To help you plan the perfect day, we're giving you 20% off your rental and every rental in your wedding party*, for this month only. Promo Code: PARTY20

View CollectionArrow pointing right
Nov, 17 2023

A Guest's Guide to Every Kind of Wedding Dress Code: What Every Guest Needs to Know

A man in a black suit

When it comes to the big day, understanding the wedding dress code is crucial. Doing so allows you to appropriately align your attire with the groom's and bride's wishes. As a wedding guest, formal dress codes need a classic look, like a tuxedo. Semi-formal events and themed weddings might give you more room for personal style. In both cases, following the dress code shows you respect the groom's and bride's wishes.

Decoding the Wedding Invitation

A man and woman looking at Generation Tux’s website

The first step to matching your outfit with the dress code involves reading the wedding invitation. When you receive an invitation, look for any information on the dress code. Some formal dress code examples include white tie, black tie, black tie optional, and cocktail. For these examples, men will need more classic and conservative attire choices like tuxedos, dark colors, and bowties. Women will require a full-length gown for more formal events.

At the same time, a cocktail dress is perfectly acceptable in slightly less formal weddings. Each type of wedding is different and needs careful attire consideration.

"The dress code is the most important aspect of determining your outfit."

The more casual examples may include semi-formal, casual, and beach casual. With these dress codes, you'll have more room for adding a bit of personal flair to your outfit.

If the dress code isn't mentioned in the formal wedding invitation, consider contacting the groom for more precise information. Remember, adhering to the dress code is important. Being overdressed or, more so, underdressed can make you stick out for all the wrong reasons. Both formal and semi-formal dress codes need careful consideration.

The Common Wedding Dress Codes Explained

A man in a navy suit

Once you've established the dress code, you can move on to putting together your outfit. While this might take some thoughtfulness, you can always use the dress code as a guide. Generally, the more formal a dress code is, the more conservative you must be. Here are some of the common wedding dress codes explained.

Formal Wedding Dress Codes

When dressing for a formal wedding, observing the exact rules is best. This shows respect for tradition and uniformity. It also makes it more convenient to choose the right outfit. Tuxedos, white shirts, and darker colors are the norm at these weddings. Some examples include black-tie attire and white-tie attire.

"When it comes to black tie events, sticking to the rules of tuxedos and full-length gown dresses are always the best options."

White Tie Weddings

Weddings following white tie dress codes are the most formal. Men's attire requires a black tail coat, black trousers, black leather patent shoes, a white wing-tipped collar shirt, a pique bib, a white bow tie, and a pique waistcoat. For women, a full-length ball gown is the norm.

Black Tie Weddings

More common than white, yet still very formal, black-tie weddings will always require a tuxedo. However, it's not difficult to figure out what to wear to a black-tie wedding. It would be best to opt for a black bow tie, black leather shoes, a white winged-tipped collar shirt, and a waistcoat. Black-tie attire is strictly formal, so avoid showing up in a suit. Women are also expected to wear a full-length gown for these events.

Semi-Formal and Cocktail Attire

Cocktail and semi-formal dress codes allow for much more attire flexibility. They often depend on the venue, theme, and wedding season. However, there are still some general principles to keep in mind. Semi-formal is slightly more casual than cocktail attire and more reserved for afternoon weddings than evenings. Some precise guidelines to follow include:

Cocktail Weddings

Usually reserved for evenings, men can choose a well-tailored suit rather than a classic tuxedo at a wedding with a cocktail dress code. In most cases, it's best to stick with darker colors like black, navy, and charcoal for men's attire. If it's a summer wedding, slightly lighter tones, including lighter gray and blues, might be more acceptable. You can also opt for a light blue shirt instead of a white one. A dark-colored tie is expected. As for women, A knee-length cocktail dress is ideal.

