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A Wedding Guest’s Style Guide to Dress Codes

For those of us who never quite figured out the difference between formal and semi-formal

COVID-19 has recently caused many wedding postponements or cancellations as we continue to shelter-in-place and practice social distancing. But eventually, wedding season will be back, and we’ll need to trade in our comfy loungewear for chic suits and pretty cocktail dresses. With the return of weddings will come a range of invitations–from your cousin who’s getting married on the beach in Bora Bora to a friend from college whose ceremony in Napa is at a vineyard–all requiring different dress codes.

What does black tie optional even mean? Can you ever wear jeans to a wedding?

Below, we’ve compiled your ultimate style guide to wedding dress codes so you can be wedding-ready for any occasion from barbeque-reception casual to State Dinner formal. And besides, now is a great time to online shop from your couch.

White Tie is the most formal dress code. You likely won’t ever be overdressed. Men are expected to wear a black coat with tails, a white vest, white shirt, bowtie, and formal shoes. Women should wear a sweeping, to-the-floor ballgown. High heels are always appropriate.

Black Tie is the second most formal wedding dress code. Evening wear is often expected. Men should wear a tuxedo accessorized with bowtie and cummerbund. Dress shoes are appropriate. Women can opt to wear a long gown or formal cocktail dress, and high heels are highly recommended.

Black Tie Optional/Formal means that while black tie is still appropriate, if the wedding guest chooses, they may dress a little more casually. Men may still wear a tuxedo, but can also choose a dark suit and tie instead. Women can dress a bit more casually, too, in either a long gown, formal cocktail dress, or suit separates.

Cocktail dress codes aren’t nearly as formal as black tie. Men might dress in a suit and tie with oxfords, the colors of which depend on the season. For the spring and summer, we recommend lighter colors for your suit–perhaps even a light seersucker, if held during the day. For fall and winter, we suggest darker colors and materials, like a navy tweed. For women, cocktail dresses, suit separates, dressy skirts or even jumpsuits are acceptable.

Semi-formal/Dressy Casual means dressing somewhere between casual and formal. Depending on the season and time of day, the expected dress (color/material) can change. Daytime weddings are more casual, and evening weddings are more formal. Men should wear suits, with or without a tie, and women should wear a nice dress or skirt.

Casual/Daytime is one of the most relaxed wedding dress codes. This does not, however, mean jeans are appropriate unless approved by the couple. Many people will dress in business casual. Men can wear anything from a sport coat, sweater, button-down, or polo with dress pants, chinos, or on occasion–shorts. (Again, only if instructed to do so.) Loafers or boat shoes are acceptable. Women are suggested to wear a sundress–anything from that flowy, billowing linen dress or the pretty lace sheath you might have in your closet–a skirt, or trousers with a blouse. Shoes can range from open-toe heels to sandals or flats.

Beach Formal is a more uncommon dress code. How does one stay formal while on the beach, where one might more often than not wear a swimsuit? Consider your comfort while selecting an outfit. This means no tuxedos or high heels. Men can consider summer suits, in linen or cotton, or a button-down with khakis. Closed-toe shoes like loafers are suggested. For women, considering the sand–one might choose a maxi-dress or jumpsuit and flat sandals.

Festive dress could mean different things, depending on the wedding. Is the wedding themed? If so, we recommend wearing cocktail attire with a festive element. (If taking place on Halloween, maybe opt for a goth-inspired clutch like this one). However, if there is no theme, the second meaning of festive dress is to give your cocktail attire more oomph. For instance, men could consider a floral pocket square. Women could wear their favorite bright-red Manolo Blahniks.

Featured image by Frans Hulet on Unsplash.