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Wedding Dress Codes Explained: Here’s What to Wear

By Rebecca Padgett


Dressing for a wedding is a bit like dressing for the first day of school — you want to look and feel your best, but you also want to fit in with everyone else. Fortunately, most couples are kind enough to alert guests of the dress code for their wedding. Even so, those categories might need some further explaining. Follow our wedding dress code guide for help and outfit inspiration.


White Tie

White tie is the pinnacle of a formal affair. Ladies are required to wear floor-length evening gowns or ball gowns accompanied by fine jewelry and heels. Other suggested accessories include a clutch as opposed to a purse and gloves. Some women opt for updos to fully pull the look together. Men are required to wear a tuxedo with tails, a formal white shirt, a white vest and white bowtie, white gloves and formal shoes.


Black Tie

Black tie weddings are usually evening events. Women wear floor-length gowns or dressy, shorter dresses. Formal pantsuits are also acceptable. Heels and nice accessories are encouraged. Men wear tuxedos with black bowties, vests, cummerbunds and formal shoes. If the wedding is in the spring or summer, white or black dinner jackets and tuxedo pants are ok.


Formal or Black Tie Optional

The wording here indicates clothing that is slightly less formal than black tie is acceptable. Therefore a tuxedo isn’t required, but the event is still formal enough for one to be appropriate. Men have the option of a tux or dark suit with conservative tie. For women, dress is the same as black tie.

Photo by Woodland Field Photography


Cocktail dress, dressy jumpsuit, nice pantsuit paired with heels and accessories for women. For men — a suit and tie, darker tones in fall and winter and lighter hues in the spring and summer.

Semi-Formal or Dressy Casual

For women, cocktail dresses, jumpsuits, pantsuits or a dressy skirt and nice top. For this event, a floor-length gown would be too much. Pair any option with heels, wedges or nice flats. Men should wear a suit and tie. Take into account whether it’s indoors or outdoors to determine shoe options and fabrics



Usually this means the wedding will be outdoors, whether at the beach or the countryside. For ladies, sundresses become wearable. Wedges or dressy sandals are encouraged. Do not wear tennis shoes or rubber flip-flops. Men are likely to wear dress pants or khakis with a collared shirt. You can add a tie or sports jacket, but these are not required. No T-shirts or sneakers. Sometimes, nice, dark jeans for men are allowed, but if so, that would be indicated by the couple. To be safe, assume business casual.

Photo by Alena Bakutis Photography


Couples sometimes play with the idea of a themed wedding. If that’s the case, dress the indicated part. If you don’t want to play along, simply wear cocktail attire.


Destination or Beach Formal

As the name suggests these weddings often takes place in a tropical or beach locales. Sundress, wedges, sandals and a nice sunhat for the women. Men could opt for nice button-down shirts — either long-sleeved or short-sleeved — paired with linen, khaki or dress pants.


If the dress code is not indicated, take into consideration the location. A ballroom wedding is likely cocktail attire or higher, where outdoor weddings lean towards the more semi-formal and casual side. If you still don’t know, ask the couple, just be considerate and don’t wait until the week of the wedding to inquire.

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