Semi-Formal Weddings

As mentioned above, semi-formal weddings leave more room for mixing up your look. Next to cocktail attire weddings, they're the most popular dress code. The trick to getting the look right is to have a relaxed yet sharp overall look. Men can choose from different suit types and colors to match the season. Some examples include blue, navy, light gray, and pastel colors. Consider matching them with a pastel color shirt, leather shoes, or loafers. Women can also choose from various dresses, including knee-length and mid-length.

Casual and Dressy Casual Weddings

Just because it's a casual wedding doesn't mean you should show up in jeans and sneakers. A suit can be too formal for men with this attire type. However, a button-down dress shirt, chinos, slacks, and a sports coat without ties can work for a casual dress code. You can look for lightweight linen material if it's a summer wedding (typically a little less dressy than other seasons). Women can choose from a wide variety of tailored dresses and even sundresses.

Destination and Beach Weddings

A couple in wedding outfits hugging and looking over the water

Some weddings may have specific destinations. A beach wedding is a popular example. Men should go for much lighter colors like white, cream, and baby blues for these themes. Breathable material like linen is also a great choice. For a destination wedding in cooler climates, just regular suits to match the season will be the best option. A woman can wear a flowy or casual dress that can handle the breeze yet won't drag in the sand for a beach wedding.

Daytime vs. Evening Weddings

A bride and groom hugging in a tree of lights

The time of day also affects your wedding attire. For example, darker suits will always be better for an evening wedding. Black tuxedoes, deep navy, and charcoal suits are good examples. A daytime wedding tends to be less formal and often warrants more customization, patterns, and brighter colors. Some good daytime colors for men include light gray, pastels, blue, and even green. Shirts, ties, and pocket squares can be colorful but should complement or contrast the suit appropriately.

Women can select floral patterns and brighter colors while avoiding shiny dresses. At the same time, evening dresses should be made from a more elegant material like satin or lace. Darker colors and more elaborate dresses are a better choice since evening weddings are more associated with a formal event.

Seasonal Considerations

A bride and groom walking through the snow

Although the dress code plays a main role in determining what to wear, you must also consider the wedding season. Not only does this affect the types of colors you wear, but the material. For example, linen is comfortable and breathable for summer beach weddings but won't work during the fall. Likewise, the season can also affect the formality. Darker colors are best for colder months, so weddings at these times tend to be more formal. Here are some general guidelines for seasonal weddings:

  • Winter – Heavier material like wool and tweed will ensure you're warm during a winter wedding. These options also give a more sophisticated look and go great with darker, more subdued colors like black, brown, and gray. Men might opt for a turtleneck with a suit or a three-piece suit with a waistcoat. Women will frequently choose from jewel or earth-toned full-length dresses with longer sleeves.
  • Spring – Men can move to medium-wool or cotton for their suit choices as spring comes around. Lighter tones like gray, pastel, or blue are the right options to reflect the season. Women can also mix it up with brighter-colored dresses and floral patterns in some cases. Generally, patterns are more acceptable during this season for semi-formal and daytime spring weddings.
  • Summer – This season is all about comfort when it comes to weddings. Unless it's during the evening, both men and women can opt for brighter colors, including cream, tans, or light blues. Men can choose from patterned ties, and women will do best with light and airy dresses that match the formality level and dress code.
  • FallEarth tones and deeper color palettes are great choices for both men and women when the leaves start to change. Burgundy, brown, deep greens, and grey are all acceptable examples. As it gets chillier, men might want to consider three-piece suits. Women can choose heavier fabrics like velvet with longer dresses and close-toe heels for fall attire.

Optional Attire: Navigating the Grey Areas

A man in a white suit

While some wedding dress codes are clear-cut, others are more ambiguous. While they can leave you with more room for choosing the best attire, they can sometimes need to be clarified. In these cases, it's important to consider the theme and venue. Likewise, it's less of an error to overdress than to underdress.

For example, black-tie optional means you can go right with a tuxedo. However, it is perfectly acceptable not to choose one. Instead, men can go with black suits and a black tie. Women have more leeway here as well. The optimal look can be a cocktail dress or a full gown, depending on the theme, season, venue, and time of day.

