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Oct, 15 2023

A Wedding Guest’s Guide to Festive Attire

A bride and groom walking in the snow

There are many wedding dress codes out there, from dressy casual to white tie. Some are reasonably easy to understand – black tie, for example, refers to tuxedos and floor-length gowns. Others are a little vaguer, and festive attire definitely falls into that category. Indeed, when many people receive a wedding invite that calls for a festive dress code, they’re really not sure about how to dress.

Many people hear the word “festive” and immediately think of Christmas. Red, gold, and green would seem like the ideal colors, right? Well, they certainly can be options, but the festive attire definition is much broader than you might first expect. This guide will explain what is festive attire exactly, breaking down the festive attire dress code in an easy-to-understand way.

What Does “Festive Attire” Really Mean?

A lot of people have questions about dress codes. Is formal the same as black tie? How does semi-formal differ from formal? And what does festive attire mean in terms of formality?

Well, while the festive dress code can seem a little confusing at first, it’s not too complicated. In fact, the festive or celebratory chic dress code is a quite relaxed semi-formal dress code, opening the doors to fun outfits filled with bright colors and patterns.

As noted by bridal stylist Erika Plackowski in Brides, “Festive attire is a fun and colorful spin on semi-formal wear. It’s an excuse to wear bright colors and prints to a wedding.” In other words, festive attire essentially means that you can play around with the kinds of colors and exciting clothing items that might not befit a big formal event.

While formal and black tie events have strict requirements regarding the colors of outfits – dark gowns and tuxes tend to be the standard at black tie – a festive casual dress code has no such restrictions. Even when compared to semi-formal or dressy casual, festive wear is more colorful and varied, with patterned suits, brightly colored dresses, and playful accessories galore.

The Importance of the Wedding Invitation

A envelope addressed to Henry and Jessica with a ring on top

Before you get into the nitty-gritty of picking out your festive wedding attire, the first thing to do is read the wedding invitation thoroughly. It may seem banal, but a wedding invite can be an invaluable source of information. And you can use that information to help you confidently and reliably choose a fabulous, on-theme outfit for the big day.

First, look at the dress code. Many invites may just say “festive attire,” but others will go into more specifics. There’s “festive casual,” which generally gives you more leeway to wear relaxed items, like chinos. Or “festive business,” which is more oriented around the kind of items you’d wear at a business setting, like jumpsuits and suits.

After that, see what other information you can glean from the invitation. It should tell you the date of the wedding, as well as the venue, time of day, and the theme. You can use all that when picking your outfit. The theme might refer to certain colors or styles, for example. And the time of year also matters – for summer events, lighter fabrics and colors work best, but in the winter, opt for heavier fabrics and warmer or darker hues.

Men’s Guide to Festive Attire

A laptop showing an array of bowties

For men, suits are often the best thing to wear to a festive event. A traditional dark suit can be a handy go-to, but you can also use a more colorful, patterned, or textured blazer. You can then spark some life and glam into your outfit with fun accessories, like a patterned tie, a bright pocket square, or even some striped socks.

As noted in The List, it’s also possible to eschew a suit entirely and go for more casual options, like a sport coat, button-down shirt, or sweater. Or, you could head in the opposite direction, taking something more formal, like a traditional tuxedo, and making it a little more fun and original with a colorful bow tie or add a vest to break up the monotony of the shirt and jacket.

Women’s Guide to Festive Attire

For women, festive attire is somewhat similar to cocktail attire. A cocktail dress will be your most common go-to item for this kind of event, but you don’t need to worry too much about being restricted to a certain color or dark shades only. Instead, feel free to play around with floral prints, fun patterns, and bold colors.

Other options are available, like an evening gown or maxi dress. You can even get away with a silken blouse-and-skirt combo or a pantsuit for a festive occasion. The key is to instill your outfit with that distinctive festive touch, like adding beads, stripes, or a tartan pattern. And don’t be shy with accessories – jazz up your look with emerald necklaces, pearl earrings, and more.

Creative Interpretations: Creative Black Tie and More

Two men in suits sitting on a car

Festive attire is all about creativity, and there are even ways to sneak a festive feel into other kinds of dress codes. Creative black tie, for example, is becoming an increasingly popular option, where men can twist the strict black tie formula by adding a colorful cummerbund to their outfits or even a red bow tie.

