If you’re attending a wedding, one of the most important things to know as a guest is what to wear. After all, different weddings have different dress codes, and not following the code properly can make you stand out – and not in a good way.
Photo from my destination wedding in Cartagena, Colombia.
Because of that, below you’ll find a complete breakdown of all the different wedding dress codes (psst – including what to wear to a wedding with no dress code). The goal? To ensure you show up to someone’s big day looking exactly how you should.
The 9 Different Wedding Dress Codes Explained
Wedding Attire For Guests
Semi-Formal Dress Code
This is one that I have personally seen quite often nowadays. Think a little less formal than a cocktail dress or something similar like an LBD (i.e., a little black dress). And for the men, this could be something along the lines of slacks with a sports coat or blazer. You can also jazz/spice it up with some neutral colors too. Keep in mind that a tie is not necessary for this wedding dress code, but definitely still wear more opulent-styled dress shoes.
Cocktail Dress Code
When the dress code is cocktail, it generally means you can get away with a shorter dress, but not too short, of course. If your wedding invite says to dress cocktail style, think about going with a mid-length dress with some sort of embellishment such as lace or ruffles to add that splash of personality. That said, a cocktail style for men would be the Morris Code for some dark slacks, a button-down shirt, and a color wheel matching sport coat overthrow. Again, no tie is necessary.
Formal Dress Code
When the dress code is black-tie formal, that means you are expected to wear…well…formal black-tie attire. For the ladies, that means an elegant floor-length gown, like the kind you would wear to a red carpet event. Don’t be afraid or nervous to get dolled up to the nines with this one, but try to keep the Broadway appeal to a minimum. For men, formal is wedding attire code for a tuxedo with all the bells and whistles like a bow tie and cummerbund.
If you see “black-tie optional” on a wedding invite, that means you and your plus one have the option to either wear formal black-tie attire or something more comfortable like semi-formal attire. That said, if you do desire to go the black-tie route, women would likely wear a floor-length gown while men would don a tuxedo as noted above. But if you decide to go semi-formal instead, please refer to the guidelines covered in point #2.
Out of all the different wedding dress codes, the most formal one is by far white-tie formal. This upscale code is usually only reserved for events like state dinners or a night out to the opera. But if you do find yourself at a white-tie formal wedding, know that women should wear a full-length gown (think prom night) while men should don a tuxedo with tails.
Casual Wedding Attire For Guests
If a wedding invite says the dress code is smart casual, think ‘mindfully relaxed.’ In short, smart casual is the most laid-back dress code regarding wedding attire for guests. For women, this could mean anything from a sundress, fitted dress, or a one-button blazer to a sophisticated jumpsuit. And for men, it could be as simple as chinos, a button-down shirt, and loafers. The key here is to look put-together but not too formal.
Festive Dress Code
Festive wedding attire for guests is generally reserved for holiday weddings. For women, this could mean a sparkly cocktail dress or a long sleeve gown. This will depend on the season. For men, it would slacks with a button-down shirt and sports coat like the cocktail style, but feel free to add some fun-loving color in there. For some additional support, think of dressing yourself as if you were heading out to a holiday party. The underlying aim is to appear festive but not too over the top.
Concept Style/Themed Wedding Dress Code
If the wedding dress code says “concept style” or “themed,” that means the couple has chosen a specific concept or theme for their wedding, and guests are expected to dress accordingly. For example, if the wedding is taking place on a beach somewhere, you might want to wear something a little more casual like a sundress or linen pants. But if the wedding is black-tie formal with a The Great Gatsby theme, then you would need to dress accordingly in a floor-length gown with shimmer or a tuxedo with a black bow.
Tropical or Destination Wedding
Are you heading to a wedding being hosted in a tropical location or destination? If so, the dress code will generally be more casual than other types of weddings. However, be sure to check the invitation. Some destination weddings do have a more formal dress code requirement. Ultimately it depends on the venue and the couple. For the women reading, shoot for a sundress or a nice linen blouse. For the men, consider khakis with a button-down shirt or even a nice Hawaiian top if it’s a ‘come as you are’ vacation wedding. In short, be comfortable but still look put together.
Tip: Linen shirts and pants can be great for a tropical wedding. However, be careful when packing them if you are traveling far. Linen has a reputation for wrinkling easily, which can pose an attire challenge if there isn’t a dry cleaner nearby to press it back to smooth.
What To Wear To A Wedding With No Dress Code
If there is no dress code listed on the invitation, it’s safe to assume that the attire will be semi-formal. If you’re still unsure, err on the side of caution and go with something a tad more formal. Like an elegant (non-white) cocktail dress or slacks and a blazer. In the end, the last thing you want to do is show up underdressed!
Summary – Decoding The Codes
In summary, different wedding dress codes are all unique in their own ways. Some may be pretty easy to follow. Others may blur the lines on what the wedding attire for guests should be. This is especially true when there’s no dress code listed. With the right guidelines, your mission to dress wedding-perfect will be nothing shy of comfortable, confident, and successful.
PS: Don’t forget your dance shoes!