Wedding Attire Rules for Guests

wedding attire
Photo by Elizabeth Burgi

Whether you’re a guest figuring out what to wear or a couple deciding what the dress code should be for your wedding, deciphering wedding attire terms and titles can be downright confusing!  We’ve put together a handy “what to wear” list that takes all the guess work out of choosing your wedding attire. Plus, we’ve uncovered some basic do’s and don’ts about what wedding attire you can and can’t wear as a guest (HINT: stay away from white), and how to tell guests coming to your wedding what they can expect.

Looking for more info? Check out this feature on Wedding Dress Codes.

1. Black Tie

This is typically your Saturday night, evening wedding. Though most woman may be in long gowns, it’s perfectly acceptable to wear your fanciest short cocktail dress. Men, it’s simple: Wear a tux. Keep in mind the personality of the couple getting married. If you think it’s going to be a super high-end affair, choose your swankiest dress. Also, the type of venue and the time of year will also determine what to wear, so choose a dress that’s appropriate for both.

What to Wear

Ladies: Long, floor-length gown or a fancy, short version.

Gentleman: Traditional tuxedo with a white shirt, shirt studs, cufflinks, a black bow tie (silk, satin or twill) and black patent shoes. A cummerbund or vest is not required but welcomed.

2. Black Tie Optional or Formal

This is the next formal option after the black-tie wedding. This means the wedding is formal enough that guests can still wear a floor-length gown or a tuxedo, but it’s not required for the event.

What to Wear

Ladies: Long, floor-length gown or cocktail dress.

Gentleman: Traditional tuxedo and accessories or a dark-colored formal suit with a white shirt and a more modest, formal tie.

3. Semi-formal or Cocktail Attire

For afternoon weddings or casual evening weddings, the invitation may call for semi-formal or cocktail attire. You should factor in the time of the event and the location to make your decision. (Note: We recommend erring towards dressy if you’re unsure of what to wear.)

What to Wear

Ladies: A cocktail dress in airy colors and fabrics for daytime, and darker colors and more luxe fabrics for evening

Gentleman: For semi-formal wedding attire, wear your favorite suit and tie (lighter for daytime, darker for evening). Cocktail attire means you can forego the tie if you want.

4. Festive Attire

A couple that chooses festive attire doesn’t mind a bit of personality from their guests. Take this opportunity to get a new tie (any color works), and a vibrant, new dress. Festive attire is also ideal for holiday events, so if the couple is planning a New Year’s Eve wedding, glitter will be your friend.

What to Wear:

Ladies: A cocktail dress (any color or print will work).

Gentleman: A stylish suit and tie.

5. Casual (can also be stated as Beach or Garden Party Attire)

A casual wedding usually means the wedding will be held outdoors, on the beach or another location that lends itself to a less-formal wedding. However, it’s still a wedding, which means business casual vs. weekend casual. Just promise us you won’t attend wearing shorts. 🙂

What to Wear

Ladies: A sundress in light colors and airy fabrics, or a skirt and nice blouse.

Gentleman: Dress pants or khakis, a button-down shirt, tie, sport jacket or sweater, and loafer-style shoes.

For couples planning their desired wedding attire, you’ll want to make sure you include your wedding dress code somewhere easy for guests to find. This can be on the bottom left, right, or center of the wedding invitation (it can also go on an enclosed reception card if you have one). If you’re less worried about what people are going to wear, you can also opt to include a note on your wedding website instead (such as, “Wear your favorite cocktail outfit!”).

Attending a wedding? Here’s a list of do’s and don’ts that will help you feel comfortable and look chic:

The Do’s

  • Ask the bride and groom (or closest relative planning the wedding) if you’re really unsure of what to wear.
  • Bring a light scarf if you’re worried you’ll get cold. This isn’t the event for your denim jacket.
  • Bring a pair of flat shoes for when the heels get the best of your feet.
  • Your research. If you’re attending a wedding in Europe, don’t wear black (it’s sometimes considered taboo). Likewise, every culture is different, and the attire and colors that are appropriate for one event may not be for another.
  • Go for the dressier option. It’s better to be overdressed!

The Don’ts

  • Wear white (unless you’re asked to).
  • Bring a large bag with you. A clutch or small purse is more appropriate.
  • Decide your own attire category, even if you don’t agree. It’s not your wedding!
  • Dress too exposed. If you’re going for a low back, opt for a higher neckline.

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  1. says: Joy Butler

    I am so thankful for what you have shared about the wedding attire rules for guests. This information is very helpful as sometimes we’re having difficulty in choosing what to wear. It really helped when you provided the do’s and don’ts of what is to be wearing in a wedding. Thanks a lot!