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What Does This Dress Code Mean? A Guide to Wedding Guest Attire

We totally understand: knowing what’s appropriate to wear to a wedding can be tricky! Wedding guest attire is often confusing and with all the dress code terminology used these days, it can be hard to decipher what each term really means. We’re here to help! Below, we’re explaining what the most common terms for wedding guest attire indicate you should wear. If you’re shopping for an outfit or seeing what you have in your closet already that might work for an upcoming nuptial celebration, scroll down!


wedding dress code


A note for brides: The dress code should be listed in small print at the bottom of your invitation, or if you have a separate card inviting guests to the reception, denote it there. Your invitation designer will be able to help with this! It’s never a bad idea to list the dress code on your wedding website, as well. Whichever dress code you choose, your dress, the groom’s attire and the bridal party’s attire all need to follow the same dress code, if not one step dressier. Now, onto the terminology!


white tie wedding dress code


White Tie

The most formal of the formals, and the most uncommon in this day and age. Men should wear a tuxedo with tails while ladies should wear a full-length ball gown. Gloves and clutches are appropriate accessories.


black tie wedding attire


Black Tie

Men should wear a tuxedo with a black bow tie, preferably, or a black tie. A black vest or cummerbund is acceptable. Women should choose a formal floor-length gown – any color except white is fine.


Black Tie Optional or Formal

One step down from black tie, this dress code indicates men should opt for a tuxedo or dark suit, preferably with a white button-down shirt underneath. Nicer dress shoes are appropriate. Ladies should wear either a floor-length evening gown, a formal pantsuit or a formal (longer hem) cocktail dress. Go for heels rather than wedges or sandals.


semi-formal wedding


Semi-Formal, Dressy Casual, or Cocktail

All of these terms mean essentially the same thing. Ties are optional, but guys do need to wear a suit or sport coat. Leather dress shoes or dressy loafers are fine. For the women, formal pantsuits or cocktail dresses are great, but keep in mind the dress length should be just above the knee or longer. Take the time of day into account, as well: darker fabrics for evening weddings, lighter colors and fabrics are OK for daytime events.


casual wedding dress code



“Casual” dress often indicates an outdoor affair, so take weather into account while still erring on the dressier side (i.e., no shorts). No suits, jackets or coats are necessary, but men should wear slacks/khakis and a button-downs or polo shirt. Ladies can wear sundresses, jumpsuits or casual maxi dresses.


beach casual wedding


Beach Casual

Jetting off to a destination wedding? If the celebration is in a tropical locale, opt for sundresses for women and linen pants or khakis for men – still no shorts, unless indicated. Embroidered, button-down linen or Hawaiian shirts are typically OK for men, but make sure the print is not distractingly bold.

What not to wear to a wedding: anything white, anything resembling the bridesmaids’ dresses if you know ahead of time what they’re wearing, anything too revealing or anything that would be more appropriate for a nightclub.

A note on jeans and boots: Texas weddings are a little different than most in that it’s not uncommon to see male guests wear boots and occasionally, a nice pair of jeans. So when is it OK to wear jeans and boots to a wedding? Guys may be able to opt for dressy western boots in lieu of dress shoes for Cocktail, Dressy Casual or Casual events. However, the only dress code where jeans might be appropriate is Casual, and even then, it’s usually a better idea to opt for slacks. Use the venue as a gauge for whether or not this type of attire could be acceptable – think barn venues and rustic, casual outdoor settings. If the ceremony is at a church or religious center, save the jeans and boots for another time. Jeans should always be paired with a button-down long sleeve shirt and weather-permitting, a jacket or sport coat.

What if there’s no dress code specified? Again, this is where you’ll want to use the venue as a guide for what to wear. A rustic or barn venue typically invites a Casual dress code, while more formal wedding venues, country clubs and hotel ballrooms necessitate Dressy Casual or Cocktail attire at a minimum. If the ceremony will be at a church or religious center, you’ll definitely want to forego any Casual attire and choose a Semi-Formal outfit. When in doubt, always err on the dressier side!