Oof, weddings. You’ve got the gift, the transportation and the babysitter all to figure out. The last thing you want to stress about is deciphering the dress code. What does “rustic cocktail” even mean? Have no fear: We’ve broken down all the wedding dress codes you’re likely to encounter so you never have to worry about showing up in the wrong thing.
A laid-back couple who chooses a casual dress code is less concerned with what people wear and more concerned with a good time. However, this doesn’t mean you can show up in jeans. Pick out something you’d wear to a special dinner (like a shift dress and festive flats). Guys should still wear a button-down shirt and slacks but can leave the jacket and tie at home.
Semiformal or Cocktail Attire
Think of this dress code like New Year’s Eve. Dress shoes are expected for both sexes, and men should wear a dark-colored suit. Ladies, you can choose anything from a flouncy midi dress to an embellished jumpsuit. Use this opportunity to have some fun with what you wear. (However, sticking to the tried-and-true LBD will never steer you wrong.)
If a dress code lists a location, that means the couple mostly wants you to be cautious of footwear. So here, they want guests to adhere to a formal dress code but don’t want people to show up in stilettos that will sink in the sand or satin flats that might get damaged in a barn. In this case it’s perfectly acceptable to wear a pair of flat sandals on the beach or a pair of cowboy boots at a ranch.
Formal Attire or Black Tie Optional
A floor-length dress is probably your best option for either of these dress codes, but something shorter works fine, too, provided it’s made with a dressier fabric like silk, chiffon or crepe. Guys can choose to wear a tuxedo or a dark suit and tie. You might also see this type of dress code referred to as “black tie creative,” which means you can then spice things up with a Royal Wedding-inspired fascinator or bright red bow tie.
Without the “optional,” you want to make sure you’re gussied up in a floor-length dress. Black-tie affairs get their name from the fact that men are required to wear tuxedos with (you guessed it) black bow ties. One common misconception: Black tie does’t mean that women have to wear black. Have some fun experimenting with colors, patterns and embellishments.
The most formal of all the dress code options, this one is all about the men. Guys are expected to show up in a black tailcoat, a white starched shirt, a marcella waistcoat, a white bow tie (worn around a detachable collar), high-waisted black trousers and patent leather shoes. Thankfully, ladies have a bit more wiggle room in gowns—as long as they're accessorized with evening gloves or elaborate jewelry. If someone picks white tie as the dress code, there is likely a very specific reason for it, so try to stick as closely to the rules as possible.
No Dress Code Mentioned
If the couple didn’t write in a specific dress code on the invitation, it likely means the bride and groom don’t particularly care what you wear. In this case, feel free to infer from the location and time of day what the implied dress code is. When in doubt err on the fancier side. It’s always better to be overdressed.