Wedding Dress Codes: The Complete Guide to Guest Attire

Wedding dress codes are one of the industry’s great mysteries. Although their intention is to make figuring out what to wear easier and more clear, they often have exactly the opposite effect. After all, who knows what “Hollywood casual” or “sailor chic” really mean?

In this post, we add some much-needed clarity to wedding dress codes. Whether you’re planning your own wedding and looking for some guidance, a confused guest searching for last-minute outfit advice, or anyone in between, we’re here to help.

How do I find out a wedding’s dress code?

Your first step on the way to a clear idea of what to wear to a wedding is discovering the wedding’s dress code. This sounds simple, but it’s not always as easy as just reading the invitation. Dress codes are often written using obscure language or are only mentioned on additional invitation cards or the wedding website. To find out more about the dress code for the wedding you’re attending, you may need to do a bit of sleuthing.

The wedding venue itself can be a great clue. By browsing pictures of past events, you may be able to get a good idea of the level of formality and additional things to be aware of. For instance, a venue with lots of grass may require flatter shoes, while an outdoor venue in a windy area may call for a bit more planning when it comes to hairstyles. Wedding Spot’s venue listings include inspirational pictures of past weddings at the venue, as well as contact information for each venue. Giving the venue a call is also a good option, as they can describe how wedding guests have dressed in the past.

You can also head to the wedding website and see if the couple has included any instructions related to guest attire. If nothing is listed anywhere, a quick call or text to the couple or a member of the wedding party should give you a good idea of what to wear.

What are the different types of wedding dress codes?

Below, we outline the most common wedding dress codes that you’ll see on an invitation or wedding website. Most dress codes include a range of acceptable attire, so choose an outfit within the bounds of the dress code that makes you feel comfortable and confident.

1. White tie

White tie is likely the most formal dress code that you’ll see on an invitation — even more formal than black tie. Attire options include formal floor-length ball gowns and evening dresses or long-tail tuxedos. However, white tie weddings are very rare, so you most likely won’t ever have to worry about this.

2. Black tie

One step under white tie is black tie, which may be what you picture for a formal wedding. This means guests should be dressed in tuxedos, evening gowns, or ball gowns. Black tie weddings are usually held in the evening at a luxury venue.

While black tie weddings are still common, they’re starting to embrace individual style a bit more. “To achieve the distinctly unique black-tie wedding you’re dreaming of, invite your guests to dress ‘black tie with a personal twist,’” wedding planner Lindsey Shaktman told Who What Wear. “This way, you’re not sacrificing the formality of your celebration, and you’ll have memories and photographs to cherish that feature your gorgeously dressed loved ones showcasing elements of their personal style beyond a snapshot of 30 black gowns in a row.”

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