Wedding Tips: Decode the Dress Code! (2023)

There’s nothing more uncomfortable than feeling under or overdressed at a wedding celebration. Which is why setting a dress code for your wedding can actually be a great way to alleviate outfit anxiety for guests, by giving them a helpful guideline to follow for their own wedding day attire.

But with so many different dress codes to decipher – what does each one actually mean, and how can you choose the best fit for your wedding?

With wedding season now in full swing, we thought this would be the perfect time to get clear on some of the most common wedding dress codes, from black tie to formal, cocktail and smart casual.

Keep reading for our top tips on setting the right dress code for your wedding, along with a dress code cheat sheet to help your guests, too!

Wedding Tips: Decode the Dress Code! (1)
Image via Nicola Lemmon

Dress code: Black tie

A black tie dress code basically means this is a very fancy wedding!

This dress code style is usually reserved for the most formal kind of wedding celebration. If you guys are going all out with a super glamorous wedding at a luxury venue or private estate, a black tie dress code will help to set a sophisticated tone for the evening and complement the elegant “theme” of your day.

A black tie dress code is a signal for your guests to get totally glammed up in their very best evening wear – think “red carpet” in terms of attire.

Wedding Tips: Decode the Dress Code! (2)
Image viaFigtree Wedding Photography

Dress code: Formal

If you still want the aesthetic of your day to be elegant and refined without being quite as extravagant as a black tie affair, a formal dress code might be a good fit for your wedding celebration.

(Video) DECODING The Wedding Dress Code 🔎👰‍♀️🤵‍♂️

Formal dress is like a modern, less-traditional version of black tie. While your guests can still opt for black tie attire, they can dress it down slightly without necessarily having to don a ball gown or tuxedo. Setting a formal dress code is ideal for creating a high-end feel for your wedding without putting too much pressure on guests.

Wedding Tips: Decode the Dress Code! (3)
Wedding Tips: Decode the Dress Code! (4)
Images via Figtree Wedding Photography

Dress code: Semi-Formal or Cocktail

A semi-formal or cocktail dress code is probably the most common for today’s modern weddings.

This is a good go-to dress code if you’re not 100% sure where your wedding sits on the dress code scale. It works for pretty much any kind of setting, and it’s the kind of dress code your guests will already be familiar with – so, less confusion on their behalf.

You might also consider this dress code if you’re planning a cocktail wedding, garden wedding or outdoor wedding, where a more formal dress code might not be as comfortable for guests during the day. This style is still about dressing up and making an effort, but with a slightly more relaxed vibe and more options in terms of attire.

Wedding Tips: Decode the Dress Code! (5) Wedding Tips: Decode the Dress Code! (6)
Images via Figtree Wedding Photography

Dress code: Smart Casual

So you’re planning a pretty chilled wedding but you don’t necessarily want guests rocking up in their jeans? A smart casual dress code is a great way to encourage guests to look polished without having to go all out with formal attire.

Smart casual dress is usually best suited to daytime weddings taking place outdoors. If you’re planning a relaxed summer wedding and want to make sure your guests are comfortable in the weather, this might be the best pick for you!

Wedding Tips: Decode the Dress Code! (7) Wedding Tips: Decode the Dress Code! (8)
Images via Figtree Wedding Photography

(Video) Decoding The Dress Code: Weddings

Dress Code Cheat Sheet and FAQs

When it comes to choosing the perfect outfit to wear as a wedding guest, the struggle can definitely be real. While some dress codes like black-tie are easily understood, others may fall into more of a grey area.

To help your guests choose the perfect wedding day attire, simply point them in the direction of this dress code cheat sheet below (along with the answers to some frequently asked questions they may be stuck on!).

Black tie: For the ladies, a formal evening gown with heels, elegant jewellery and accessories will be the best pick for a black tie affair.

The guys should be channelling some serious James Bond vibes with a black tuxedo or dinner jacket, bow tie and leather dress shoes.

Formal: For the ladies, a mid-length formal dress, dressy separates or even an ankle-length jumpsuit are all appropriate for a formal wedding, paired with heels and elegant accessories.