There are various other ways to think outside the usual dress code norms and insert some festivity into your ensemble. For festive formal attire, for example, you could add a couple of jazzy, glam accessories to your elegant outfit. Or, if an event has more of a festive cocktail attire feel, mix and match different textures in your outfit to make it pop.

Festive Attire for Different Events

Part of the fun of the festive code is that it can work for a wide range of events. You might see festive attire requested on the invite for a big Christmas work party or a New Year’s Eve dance. But it can also appear on invites to summer weddings or dinner parties throughout the year. There are even little variations on the formula, like festive business attire and cocktail festive attire.

It’s important to be able to adapt your look to suit each event. At holiday parties, for example, lean into the Christmas vibe with on-theme colors like red, gold, and green. For a New Year’s Eve or work holiday party, it’s fun to experiment with different patterns and textures that can help you stand out from the rest of the guests.

Common Mistakes and How to Avoid Being Underdressed

A man in a suit with a yellow tie

So, now you know what is festive attire, which should make it easier to pick out an outfit for your next event. But it’s still easy to make little mistakes that could leave you looking and feeling underdressed or out of place. Here are some common errors that people make when the dress code asks for festive attire, and ways to avoid them:

  • Misinterpreting the code: If your event invite simply mentions “festive attire” and you know the festive attire meaning, picking an outfit might be easy. But some invites are a little more specific, talking about “festive business casual” or “festive casual attire.” Make sure you read the invite thoroughly and take the specifics of the dress code into account. If you’re still unsure, ask the hosting party beforehand.
  • Underdressing: Even if an event calls for casual festive attire, it’s still possible to underdress. Festive clothing can be fun and colorful, as well as being much more relaxed than tuxedos or fancy floor-length gowns. But it still needs to have a certain level of elegance. Casual items like T-shirts and jeans should be avoided.
  • Upstaging: At a wedding, the happy couple should always be the stars of the show, and guests should never upstage them. While festive or celebratory attire gives you the chance to pick a glamorous, exciting outfit, you shouldn’t go overboard. Avoid anything white that could distract from the bride, and don’t overdo it to take attention from the groom.
  • Forgetting accessories: A common way in which festive outfits look a little too simple or underdressed is when guests forget to accessorize. Remember: the festive dress code gives you the freedom to get creative, so have fun with it! From glamorous pearls to funky bow ties, the options are endless. Just make sure to look up how to tie a bow tie first.
  • A poor fit: Fit is always important, no matter the dress code. A poorly-fitting jacket or dress can ruin your entire look while also making you feel uncomfortable. If the items you currently own don’t fit quite right, seek out a tailor or consider a suit rental from a trusted supplier, like Generation Tux.


So, if you came into this guide wondering “What is festive attire?” then we hope this guide has explained it to you. Ultimately, festive attire is all about fun, celebration, and colors. You can wear glamorous and eye-catching outfits, with different textures, patterns, and bold shades.

In effect, it’s one of the most liberating dress codes around, but it still has some key rules to keep in mind. This is especially true at weddings, where you need to take the theme, venue, and time of year into account to select an outfit that is aligned with the nature of the day and won’t cause you to look out of place. Have fun picking out your next festive get-up, and don’t be afraid to wear colors or textures you’d usually worry about.

Additional Tips From Stylists

  • Don’t be afraid to wear colors that are bright and glamorous. Pinks, blues, greens, they’re all perfectly acceptable, along with flashy patterns and prints.
  • Always think about the venue – as Lulus notes, you could wear shells or pearls at a beach wedding to match the setting. You can also look at black suit beach wedding attire ideas and dress them down with funky accessories.
  • Accessorize all the way. As noted in Masterclass, decorative embellishments, like patterned ties or colorful pocket squares can make all the difference.
  • Think outside the box. The festive dress code is your chance to wear something truly special to a big event – there’s no need to stick to boring old classics.


What should my plus one wear?

If you’re attending a festive event with a date or plus one, it’s a good idea to plan ahead and coordinate your outfits. Perhaps you might pick a certain color palette for both of you to wear, for example, so you complement each other nicely.

Is it time to play with new outfit ideas?

Absolutely! A festive event is a golden ticket for people who want to experiment with their look. Try a color or pattern you’ve never worn before, for example. But make sure you feel comfortable and confident in whatever you wear.

What is festive black tie dress code?

A festive black tie code usually means dressing down a traditional black tie semi-formal outfit (suit or long dress) with accessories that don’t seem fitting with a black tie event. This is most commonly done with patterned or colorful ties for men or scarves and scrunchies for women.

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