With the help of two experts, we decode common wedding dress codes, and provide outfit ideas for any event.
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Getting dressed for a wedding is no easy feat. If you haven't been to many, you might not know much about acceptable attire. If you've been to a lot, the formality has likely varied at each, and even if it hasn't, you probably don't want to wear the exact same thing to every party. Before you start stressing, rummaging through your closet, or committing to a shopping spree, read through this handy guide. Whether you need the common dress codes decoded or just want some ideas for diversifying your look, you've come to the right place.
For a rundown of the basics and some outfit recommendations, we spoke with etiquette expert Suzanne Pollak. We also consulted Alexis Corry, who owns menswear, womenswear, and bridal boutiques. Together, they shed light on appropriate wedding ensembles, and define the terms that you'll likely need to know.
Ahead, find out what white tie, black tie, casual, and more mean in the context of weddings and guest clothing. Keep in mind that not everything's covered, though. While these rules are a great starting point, the expected attire at every celebration varies based on certain circumstances, including but not limited to the season, time of day, and venue. While you can always consult a professional (like a clothier) for guidance, when possible, we recommend going directly to the source. Some couples provide detailed descriptions in their invitations or on their wedding websites. If your couple hasn't, it's always best to ask them directly for clarification.
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White tie is as formal as it gets, and it isn't very common these days. But, if you're invited to this type of event, dressing the part is imperative.
For men, the dress code is strict: a black tailcoat, a white vest, a formal white shirt, a white bowtie, "and white gloves if you're feeling fancy," says Corry. For your feet, wear black pumps (a.k.a. opera shoes).
For women, opinions vary, but it's safest to stick with a long, formal dress. Pollak suggests considering the size of your gown, though, because large, poufy dresses can be hard to sit in. Heels are preferred, but make sure that you can walk in them. It's better to wear a shorter height than to stumble around all day.
Photography: Jessica Lorren Photography3 of 10
Evening wear is most appropriate here. For men, this typically means a dark tuxedo, a white dress shirt, a coordinating bow tie, a cummerbund, and suspenders (optional), says Corry. Dress shoes, like oxfords, are suitable.
Women can wear either a long gown or a dressy cocktail dress. Again, heels are preferable.
Photography: The Edges Wedding Photography4 of 10
Black Tie Optional (Formal)
When in doubt, stick to black tie, but if you'd rather dress a bit more casually, you can. According to Corry, men can wear a dark suit instead of a tuxedo and a conservative tie instead of a bow tie.
For women, "a chic cocktail dress is perfect," says Corry. Dressy separates are okay, too. Footwear can be slightly more fun.
Photography: Tec Petaja5 of 10
Creative Black Tie
Both Corry and Pollak note that they rarely come across this dress code, but just in case, here are some tips.
"For a guy, it means have fun," Pollak explains. This might entail wearing personality-infused accessories (think: unique ties, cufflinks, or even socks) or menswear (think: a jacket in a unique material or color).
It's the same idea for women. "Take yourself less seriously and have fun with your outfit," Corry reiterates. Statement jewelry, shoes, handbags, and more are all game (though Pollak emphasizes keeping comfort in mind).
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Photography: Ashley Sawtelle6 of 10
According to Corry, the name says it call. "On the spectrum of wedding attire, semiformal falls somewhere between formal and casual." In her opinion, men's suits can be worn with or without ties.
Pollak deems semiformal "fairly dressy," but admits that, again, women have a lot of flexibility. Cocktail dresses or dressy separates almost always work.
Photography: Joel Serrato7 of 10
Casual attire really varies, and can depend on things like location and time of day. At its most formal, it entails a sport coat. Button-downs, sweaters, and relaxed pants (chinos, khakis, etc.) are usually fine. At its least formal, men can get away with polos and shorts. In all cases, footwear's less restricted (boat shoes may be worn, for example).
Ladies can wear a "less-dressy dress," says Pollak (think: a sundress). More casual shoes, like sandals or flats, are appropriate here.
Photography: Meg Smith8 of 10
In some cases, you may be asked to wear attire that aligns with a certain culture's customs. For example, a couple having a traditional Indian wedding might ask women to don saris. In these instances, do your research, ask for help when needed, and always dress respectfully.
Photography: Kyle John Photography9 of 10
In today's day and age, anything's possible. We've seen couples send color palettes in their wedding invitations, which their guests were asked to dress according to. We've seen others make Pinterest boards of outfit ideas to inspire their attendees. "Our wedding dress code was upscale-casual, and we asked our guests to be inspired by the Tuscan landscape for their attire," shares Corry, who's pictured above at her wedding in Italy. Most of her celebrants showed up in neutral hues, like these.
Other examples include calls for "festive" attire (clothing that fits into a certain theme) or "beach chic" attire (clothing that's formal enough for a wedding, but suitable for a sandy setting). When faced with imaginative instructions, embrace them, and ask for clarification when needed.
Photography: Britt Chudleigh - Chudleigh Weddings10 of 10
No indication of what you're supposed to wear, anywhere? If you're having trouble getting answers from the couple, you have a few other options. You can look to the wedding's specifics (the weather, where it's being held, etc.) and dress according to those. Or, you can ask other guests what they're planning to wear. If you know a member of the wedding party, even better—their designated outfits might clue you into what's appropriate.
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