For the guys, an evening suit and tie (bow tie optional) with formal dress shoes will be best suited. Darker tones like black, navy and charcoal tend to be better suited for a formal wedding.

Semi-formal/Cocktail: Ladies can scrap the evening gowns altogether in place of a cocktail dress, dressy top and skirt, or even a dressy playsuit paired with heels. Accessories can be fun rather than formal. Think about the kind of outfit you’d wear to a day at the races!

For the fellas, a more relaxed lounge suit (jacket and tie optional) is a-okay for a cocktail or semi-formal dress code. Lighter suit colours are also appropriate, as opposed to being restricted to darker tones only.

Smart casual: For the ladies, a summery midi/maxi dress or top and skirt combo are appropriate for a smart casual affair, with a more relaxed shoe style like wedges or even dressy flats.

(Video) Decoding the dress code when the wedding invite doesn't explicitly state it

For the guys, a suit is definitely not required. A button-up shirt paired with chinos is suitable attire for a smart casual wedding, and dress shoes can be swapped for a more casual alternative like boat shoes or loafers.

Can I wear shorts to a wedding?

For a black-tie, lounge, semi-formal or cocktail wedding, shorts are definitely not well-suited. However, you might find a rare exception for a super casual summer wedding that has clearly been marked as informal – like a small gathering taking place outdoors or by the beach. We’d say opt for lightweight pants instead if you’re worried about the weather, or send a quick text to the couple to confirm. If you do get the green light, go for a tailored or formal pair of shorts that you can dress up with your shirt and footwear choices.

Can I wear jeans to a wedding?

This one is a definite no! Even for a casual wedding, opt for chinos or relaxed dress pants as opposed to jeans. Weddings and denim just don’t mix!

Is lounge suit the same as cocktail? What does lounge suit mean for girls?

Generally speaking, lounge suit is pretty much in line with a cocktail dress code. Follow the same guidelines when it comes to attire – so, lounge suits for the guys, and semi-formal attire (cocktail gowns or dressy separates) for the ladies.

Can girls wear white as a wedding guest?

When the bride has probably spent a small fortune on her own white dress for this once-in-a-lifetime celebration, we’d say steer clear of white (including creams, off-whites and ivory). Let the bride have her moment!

(Video) Wedding Dress Codes and Attires Explained | How to tell your guests what to wear

Wedding Tips: Decode the Dress Code! (9)

Wedding Tips: Decode the Dress Code! (10)

Remember, setting a dress code for your wedding is less about restricting your guests, and more about making sure they feel comfortable. Consider your wedding venue, styling aesthetic and the date and time of your wedding to help you choose the perfect dress code to complement your wedding celebrations (and keep this helpful cheat sheet handy for your guests, too!).

One final tip: make sure you state your dress code clearly on your wedding invitations or wedding website rather than relying on word of mouth so that nothing gets lost in translation!

Want more wedding planning tips? Head over to the Tweed Coast Weddings blog for some practical advice, venue spotlights and real wedding inspiration to help you plan the perfect nuptials!

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Wedding Tips: Decode the Dress Code!? ›

You can include your Dress Code on the lower left or right-hand corner of the invitation. Alternatively, the Dress Code can be placed at the bottom centre of the design.

How do you tell guests dress code for wedding? ›

You can include your Dress Code on the lower left or right-hand corner of the invitation. Alternatively, the Dress Code can be placed at the bottom centre of the design.

How do you describe dress code on a wedding invitation? ›

The dress code can be specified with a simple, "Dress: Formal" or "Dress: Smart Casual" at the end of the invitation. The URL of your wedding website, if you've created one. This is an especially good idea if you're having a destination wedding.

How do you dress code for a wedding? ›

Simply put, women should wear a formal, floor-length evening gown—no exceptions—with jewelry, heels, and an elegant clutch. Men are required to wear a tuxedo with tails, a formal white shirt, a vest, a bow tie, white or gray gloves, and formal footwear, such as derby shoes or oxfords.

Is there a dress code answer for wedding? ›

The wedding is casual, so please feel free to wear whatever you'd feel best in!” “The wedding is semi-formal, so we encourage you to wear cocktail attire [for evening events] / Sunday best [for daytime events].” “The wedding is formal, so we encourage you to wear black tie attire.