Another ambiguous example that gives rise to confusion includes festive attire for weddings. This dress code is more common during the holidays, and it encourages guests to be creative with bold color patterns, nice accessories, and an overall non-traditional vibe. Like other in-between dress codes, this might heavily depend on the venue.

Men can opt for fun patterns, bright colors, and unusual fabrics. In contrast, a sequined dress with fun embellishments will work perfectly for women.

What Women Should Wear

While there may be a lot of different dress codes, matching them doesn't have to be confusing. As with men, women have fewer choices for formal events, while less formal weddings invite playfulness and personal style.

A floor-length dress is the safest bet for white and black tie events. Cocktail dresses are the best for black-tie optional and cocktail weddings. The little black dress is a popular and flawless choice for semi-formal weddings.

As for more casual weddings, women should wear options like a dressy jumpsuit, summer sundress, or other dress types. There are less clear-cut rules here.

What Men Should Wear

A man in a suit and a women in a dress standing in the grass

It would be best for men to wear a tuxedo and a crisp white dress shirt for formal black-tie events. You'll recognize tuxedos by their lapels, pant strips, and buttons made from satin, while the rest of the suit is made from wool or cotton.

You can also accessorize with a white pocket square for the most traditional approach. Cufflinks can elevate the style but are not altogether necessary. Your dress shoes should also be black. Of course, no black-tie wedding tuxedo would be complete without a black bow tie.

Men can switch to darker suits for black tie optional and cocktail weddings. Some optimal choices include navy, black, and charcoal gray. For semi-formal events, go for a relaxed yet sharp look. These include champagne color suits, tans, light grays, pastel colors, and cream. Ties can be vibrant, yet should match your shirt.

Wedding Guest Outfit Ideas

Brad Pitt in a black tuxedo

While knowing dress codes in and out can be helpful, having some real examples always helps. Fortunately, you don't have to look much further than the red carpet for some trendy yet classic wedding guest ideas. While these examples weren't worn as a wedding guest outfit, they can still be a great example.

At the 2023 Oscars, Austin Butler wore a tasteful Saint Laurent black tuxedo with peak lapels. This look works perfectly for black-tie weddings as it follows all the formal rules of men's attire.

At the same event, Ana de Armas wore a full-length sequin Louis Vuitton gown that looks stunning for evening wear and more formal dress codes like black tie. This can be a popular wedding dress option alongside shorter cocktail dresses for casual events.

FAQs: Every Dress Code Question Answered

Four men in gray suit drinking at a small table

Is it acceptable to wear a black dress to a wedding?

Yes, wearing a black dress to a wedding is even considered a stylish and appropriate option for common wedding guest dress codes. While this used to be exclusively a color for mourning, black dresses are accepted as proper wedding attire for women.

What do I do if there's no dress code in the invitation?

If there's no dress code in the invitation, consider asking the groom for the dress code. You can otherwise find the answer if the venue or theme is mentioned in the invitation.

Can I wear white to a wedding?

White is reserved for the bride and might be seen as an attempt to overshadow her. Unless the wedding invitation mentions wearing white specifically, it should be avoided.

Your wedding attire checklist

When it comes to wedding attire, the dress code is your best friend. It ensures you match with the other guests and shows respect for the bride and groom on the big day.

To finish off this guide to wedding dress codes, here is a checklist to help you get organized and create your wedding style. Men should have:

  • A suit or tuxedo.
  • A tie or bow tie.
  • A pair of leather shoes or loafers.
  • A belt, cufflinks, watch, pocket square, and other accessories.

Women should have:

  • A dress the appropriate length for the event.
  • A pair of shoes.
  • A handbag or clutch.
  • The appropriate hair accessories.
  • Tasteful jewelry.

Ideally, your outfit should leave you feeling confident and comfortable while looking sharp and ready to have a good time. If you're ready to take your wedding attire to the next level, browse our 25+ different styles to find the perfect wedding suit rental.

Featured Products