White tie, black tie, black tie optional, casual, cocktail, semi-formal, festive, and beach chic are all attire requests you've likely seen on a wedding invitation. While they're meant to clue guests in about what to wear, they also give loved ones an idea about the overall formality of a wedding. The big question is, how do you take all these options and decide which is right for your own wedding?
While a few couples determine the formality first and let everything else trickle into place from there, most brides and grooms will base the formality of their wedding on a combination of these key factors: Location, time of day, venue type, wedding party attire, and budget. Here we dive into all these factors you should consider when determining the formality of your wedding.
The location of your wedding really matters, and it will be a big indicator of formality. If you're getting married in wine country, your options are pretty limitless, but if you're planning a wedding in New York City, you're probably looking at a more formal vibe. Southerners also love to get dressed up for weddings, so you can guess most weddings south of the Mason Dixon line will be dressy affairs. This usually means more polished décor, an elaborate menu, and possibly some form of live music.
Time of Day
Morning and daytime weddings are typically less formal events. Cocktail attire is nearly always fair game during the day—not entirely casual, but not too stuffy either. In the same fashion, it's unlikely that you'd see white tie or black tie suggested for any reception starting earlier than five o'clock. Flowers are usually more loose and décor overall has a more rustic, approachable feel for a daytime wedding.
The type of venue where you're hosting your wedding is the number one factor to consider when determining the formality of your wedding. Museum and ballroom venues naturally tend to appear more formal, while beach or vineyard spaces lean on the casual side. If you're planning your ceremony and reception in a barn venue or on the beach, you're unlikely to choose white tie or black tie, but you can probably get away with black tie optional if you'd prefer women to wear long dresses.
Wedding Party Attire
The bride's gown, the groom's suit, and all the attire selected for the attendants are cues for the formality of a wedding. For instance, if the bridesmaids are wearing short dresses, cocktail attire is appropriate for guests. Meanwhile, if the groomsmen are wearing tuxedos, black tie or black tie optional is great for guests. The idea is that you want all of your guests to look like they attended the same event in photos, so paying attention to the attire selections of everyone who is walking down the aisle helps suggest the overall formality of the event.
Most budget conscious weddings aren't going to be white tie, black tie, or even black tie optional for that matter, largely due to all the above factors at play. If you're saving money on the bar, food, and ambiance, you're likely also going to be setting an aesthetic that's a little more on the casual side anyway. Meanwhile, if you're blowing the budget out and creating an environment that's highly customized and decked out, you're going to want your guests to blend in well with that setting, which means you're gearing up for a formal affair.