How do I tell guests about dress code? ›

Put It on the Invitation

The simplest way to tell your guests what they're expected to wear is to put a dress code in the invitation. There is a time-honored glossary of dress-code wording short enough to include on invitations, or on a card inserted with the invitation.

How do you ask what the dress code is for an event? ›

If a dress code request is unclear, delicately ask the host for further explanation. "You can say, 'I wanted to check in on the dress code' or ask what people will be wearing and offer what you were thinking of," suggests Lockard. "Just ask for clarification."

How do you say dress code on an invitation? ›

Use straightforward wording to get your point across.

Wording for dress codes might be: Black tie (tuxedos and formal gowns) Formal, black tie optional (suit and tie and dresses) Semi-formal (suit and tie and cocktail dresses)

What is the description of dress codes? ›

A dress code is a set of rules, often written, with regard to what clothing groups of people must wear. Dress codes are created out of social perceptions and norms, and vary based on purpose, circumstances, and occasions.

What is not appropriate to wear as a wedding guest? ›

It doesn't matter if the dress code requests "casual" attire, jeans, T-shirts, shorts, flip-flops, and sneakers are never appropriate to wear as a wedding guest. Show respect for the bride and groom by dressing formally. Sabatino suggests that men show up in a jacket and tie, even when the invitation says casual.

What is most common wedding dress code? ›

Semi-formal or Cocktail

Semi-formal is currently the most popular dress code for weddings. Men can wear a suit and tie ensemble or a sport coat. For women, it's super easy, just wear a cocktail dress! The hem of the cocktail dress can range from midi to just above the knee.

What color dress code for wedding guests? ›

You may choose to wear any color except black or white. The guest's goal should be to blend in with the surroundings and let the bride shine. As her guest, you should avoid attire that could be considered informal or in bad taste. Pastels, jewel tones and earth tones are excellent choices, as are most primary colors.

Should I ask what the dress code is? ›

Be direct. Though it won't be the first question you ask, directly ask, “What is the dress code for this position?” It's likely that you'll be asked, “Do you have any other questions?” This is a simple and direct way to get the information you need. Keep a pleasant expression no matter the answer.

How would you describe dressy casual? ›

What does dressy casual mean? It's a way to describe an overall aesthetic that is basically not-all-the-way-formal-but-please-don't-wear-jean-shorts. Swann explains that dressy casual is typically requested for daytime weddings—and the earlier the event, the less formal the attire.

What to wear to a wedding when dress code is not specified? ›

Your best bet is cocktail attire. Sure, you might be overdressed if it ends up being a more relaxed affair, but you'll fit right in at a cocktail attire party, and (with the right accessories) can easily dress up for something on the more formal side. Women should opt for a dress in a luxe fabric, such as silk.

How do you talk about dress code? ›

How to Tactfully Address Dress Code Violations
  1. Thoroughly Detail Acceptable Dress. ...
  2. Be Consistent with the Policy. ...
  3. Have Reasons to Back up the Code. ...
  4. Send Out Reminders or Updates. ...
  5. Meet with the Employee Privately.

How do you present a dress code? ›

The dress code: You should clearly state what the general dress code of the company is and should also list exceptions when employees may need to follow a different dress code. Accommodations: To prevent any possible issues, state that employees can address any concerns about the dress code to human resources.

Do you follow dress codes at parties Why? ›

The dress code represents your image and qualities as a professional. The dress code is also important because the first impressions gives a large impact in the future if he/she will meet the people for the second time, and we only get one and only chance to have a positive impression.

What is after 5 attire? ›

Although the phrase may seem mysterious when you see it on an invitation, "after five attire" is actually another way to say "semi-formal." To dress appropriately for after five events, you'll simply take your work-day style up a notch in formality.

What to wear when you don't know the dress code? ›

Think Casual Restaurant

If a workplace has no dress code, most likely it has an informal casual dress code. You can wear what you want, though keep in mind some aspects of your appearance are assumed, such as a neat, clean look. Consider what you would wear to a Sunday brunch or casual dinner with friends.

