A Basic Guide to Wedding Guest Dress Codes

A Basic Guide to Wedding Guest Dress Codes

A Basic Guide to Wedding Guest Dress Codes. Mobile Image

Jul 28, 2023

Wedding season is in full swing, which means your mailbox is likely bursting at the seams with a plethora of fancy invitations, each one just begging you to RSVP.

And while we all love a great party, these invitations often come with sneaky, somewhat confounding phrases at the bottom like black tie, semi-formal, or white tie.

And no judgment because, if you’re anything like us, it’s probably been a while since you attended a major event post-pandemmy, so it’s no wonder these phrases might be a bit confusing. And since no one wants to stick out like a sore thumb on the wedding day, we’re breaking down the basics of these oft-confusing dress code phrases so that you don’t come woefully undressed to your next big event.

Black Tie

Ah, the crème de la crème of wedding dress codes. If you see this on an invitation, it's time to pull out all the stops.

Gents, this means a classic tuxedo with a black bow tie (hence the name). Ladies, a floor-length gown is the norm, but a chic, formal cocktail dress can also do the trick (but you may want to confirm with the bride, just in case).

Don't be afraid to dazzle—it's your moment to shine (just not too brightly, you don't want to upstage the bride).

Formal/Black Tie Optional

This one's a bit more relaxed, but only slightly. Think of it as Black Tie's less uptight cousin. Men, you have the choice of a tuxedo or a dark suit and tie. Ladies, Black Tie is normally just another word for “long,” so aim for a floor-length formal dress. However, if glamorous enough, a tastefully elegant cocktail dress will do. Just think of Black Tie and formal affairs as having the same dress code as the Oscars.

And remember, a little party never killed nobody, so don’t be afraid to bring on the glitz and glamour!

Semi-Formal/Dressy Casual

Now, this is where things start to get interesting. Depending on the time of the wedding, semi-formal can lean towards formal (evening) or casual (daytime). For men, a suit and tie should be your go-to. Any color suit works, so feel free to mix things up and add a little spice to the evening with a pop of color. A cocktail dress, dressy separates, or a dressy jumpsuit should suffice for women.


This does not—repeat, DOES NOT—mean showing up in your everyday jeans and a t-shirt. It's still a wedding, darlings!

Think summer dresses, flowy maxi dresses, or nice pants with a dressy blouse, ladies. And for men, trousers or khakis with a button-down shirt is the perfect attire for this affair. Casual may be the dress code, but stylish is still the unwritten rule.

Beach Casual

If you're lucky enough to attend a wedding where you can feel the sand between your toes, then you're looking at wearing lightweight, breathable attire. Flowy dresses and pantsuits are perfect for women. And gents— linen is your new best friend. A linen suit or even a nice pair of shorts paired with a crisp, light-colored shirt is perfect. And while flip-flops are A-OK, please do everyone a favor and leave the speedos at home.


Yeah— don’t worry; this one had us stumped, too, when we first saw it! Is it code for wearing Tinsel and Christmas sweaters? Maybe… if the bride specifies it! But normally, it just means wearing something fun and fresh!

A relatively new term, festive attire simply means that guests are encouraged to take risks and play around with their fashion choices. That means bright colors, bold silhouettes, and fun accessories. Typically, it’s used as an excuse to wear bold prints and patterns to a wedding and falls somewhere between the semi-formal and cocktail wear categories. For men, this might mean bold and colorful suits or, if it’s cold outside, turtlenecks, velvet suit jackets, and pea coats.

Final Thoughts

And there you have it, folks— your essential guide to deciphering the cryptic language of wedding dress codes!

So the next time you receive that beautifully embossed invitation, take a deep breath and head to your closet (or your favorite boutique) with confidence. Just remember, when in doubt, it's always better to be a bit overdressed than underdressed. After all, you'll want to look your best when you're tearing up the dance floor. Happy celebrating!