The Ultimate Guide to Wedding Dress Codes

Planning a wedding means that there are a million decisions to make, and little details to iron out. One detail that often gets overlooked is the wedding dress code. Sure, you’ve thought about what you and your partner will wear, but what about your guests? We know, the idea of assigning a dress code may seem a little outdated, but trust us, it’s not! Dress codes not only ensure that your wedding guests look cohesive with the event as a whole, but it also helps your guests be confident and comfortable in the ensemble they decide to wear. There are dress codes available for any and every occasion – but for weddings, here are the dress codes you need to know:

Helpful Tip: When choosing your dress code, it is best to have a venue booked first, this way you can adjust the dress code to fit the venue accordingly.  

1. White-tie

White-tie is the most formal option and not very common–think royal ball. Men are required to wear tuxedos with tails, or a tailcoat, and of course–a white bow tie. Women are required to wear a floor-length ball gown-a gown that is fitted through the bodice and then flares out from the waist into a bell-shape. Some white-tie functions also request that the women wear long gloves, past the elbow. For a wedding guest, it would be acceptable for a woman to wear a floor-length evening gown with a little less fullness–it would be in poor taste for a guest’s gown to be more voluminous than the bride’s. That being said, if you are a bride and you are hosting a white-tie affair, be sure to go big! We’re talking princess-level ballgown with the dramatic train and cathedral veil complete with children to carry it.

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PHOTOGRAPHY | Zosia Zacharia Photography

2. Black-tie

Though not the most formal dress code, black-tie is still a formal affair. Men are expected to wear tuxedos but may choose a more modern design (without the tails). Black ties are a must. Some sources will tell you that it needs to be a bow tie, but these days a black necktie will do just as well. Women are expected to wear a formal floor-length gown, there are no requirements on color or silhouette. If you are hosting a black-tie wedding make sure that you, your partner, and your bridal party adhere to the dress code as well: meaning, the men are in tuxes and the women are all in floor-length gowns.

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PHOTOGRAPHY| Luna de Mare Photography

3. Black-tie Optional or Formal

If you don’t feel the need to be super strict with your dress code, consider this option. Black-tie optional, or sometimes referred to as “Formal”, is a very considerate way to host a formal event without requiring your guests to purchase or rent an ensemble just for your wedding. It allows men to wear either a tuxedo or a dark suit. It is recommended that men wear a white shirt with their dark suit to mimic the look of a tuxedo. Women are encouraged to wear floor-length evening gowns or formal cocktail dresses. For a black-tie optional event, we would recommend that women opting to wear a cocktail dress go for a midi-length hem. For couples that are hosting a black-tie optional wedding, we recommend that you follow the black-tie dress code to ensure that you have the most formal looks at the wedding.

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PHOTOGRAPHER | Oliver Fly Photography

4. Semi-formal or Cocktail 

Semi-formal is currently the most popular dress code for weddings. Men can wear a suit and tie ensemble or a sport coat. For women, it’s super easy, just wear a cocktail dress! The hem of the cocktail dress can range from midi to just above the knee. For formal events, in general, try to wear a dress with a hem that falls at your fingertips or below. Women may also wear formal pantsuits and separates. Men in the bridal party and the groom(s) should wear a suit while women in the bridal party wear a cocktail dress or a slightly less formal floor-length gown. Brides that are hosting a semiformal wedding can still wear a formal wedding gown or they can opt for something playful, like a gown with a high-low hem or a midi-length dress.

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PHOTOGRAPHY| O’Malley Photographers

5. Dressy Casual

This dress code is a great option if you are hosting an outdoor wedding but still want it to feel like a formal affair. For a dressy casual wedding, men should wear a sport coat or blazer with khakis or slacks; no tie required. It is still expected that men wear dress shoes or loafers. Women can wear separates or dresses at any hem length and in more casual materials like cotton or linen. For shoes, women should wear heels, wedges, or dressy flats. It is still expected that the bridal party will be the most formal, so the groom(s) and any men in the bridal party may still wear a suit. Bridesmaids can wear anything from a sundress to a less formal floor-length dress. The bride(s) may still wear a formal wedding gown, though some silhouettes lend themselves better to a dressy-casual wedding like A-line and mermaid. Brides hosting a dressy casual wedding may also choose to go with a less formal/traditional look like a pantsuit, jumpsuit, or a cocktail dress.

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PHOTOGRAPHY | Jose Villa Photography

6. Casual

A casual dress code can get a little tricky because it truly depends on how casual you want to go. If you are hosting the wedding, it’s a good idea to outline the specifics of the dress code for your guests so they aren’t stressing about being over or underdressed. Typically, a casual dress code means that men don’t need jackets, a nice button-down shirt and khakis or slacks is perfect. If you are getting married outside, maybe on the beach, and you would like to give men the option to wear shorts, make sure to specify that on your invitation. The same goes for sandals. Women can wear separates or sundresses. If you are hosting a casual wedding, linen is always a good look for the men, depending on the season, of course. The women in the bridal party can wear sundresses or casual maxi dresses. A couple hosting a casual wedding may dress a little more formal, with the groom(s) wearing a casual linen suit or sport coat and pants, while the bride still wears a traditional wedding gown with a slim silhouette. Brides hosting a casual wedding may also choose to wear a pantsuit, shorter cocktail dress, or sundress.

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PHOTOGRAPHY | Joel Serrato Film Photographer

Whatever dress code you and your partner decide to go with remember to outline as much as you can for your guests. It’s not necessary to put it all on the invite, just state the dress code and you can dive into more detail on your wedding website. It’s also a good idea to consult with your wedding planner on this topic. They will have a lot of great advice about which dress codes would coordinate best with your venue and how to word it properly for your guests.

Now that we’ve laid out all of the rules, we just wanted to take a second to remind you that at the end of the day, your wedding is a party–try not to be too much of a stickler when it comes to enforcing the dress code. Just trust your guests to do their best and enjoy the day; it goes by so fast!

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