What are the four types of dress codes? ›

If you ask someone what the dress code at their office is, they'll generally give you one of four dress codes: business professional, business casual, smart casual or casual. There are some other in-between dress codes, but these four generally cover the spectrum of what your average American wears to work every day.

What is classy casual dress code? ›

Usually, just avoid shorts and a T-shirt. A great standby is the classic combo of nice trousers and a button-down shirt. For a more polished look, a lighter-colored suit with no tie works well. So there you have it!

What colors Cannot be worn at weddings? ›

Steer clear of off-white, eggshell, beige, champagne, cream, or any other super light color that could be mistaken for white. There are so many dress options available in a variety of hues, so steering clear of these shades should not be a major issue.

What is something to never wear at a wedding? ›

12 things you should never wear to a wedding
  • Bridal party colours. When you receive an invitation in the mail, you will more often than not get a glimpse into the colour scheme of the wedding. ...
  • Too high or too low. ...
  • Too dressy. ...
  • Too casual. ...
  • Towering heels. ...
  • Thongs. ...
  • Animal print. ...
  • Neon.

Why can't you wear red to a wedding? ›

“Tradition dictates guests avoid wearing red out of fear that it could take attention away from the happy couple,” explains Hurwitz. “Visually, it's quite bold. In a photo, your eye is immediately drawn to the color, especially if it's next to neutrals like white, black, gray, or beige.”

What is the most popular dress code? ›

The most common dress codes are black tie, cocktail, dressy casual, and business.

Is a 4pm wedding formal? ›

A morning wedding typically calls for casual dress, while a ceremony after 5 p.m. generally calls for formal attire.

What is formal dress code for ladies? ›

For women, this means a business suit or pant suit, or dress and jacket. For men, professional dress means a business suit or a blazer, dress pants and a tie. Remember: it's always better to be over dressed than under dressed.

How do you tell guests to wear a certain color? ›

Can You Ask Wedding Guests to Wear a Certain Color?
  1. Be Upfront from the Beginning. If you're going to request a certain dress code or color from your guests, be upfront about this from the beginning. ...
  2. Be Clear and Concise. ...
  3. Give Options. ...
  4. Consider Guests Preferences. ...
  5. Make Exceptions as Needed.
Jul 19, 2022

Is it OK to wear black to a wedding? ›

Yes, it can absolutely be appropriate to wear black to a wedding, and it isn't typically considered disrespectful (although there are exceptions). While black attire was traditionally associated with mourning and funerals, times are changing — and so are fashion rules!

Can you wear navy to a wedding? ›

Navy is a classic neutral that you can rely on for all dress codes and types of wedding attire. This shade pairs particularly well with evening celebrations as well as black tie, formal and semi-formal nuptials.

How is dress code biased? ›

Educators who enforce them often unfairly target students of color, LGBTQ students, and girls. That's because a lot of school dress codes are gendered, and over 90 percent ban clothing worn predominantly by girls.

What are the 6 types of casual attire? ›

  • Sundress.
  • Long or short skirt.
  • Khakis or nice jeans.
  • Shorts (depending on occasion and climate)
  • Plain T-shirt (no slogans), polo shirt, turtleneck.
  • Casual button-down blouse.

What to wear if the dress code says dressy casual? ›

If the invitation says...

Dressy casual: You should dress up, but only a little. It's often just a matter of wearing nicer shoes, a snazzier top or pants that aren't blue jeans (though denim is fine with the right kind of shirt -- more on that later).

What does dressy casual look like for a woman? ›

Dressy Casual Attire for Women

Tops: Try blouses made of nice fabric or with interesting details, or a collared shirt or button-up—either short sleeves or long sleeves work great. Wear a blazer over your top of choice for added dressiness. Avoid cotton T-shirts or anything with large printed graphics or slogans.

How do you dress for a wedding if you don't like dresses? ›

Wedding guest outfits that are not dresses:
  • Evening Jumpsuits. I personally love jumpsuits; they look so cool, and they're especially suitable for winter weddings. ...
  • Suits for female wedding guests. Other options include pantsuits, which can be a great look for hijabi women. ...
  • Wedding guest pants outfit ideas.

