semi-formal wedding attire. A crepe jumpsuit or a sleek pantsuit can look just as chic as a cocktail dress. Matching sets are also appropriate, as long as they are in formal fabrics like satin, velvet or silk. A form-fitting blazer and a matching pant, or a structured top paired with a midi skirt, are great choices as well. Stay modern with bold prints and eye-catching details, like ruffled sleeves and asymmetrical hemlines.
Semi-formal attire is a great opportunity to play up your accessories. Oversized necklaces, statement earrings and playful clutches are welcome. Sandals and flats are allowed but remember to keep them upscale. Metallic finishes and patent leather will keep your look elevated.
What is black-tie attire? Let’s break down this formal wedding dress code. For men, black-tie literally means a suit with a black tie or a tuxedo with a black bow-tie. Easy, right? Well, it gets a little more complicated for women. Black-tie apparel for women usually means a floor-length gown with formal accessories like jewelry, clutches and heels. You can also pull off a cocktail dress or a sleek jumpsuit but make sure it’s extremely chic and formal. Hem lines should be on the longer side and a focus on fine fabrics will help you nail the look.
Like with a casual wedding, the venue and time of year will help you determine what fabrics to choose. For example, a fall wedding in a grand ballroom will call for thicker fabrics, like a satin or velvet, whereas a spring garden wedding requires lighter fabrics, like chiffon or tulle. Feel free to play with colors and prints. Florals are lovely for spring and neutrals or jewel tones are appropriate for fall. No color is off-limits except for white, of course, and whatever color the bridesmaids are wearing.
White-tie weddings are rare, but if you’re lucky enough to receive this extremely formal invite, you definitely want to get the attire right. The big question is: what’s the difference between black-tie and white-tie? The short answer: white-tie is like black-tie but even more formal. In fact, it’s the most formal wedding dress code of all.
A white-tie dress code takes the elegance up to eleven. Men are expected to wear tuxedo suits with white bow-ties (hence the name), a jacket with a tail and maybe even dinner gloves. For women, a floor-length gown is a must, preferably a ballgown. Small details like extravagant jewelry, a sleek up-do, and white gloves will differentiate your look from standard black-tie attire.
White-tie attire is typically only required at political, diplomatic and royal events, but if you get the chance to attend a white-tie wedding, be prepared to feel fabulous and look flawless.