As wedding season approaches, you may find yourself asking: what do I wear to a summer wedding? The answer is: look at the dress code on the invitation! But today there are so many dress codes: what do they mean? Let us break down each wedding guest dress code so that you can make sure to look your best and feel totally comfortable from the ceremony to the party to the after-party.
From gorgeous wedding guest dresses to sleek tailored suit options, there’s a great outfit for every summer wedding. We also have wedding guest shoe options, wedding guest bag options, and a few extra pieces such as pashminas to wear over your shoulders, sheer capes, and more wedding guest accessories.
Are dress codes even necessary anymore? While we think everyone should wear what makes them feel comfortable, dress codes are really about setting expectations and making sure your guests feel comfortable (and look great, of course).
Below, we’ve answered all the most frequently asked questions about dress codes, changing outfits during a wedding, what to wear over your fancy clothes, and what to wear to a Scandinavian summer wedding (other than a flower crown).
Here are the best dress options for weddings in every dress code:
Black Tie Wedding Guest Dress Options
A black tie dress code literally means “a black bow tie and a dinner jacket,” so wearing a tuxedo (regardless of where you fall on the gender spectrum) is an easy choice. In terms of dresses, “black tie” means: floor-length, and in a luxurious fabric like chiffon, silk, lace, or velvet.
White Tie Wedding Guest Dress Options
White tie dress code is the most formal dress code. It requires a white, hand-tied bow tie, an evening tailcoat, high waisted trousers, a pleated or plain stiff white evening shirt, patent black shoes, and a host of other very stuffy necessities. When you see “white tie,” it means the event is very formal, possibly official, and may include guests like heads of state or royals. Other dress codes that indicate white tie are “tails,” “full evening dress,” or “dress suit.”
When wearing a dress to a white tie event, go for the gown. That means floor length and luxury fabrics, similar to black tie. White gloves are traditional but today are considered optional.
Cocktail Attire Wedding Guest Dress Options
Also known as semi-formal attire, cocktail attire is perhaps the most common dress code for weddings. It’s less formal than black or white tie, but still dressed-up. Cocktail attire often bridges the gap between a midday or early evening ceremony and an evening reception. A tailored suit with a tie (not a bowtie) and a midi or knee-length dress are perfectly appropriate.
Dressy Casual Wedding Guest Dress Options
Seems like an oxymoron, right? What on earth is “dressy casual?” All it means is your outfit should be slightly elevated; think floaty maxi dresses, A-line skirts, jumpsuits, printed button-down shirts, or tailored sets. As long as it’s not a sweatsuit or a pair of jeans, you’re probably on the right track.
Casual Wedding Guest Dress Options
Sometimes also written as “come as you are,” a “casual” dress code means exactly that – nothing fancy! It is always a good idea to feel your best when dressing for a wedding, so don’t wear anything sloppy. What you wear, exactly, for a “casual” dress code wedding can also be dictated by the time of day and the location. If you’re at a beach, go for something light and floaty (not a swimsuit!). If you’re in the forest, make sure you’re wearing shoes that can handle the ground, and so on.
What do I need to know about dressing for a wedding?
Do you have to wear a dress to a wedding?
Absolutely not! A dress code, even an extremely formal one, does not meant that you have to wear a dress. In the case that you do not feel comfortable in dresses (whether you identify as female or not), there are many non-dress options to look your best. You can just as easily wear formal suiting or something tailored for weddings. Even though weddings are about the couple getting married, there’s no reason for you to feel uncomfortable as a guest.
What “black tie optional” is really saying is: “you don’t have to buy a gown if you don’t already have one!” When you see that “black tie optional,” it’s important to note that most people will still be wearing black tie.
It’s also a good idea to take cues from the location. Is it on a beach? Then you can probably go less formal (don’t wear heels to the beach!). Is it at a five star hotel? Go for black tie or semi-formal attire. It’s good to keep in mind that the earlier in the day the event is held, the less formal it’s likely to be. So a wedding in the morning or daytime requires less formal dressing than an evening wedding.
That said, in Hindu culture, white is a color of mourning, and therefore not appropriate for weddings. For most Western cultures including European and American, white is considered a bridal color and therefore guests should not wear white, unless otherwise directed in the invitation (e.g. all guests are dressing in white, or the bridal party is in all white).
What to wear to the after-party
If you know you’ll be going all night but won’t have time for a change, having something on hand for warmth (a jacket, blazer, or pashmina for example) and comfortable shoes or socks will be useful.
What should I wear to a Scandinavian summer wedding?
Lucky for you, Scandinavian weddings are typically more casual than many other weddings. We’ve even seen sneakers paired with dresses during a church ceremony! Pay attention to the dress code on the invitation, of course, but if nothing is indicated, you’ll be fine with anything from semi-formal/cocktail attire to smart casual (think: floaty, loose dresses, flat shoes, and a laid-back approach to make-up and hair).
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