beach wedding guest dress

Wedding Guest Etiquette: Dress Code Edition

Wedding Guest Etiquette. What Do All These Dress Codes Mean?

Black tie, black tie optional, causal…what to wear to a wedding can get confusing fast, so remember to read the fine print on the invitation concerning what on earth you should don for your friend’s special day. If you are still having issues, allow us to break it down for you:

White Tie

“This is the “ultimate in formality,” says Jennie Ma, fashion editor at “Basically, you’re going to have wear a floor-length gown, you’re going to have to get dressed up. Just whip out the nicest dress you have.”

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Black Tie

Black tie means just that–tuxedos for men, long dresses for women. However, “If you are going to wear a knee-length gown, make sure that it’s in a dark color, that it looks really fancy and formal, or it’s done up in a rich fabric so you have that formality still attached to it,” says Ma.

black tie wedding attire

Black Tie Requested/Preferred

Don’t worry, this isn’t as complicated as you might think! When this description appears on your invite, it’s always good to “err on the side of caution.” Carmen Ordonez, resident arbiter of fashion at David’s Bridal, notes, “Guests are expected to attend in full formal attire.”

wedding guest dress

Black Tie Optional

While this wording does give you a choice, it generally still alludes to formal attire. Men can get away with dark suits, while women can opt for evening gowns or cocktail dresses. Ordonez says she suggests that women “wear what you would wear at a black-tie affair — but not necessarily red-carpet, couture material.”

“If you have a floor-length gown then go for it, or if you don’t, just wear something that’s on the fancy side,” adds Ma.

wedding attire etiquette

Beach Weddings

Sundresses and flip flops? Don’t let the sand and surf fool you, as it’s still important to dress to impress. Ordonez suggests women wear “delicate sundress” or a “chiffon gown that’s lightweight and can be paired with a solid pop of bright color or a feminine, floral print.” As for footwear, pretty flats or sandals with lovely embellishments are ideal.

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Cocktail Attire

Rules are a bit more relaxed here–think little black dresses for women and suits and ties for men.

Ties Versus Bow Ties?

A regular suit and tie absolutely works for men going to “black tie optional” weddings. For black tie and black tie requested weddings, bow ties are much more appropriate. Ordonez suggests a bow tie with a “pop of color” for daytime weddings.

wedding bowtie

No Attire Mentioned

If nothing about attire is mentioned on the invite, it’s totally okay to ask the bride or groom about it, or some of their close friends. The bottom line? It’s always better to show up overdressed than underdressed.

Wedding No-No’s

“Don’t wear white unless directed,” said Elizabeth Graves, editor-in-chief of Martha Stewart Weddings. “This is an unspoken rule. But a woman can certainly wear black.” It’s also a good idea to eschew anything in the off-white or tan family, as more and more brides opt for such hues.

Timing, Timing, Timing

Ordonez and Ma suggest wedding guests consider the season and time of day the wedding is occurring when choosing attire. For example, lighter and brighter colors always work for summer weddings, while dark and jewel tones are appropriate for evening weddings.

Need Ideas?

What celebs wear on the red carpet is always helpful in terms of ideas, and you can almost always find lookalike options for much cheaper prices.

Enjoy getting dressed up for the wedding of family and friends–after all, it’s like a prom for adults!