Is it rude to put a dress code on a wedding invitation? ›

"Black tie," "cocktail attire" or "dress casual" are all acceptable templates. (And trust us, your guests will appreciate the heads-up). If you'd prefer not to explicitly state the dress code, that's okay too. Instead, your invitation design can clue guests in.

How do you ask guests to wear neutral colors to a wedding? ›

Alongside your attire, try something along the lines of, “Please indulge us by dressing in white, if you don't mind.” Or, you could try something like, “Our theme colors are neutrals and near neutrals, like shades of beige, baby pink, and sage green.

Can you put dress code on wedding invitation? ›

The easiest way to get your point across is to include your desired dress code on the bottom of the invite or on a separate details card. "Black tie," "cocktail attire" or "dress casual" are all acceptable templates. (And trust us, your guests will appreciate the heads-up).

How do you tell wedding guests what color not to wear? ›

Steer clear of off-white, eggshell, beige, champagne, cream, or any other super light color that could be mistaken for white. There are so many dress options available in a variety of hues, so steering clear of these shades should not be a major issue.

How do you word no plus ones on a wedding website? ›

An example FAQ may look like this:

Unfortunately, due to budget and space limitations, we simply can't afford for all of our lovely guests to bring a guest of their own. Therefore, we regretfully our guests to please not bring a plus one, unless they are specifically named on the invitation.

Can you ask guests not to wear white at wedding? ›

“When you're a guest at a wedding, the most important thing to keep in mind is not to upstage or upset the bride,” she said, adding: “It's safe to stay away from any outfits that are predominantly white, cream or ivory.”

What to wear to a wedding when they don t specify dress code? ›

These days, if the wedding invitation doesn't specify the dress code, you should assume “semi-formal.” This is a great mix of comfort and style, which is probably why it's gotten so popular over the years! Men can ditch the suit jacket and instead wear some nice pants with a button-down shirt.

How do you ask guests to wear a certain color? ›

Can You Ask Wedding Guests to Wear a Certain Color?
  1. Be Upfront from the Beginning. If you're going to request a certain dress code or color from your guests, be upfront about this from the beginning. ...
  2. Be Clear and Concise. ...
  3. Give Options. ...
  4. Consider Guests Preferences. ...
  5. Make Exceptions as Needed.
Jul 19, 2022

Is it OK to wear a dress to a wedding that is the same color as the bridesmaids? ›

Lizzie Post, host of the podcast Awesome Etiquette from the Emily Post Institute, says that no guest should ever feel embarrassed if they happen to wear the same color as the bridesmaids, but they can ask in advance what the colors will be if they're concerned about it.

Is black OK to wear to a wedding? ›

As a general rule, "wearing black is totally acceptable, as the hue is very versatile," Sabatino affirms. However, you should avoid wearing white unless you are told otherwise. That shade, she says, is reserved exclusively for the bride.

What if the wedding invitation doesn't say plus one? ›

If your invitation did not include a plus-one, under no circumstances should you arrive at a wedding with an uninvited guest. If the person who was originally going to attend with you is not coming, ask the couple if you can bring someone else instead.

How do you tell people they can't bring a plus one? ›

If they still bring up the topic of a plus one, be polite but firm: “I'm so sorry but due to budget limitations/venue capacity, I'm afraid we can't justify plus ones.” If you want to add additional reasoning, such as 'plus ones we don't know well' etc.

How to politely tell someone they can t have a plus one for a wedding? ›

Here's the perfect way to politely decline a request for a plus one to your wedding!
  1. Let them know you would love to extend the invite to both of them... Wait, what? ...
  2. Let them know you're only in a position to invite them. ...
  3. Follow up with an appreciation of their understanding. ...
  4. Finish it off with an intent to catch up.


1. The Wedding Dress Code Guide
(PalmWood Event & Conference)
2. Wedding Style Guide: Semi-Formal Dress Codes
(Combat Gent)
3. How To Dress | Your Complete Guide - Decoding the Dress Code
(Tracy Hensel)
4. How to Let Everyone Know the Dress Code for a Wedding : Wedding Style
5. Wedding Dress Codes For Men - What To Wear To A Wedding - Black Tie, Optional, Beach, Spring/Summer
(Mens Fashioner)
6. Wedding Dress Code
(The Wedding Planning Hub)
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