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Everything You Need to Know about Wedding Guest Dress Codes and How to Determine Yours

Updated: Aug 21, 2019

Something you will have to determine during your wedding planning process is what you would like your guests to wear! You may know instantly what style you are going for, or this may be something that gets determined when other details fall into place. Whichever the case, even if you’re someone who isn’t particular on what your guests wear, it’s really important to specify a dress code on the invitation.

Bride and groom high heels and dress shoes in sunlight at engagement party.

Your guests will want to know what you would like them to wear, and you also want everyone to be dressed to the same level of formality so nobody feels out of place. This allows guests to enjoy the party without anybody being under or over dressed. If you are particular about what your guests will wear, be sure to stick to your vision since it is your wedding! When choosing, consider between the following 6 major types of dress codes.

The 6 Major Types of Guest Dress Codes:

1. White Tie (Full Evening Dress)

This is the most formal dress code from which all other dress codes are derived. Although not very common throughout most weddings, occasions like royal balls and opening night of the opera in Vienna still call for White Tie. Women will wear a floor length evening gown (often a ball gown) with gloves and heels, men will wear a white bow tie, white waistcoat, black tailcoat, black silk socks with black opera pumps. It can also be paired with a top hat if preferred.

2. Black Tie (Evening Wear)

This is one step down from white tie, but today Black Tie is typically the most formal dress code. Women will wear a floor length evening gown with appropriate heels and men will wear tuxedos with a cummerbund or vest, black dress socks with black oxfords. Expect guests to dress to the nines and wear their finest.

3. Black Tie Optional / Black Tie Invited (Formal)

One step down from Black Tie, Black Tie Optional means you are encouraged to wear your Black Tie evening wear (see number 2 above). If you don't have the necessary attire, women may wear a short formal gown, men may wear a dark suit, white dress shirt and tie, with dress socks and shoes.

4. Semi-Formal (Cocktail)

The least formal attire for a wedding that is still fairly upscale. Men will wear a suit/tie, women will wear a cocktail dress. You may get a variety of outfits as some guests may dress closer to formal and others may use it as an excuse to be more casual since it isn’t Black Tie.

5. Beach/Theme/Festive

If you are planning on having the ceremony and/or reception in a non-traditional location (i.e. beach), OR you are choosing a theme (i.e. Great Gatsby) make sure to specify to your guests so they can dress accordingly. Themed weddings can also range in formality.

6. Casual

This is the most casual dress code to specify. There are many different levels that you can specify ranging from Dressy Casual to Smart or Chic Casual. Women would typically wear a summer/casual dress, men would wear dress pants with a button down or polo.

If you are struggling between having a more formal or less formal wedding, consider the following 4 things:

1. Venue

Think about how formal your venue is. Beach weddings call for flowy dresses and light suits. Weddings at upscale hotels or restaurants or beautiful event spaces call for Black Tie. Unique venues like lofts, warehouses, gardens, or other locations call for whatever you design the event to be!

2. Season / Time

Consider the temperature of where and when your wedding is. Daytime summer weddings call for lighter and flowy fabrics, evening winter weddings call for heavier, layered outfits.

3. Style of Event

Are you having a seated dinner? Buffet or cocktail style? Are you providing a seat for every guest? Are you serving five-star food and top shelf beverage? Do you care more about your guests being comfortable and relaxed than how they look in your photographs?

4. Your Attire

What style is the brides dress? Short and simple? Full on ball gown? What style is the groom’s attire? Is he set on a tux? Does he hate wearing anything formal? This will help determine what your guests should wear.


Photo Credit: Isabelle Selby Photography

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