You’ve received the invitation, you’ve sent your RSVP, and now it’s time to think about what you’ll wear. Most wedding invites include the dress code but the description is often too vague to be helpful as you flip through your closet. Fortunately, stylists and event experts have turned these codes into clear rules when it comes to colors and styles. Here are the most common wedding guest dress codes so you can feel confident and beautiful when the big day arrives.
How to Dress For Every Kind of Wedding
This is the fanciest form of attire, so go all out. Women should wear floor-length evening gowns and heels while men should wear tuxedos, complete with a formal white shirt, bow tie, a vest or cummerbund, gloves, and formal shoes. “Women can wear a grand ball gown with rich jewels,” says Deborah Van Cleve, owner of Van Cleve Bridal. Accessories can include full-length white gloves and jeweled clutches. “If you are lucky enough to be invited to one, don’t let the rules intimidate you. Dress for the occasion, and revel in the Britishness of it all.” 
Although it’s a step down from white-tie, black tie dress codes still mean the wedding will be fancy. As such, women should wear floor-length gowns. “You shouldn’t be able to see more than the toe of your shoe when you walk,” says bridal stylist Kennedy Bingham, (also known as Gown Eyed Girl on TikTok). Although women could also pick elegant pantsuits. But Bingham explains that men should wear a full-on tux. “Since it’s black and not white tie you can opt out of the cummerbund if you’d like, but it’s highly encouraged.” 
Formal or Black-Tie Optional
As one can guess, this code is basically black-tie but slightly more casual. “I think the rules of formality have changed over the past generation, and now there’s flexibility and room to play, even with the more formal dress codes,” says stylist Gabrielle Hurwitz. “Whereas before, black tie or white tie typically meant women wore gowns in more muted colors, now there’s freedom to play with color and print. For black-tie and black-tie optional events, men can wear printed or colored dinner jackets and be a little more creative with their fashion, too.”  Men could also choose a formal suit instead of a tux but women should stick with long gowns (though it doesn’t have to be floor-length) and dressy pantsuits.
Now, cocktail attire is a very common wedding dress choice. It strikes a balance of being fancy while more comfortable. Men should wear a suit and tie (no tuxedos) while women should pick dresses that are tea-length or knee-length (not floor-length). “The phrase ‘cocktail’ comes from the 1950s,” says wedding style expert Monte Durham. “This style requires a formal dress with a shorter hemline. It might also be accented with jewelry or a nicer pair of shoes — embellishment is key for a cocktail dress code.” 
Semi-Formal Or Dressy Casual
“I think this is where linens and cottons are an appropriate choice in a dressier silhouette (think a dress, skirt, or trousers),” Hurwitz says. This could also mean a dressy skirt and top, slip dresses, and knee-length dresses paired with formal flats, heels, or wedges. “A fully sequined or beaded dress would be overkill at a dressy casual event. A sports coat and trousers is a great choice here for men, with a neck-tie being optional.”
For these kinds of events, it’s important to look at the wedding venue and time of day. For an evening ceremony, opt for darker and more formal shades, and keep light and airy colors for daytime ceremonies.
“It’s one of the hardest [weddings] to dress for,” says Bingham. “[If it’s a] backyard wedding, I’d dress the way I would for a birthday brunch — a nice dress, possibly a maxi dress, and accessories. For guys, a suit with no tie, or khakis instead of dress pants.” Remember, don’t go too casual with jeans, shorts, t-shirts, tank tops, sneakers, or flip-flops. Instead, choose a summer sundress or a floral high-low dress with nice sandals, flats, or heels. Men could pair khakis or dress pants with a collared shirt, with an optional sports jacket or tie.
Read: 2-year-old steals the show at mom’s wedding after running down the aisle to greet her
More Factors to Consider
Let the location dictate the details. For example, choose a thick heel for a backyard or garden wedding where you’d have to walk on grass. If the venue is on a beach, think about how your outfit will withstand sand and wind.
Wedding Party Colors
Find out the wedding party colors if you can, and dress accordingly. That is, don’t match the theme unless you are an official bridesmaid or groomsman. Check the wedding invitation since the theme colors are often included in it. When in doubt, ask a member of the wedding party.
Check the weather, especially for outdoor weddings, and maybe skip short and flowy skirts on windy days. Bring shawls, cardigans, or dressy coats if needed, especially for night ceremonies. (Women may want to consider bringing a pair of leggings to wear under their gowns.) Mind the weather even for indoor events. If you can’t get dropped off right outside the venue, prepare footwear that won’t get ruined in rain or snow.
Time of Day
If the invitation doesn’t state a dress code, let the venue and time of the wedding indicate what you should wear. “I think the later [in the day] the wedding is, the more formally it should be treated,” says Bingham. “A nice summer sundress might be fine for a breakfast wedding, but it would look out of place at a dinner party.”
It’s a famous rule: Never wear white to a wedding. The idea is that a guest shouldn’t wear anything that could outshine the bride, and it includes similar shades of cream, light tan, and champagne. But extend this line of thought when picking a non-white outfit. It’s best to err on the side of modesty and avoid over-the-top designs, bright patterns and prints, full neon and red, and too much bedazzlement.
Keep Reading: Daughter Puts on Wedding Dress to Have Father-Daughter Dance with Dad Who Only Has Months to Live
- “Every Type of Wedding Guest Attire, Explained.” Reader’s Digest. PJ Gach. February 13, 2023
- “Wedding Attire: 8 Dress Codes Explained.” InStyle. Julia Guerra. May 4, 2023
- “What to Wear to Every Type of Wedding, From Black Tie to Garden Party.” Martha Stewart. June 13, 2023
- “A Guest’s Guide to Every Kind of Wedding Dress Code.” The Knot. Lauren Whalley. June 26, 2023