Dress Code Defined

Guests sometimes need to be pointed in the right direction when it comes to an event dress code. Stating requested attire via a wedsite or an invitation insert is not uncommon, and can sometimes be considered courtesy.

Guests don’t want to be over or under dressed. They also don’t want to guess what is appropriate.

A dress code shouldn’t be a mystery – put it out there. It will make everything easier in the long run, I promise.

 (Think of the conversations you could save yourself! You can avoid having your mother call you to gossip about your second cousin, removed; Martha asking her if khaki pants and a blouse are appropriate for your wedding. Which you and your mother know is a black-tie affair, but some family members don’t because you never stated so!)  

A bride, more often than not will be in a full-length gown. Yes, I realize there are some exceptions but traditionally speaking – brides wear full-length gowns no matter the dress code of the guests. With that, the bridal party and parents set the tone.

For example, if your bridesmaids dresses are short, linen sun dresses; your guest’s attire is most likely informal.  On the other hand if your bridesmaids are in floor-length taffeta dresses and your groomsmen are looking flashy in black tuxedos; you’re hosting a black-tie or formal wedding.


To state the formality of your event, you need to know the different options:


Formal While black tie is definitely the more popular of the option, white tie is top-of-the-line attire reserved for weddings, balls, royal or government dinners and fundraisers. Either option – think red carpet and glamour. You should look show stopping and your accessories should look as if they broke the bank, (but they don’t have to!)

Dignified and sophisticated is the rule of thumb. Women’s attire is similar in both regards, a floor-length evening gown; however, for a black tie, you have the option to wear a dressy cocktail dress. If you don’t already own or want to purchase a gown, consider renting from websites like Rent the Runway or Girl Meets Dress. (You can rent your dress and accessories!)

Men’s white-tie formal varies from black-tie formal.

White Tie: Black tailcoat with matching pants, white pique wing-collared shirt with stiff front, white vest, white colored studs & cufflinks, white bow tie (hand-tied), white or gray gloves, black patent shoes and black dress socks.

Black Tie: Black tuxedo jacket with matching pants, formal white shirt, black-colored studs & cufflinks, black bow tie of any fabric (hand-tied), black cummerbund or vest, suspenders (optional), black patent shoes, black dress socks.


Evening Formal Semi-Formal or black-tie optional is the attire for a majority of weddings. Your guests are likely to feel more comfortable in this option over a formal option. This is the perfect example of where to wear a little black dress or your favorite cocktail attire. Often times these dresses are knee-length, but can always be switched out for dressy separates if the guest prefers. Dress fun and flirty, not too reveling or sexy.

In the men’s case, evening formal is a blend of business casual, festive, and semi formal. Men’s attire can range from a sport coat or blazer with slacks or khakis, to a dark suit, optional matching vest, dress shirt, tie, dressy leather shoes and dark dress socks or some flair can be added with a striped shirt and/or festive tie.


Day Time Formal Country-Club attire or casual cocktail attire is suitable for an outdoor, midday or Sunday wedding. For a woman, think dressier than church but not going out on the town. This is the perfect place to opt for a casual, but adorable short-chiffon number or a floral linen number.

Men can dress in a sport coat with slacks, paired with a dress shirt, polo, casual button down. In this setting, a tie is optional. It is purely the decision of the guest.
Best of both worlds option? Opt for a funky bow tie or seersucker.


Informal If your big day is casual and relaxed, be sure to let your guests know. I never recommend jeans to any wedding, but use your own discretion. For women, consider flowy and colorful. I would recommend dressy sandals, flats or cute wedges. You may not want to bring our your 4-inch heels for this particular occasion. Sundresses and maxidresses are a perfect option.

Informal events can be difficult for men. Think of the season and ask around – you can get away with slacks and a polo or a light-linen sports coat. You may even be able to get away with shorts if they’re paired with a dressier button-down.

Loafers are your friend, cargo shorts aren’t. (You’re not going on a safari! You’re attending a wedding.)



Formality of your event is sometimes hard to figure out by your invitation suite and most people need you to state the obvious – if you don’t want to state an attire request on your actual invitation, be sure to still make it known to your guests somehow, some way.

As a guest, females should always stay away from two colors: WHITE or any shade near it! As well as the bridal party color! If the bridal party is in black, you can’t really help it – but if they are in a unique shade of blue DON’T DARE try to match it!

While you’re spreading the word about dress code or figuring out your attire a glass of red & to-do list should get you through.







All images from BRIDES
A further break down of men’s formal attire on Beckett Simonon
Need the break down in a table format? Check out Emily Post’s attire/etiquette guide