12 Wedding Guest Dress Code Rules

Wedding Guest Dress Code

Have you received an invite with a wedding guest dress code you’re not sure about? This handy guide helps you decipher dress code wording, along with all the etiquette do’s and dont’s to make sure you never stand out for the wrong reasons.

1. “White Tie”

If you see this on a wedding invite, the occasion will be extremely formal. You should be dressed to the teeth. Ladies should wear a full-length ball gown with optional gloves. Your date must be dressed in tails with a white vest and bow tie and black leather shoes, or military uniform.

2. “Black Tie”

This is the second most formal dress code for weddings, usually held in the evening. After 5 pm, men should always wear a tuxedo with a bow tie and black leather shoes. During the day, a dark suit is fine. Unless dress length is specified, ladies can choose a cocktail dress or a ball gown.

3. “Black Tie Optional” or “Formal”

This dress code sounds confusing at first but simply means that while a tuxedo can be worn by male guests, it isn’t obligatory. A dark suit and tie are perfectly acceptable. Ladies can wear a long gown or a formal cocktail dress – or if the wedding is in the morning, a dressy, tailored suit is a perfectly acceptable outfit for the ladies.

4. “Creative Black Tie” or “Themed Black Tie”

This is a fairly new, trendy dress code that has come about due to the popularity of themed weddings. Essentially, it allows you to play with your outfit in a fun and fashionable way while staying within the confounds of formal dress.

  • For example, men could swap the classic white shirt and black tie for a black shirt with a red bow tie.
  • Women can opt for a cocktail dress with trendy accessories or, in the summer, fresh flower hairpieces for a creative touch. 

Alternatively, a theme may be specified on the invite, such as 1920’s Vintage or Texan Black Tie. In this case, you should dress accordingly by donning a flapper costume or swapping your shoes for cowboy boots.

5. “Morning Suit”

You’ll normally see this formal dress code on an invite to a very traditional British wedding. Men should wear a black or grey morning coat, striped trousers, waistcoat, collar shirt, black shoes and an optional top hat. Women should opt for a knee-length dress or a skirt worn with a jacket and a hat.

6. “Lounge Suit”

This is another typically British wedding dress code. A “lounge suit” is simply a suit. It could be black or dark grey, with a white shirt and a smart tie, which doesn’t have to be black. For the ladies, a cocktail dress at knee-length is perfect. A long evening dress would be over the top on this occasion.

7. “Smart Casual” or “Semiformal”

Don’t be fooled by the word “casual” here. The couple does not want you to arrive in jeans. Men should wear a suit and tie but can take their jacket off later during the reception if the groom and groomsmen lead by example. Women will want to wear a cocktail dress or combine a very dressy skirt and top.

8. “Casual”

Casual sounds like you’re allowed to turn up wearing anything you like. However, you should read “casual” the same as “casual Friday” at work. Again, jeans are not appropriate. He should wear a button-down shirt and dress trousers, shoes can be brown. She can don a summer dress or a pretty blouse with a skirt or smart trousers.

9. “Cocktail Attire”

Cocktail attire usually means an evening wedding, but you should avoid looking like you’re going to a nightclub. An elegant frock that’s neither too formal nor too casual is perfect. Men should stick to a dark suit and tie.

10. “Beach Formal”

This tricky combination means you must look elegant, but also prepare for sand, wind, water and sun.

  • He should wear a beige linen suit or a shirt with khaki or linen trousers. Smart leather sandals are perfect for him and no tie is necessary.
  • Female guests should wear a knee-length formal summer dress with flat sandals or wedges that are suitable for walking on sand.

Warning! Unless you are specifically instructed to wear white, neither male nor female guests should EVER wear white to a beach wedding unless they want to be mistaken for the bride or the groom. Instead, wear beiges, pastels or floral prints.

11. “Festive Dress”

Attending an event that takes place at Christmas or New Year’s? This dress code depends entirely on the date and the venue, and will usually come with further instructions from the couple. You’ll normally be safe wearing formal cocktail attire with added flair and sparkle.

12. “No instructions”

Finally, if there are no instructions on the invite, it’s safest to err on the side of caution. Remember, those wedding photos last forever! For example, you can wear a suit to the ceremony and then take the jacket and tie off later at the reception. Ladies know best.

If in doubt, ask the bridal party for advice. It’s an honour to be invited to a wedding, so pick an outfit that’s respectful and doesn’t bring attention to yourself. Then you can simply enjoy the day and focus on the celebration.

Finally, a wedding guest dress code DO’s and DONT’s etiquette list:

  • DON’T EVER WEAR WHITE unless specially instructed to do so in the wedding invite. White is the bride’s (and sometimes the groom’s) exclusive colour for the day.
  • DON’T BEAR IT ALL. Mini skirts, bulging bosoms and tight, see-through dresses are a no-no.
  • DO MAKE AN EFFORT. At a wedding, it’s not cool to look like you just don’t care.
  • DON’T BREAK THE BANK. Consider jazzing up a smart work outfit with dressy accessories. If need be, borrow or rent the attire you need.
  • DO TAKE YOUR GLOVES OFF WHEN EATING at a formal wedding.
  • DON’T DRESS “LOUD”. As a guest, you should blend in and let the couple have the limelight.

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