Understanding Wedding Attire: What to Wear to Avoid a Faux Pas

Which dress to choose?

Over 2.08 million weddings were held in the United States in 2012, according to The Wedding Report. Countless wedding guests have read the dress code on a wedding invitation and came away slightly baffled about what to wear. But with a little know-how, it’s not hard to decode dress codes for wedding season.

Before you run out and buy wedding guest dresses (and accessories!), it helps to know exactly wha

White Tie
t to expect from the event. Pick an outfit that will help you feel comfortable and beautiful (without upstaging the bride or groom) at the big event. You’ll want to be having fun and building memories, not lamenting your choice of attire.

This dress code tops the formality list and is red-carpet ready. Men should wear a tuxedo—coat and tails, a pique vest in white, a bow tie, the whole bit. Ladies will look best in a full-length neutral-colored formal ball gown. Glamorous hairstyles and dramatic jewelry are appropriate—some would even say expected.

Black Tie

A more common formal dress code, black tie affairs are usually evening events. A tuxedo with a black bowtie and cummerbund are appropriate for him; a stylish cocktail dress or long evening gown work for her.

Formal/Black Tie Optional/Black Tie Invited

This one is a real puzzler for many people. A tuxedo isn’t required but is considered acceptable—so for goodness sake don’t show up in blue jeans! Men should wear a formal dark suit or tuxedo; ladies can wear a dressy suit, a long dress, or a formal cocktail dress in neutral colors.

Beach Formal/Beach Chic

Insert oxymoron here. Still, beach formal weddings are all the rage these days. Dress for the weather, but know the wedding will be an elegant affair. Opt for shorter (but not super-short) skirts to prepare for sand and water. Think elegant sundresses and light materials.

Semiformal/Dressy Casual

Confused yet? Look at the time of the even for an indicator of where to fall on the continuum between dressy and casual. Evening events will be more buttoned-down affairs in darker colors; lunchtime weddings are appropriate for light colors and summer sundresses. Dressy skirts and tops or sundresses for the ladies; suits for the men.


This usually means anything goes, but put yourself together and avoid ultra-casual clothing—no jeans. He should wear dress pants paired with a polo shirt or dress shirt; she should wear a skirt or pants with a blouse or elegant top—or a summer sundress. Makeup and hair should come in natural, everyday hues—nothing overly dramatic or outstanding.


This one is bound to raise some eyebrows… it’s a mystery wrapped in an enigma inside an envelope. Try cocktail dresses in bold colors, and funky styles that you wouldn’t risk at a truly formal event. Find a dress that goes with the wedding’s theme or dress up your hair style with a cute fascinator.

Have you ever made a dress code faux pas at a wedding? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.