Whether you have one wedding to attend or a collection of invitations this season, the question of what to wear is never an easy one. From “White Tie” to “Beach Formal,” finding the right ensemble can cause some serious wardrobe anxiety, and not just for the ladies. Sorry guys, you’re not off the hook—your outfit has to stand up to the dress code, too.
There are a few simple rules every guest should follow, regardless of the wedding’s formality. First and foremost, no one—except the bride—should wear white. That also goes for the wedding events before and after, too (unless, of course, the invitation specifically states to do so). If there’s a religious affiliation and it’s going to be at a church, be respectful by covering your shoulders with a jacket or shawl if you’re wearing a sleeveless dress. And keep your hemline cocktail-length or longer. When in doubt, go by the classic fashion motto: It’s better to be overdressed than underdressed.
We created this handy cheat sheet to help decode the most common dress codes, so you can relax and enjoy the main event.
The most formal dress code—look to the Oscars red carpet for inspiration.
A full-length formal gown in black or a jewel tone that isn’t too bright. A fully made-up face, an updo, and a chance to wear your best jewelry.
A tuxedo with tailcoat, white vest, and white bow tie. Black formal shoes. A clean shave or well-groomed facial hair. White dancing gloves and a pocket square are optional extras.
More common than white tie, but still requires maximum dressing-up effort.
A cocktail-length dress or long evening gown. Pretty hair and makeup. Polished accessories. Fine or statement jewelry.
White or black tuxedo and white shirt with black bow tie. Black patent leather shoes. Optional: cummerbund. Clean-cut grooming.
Black Tie Optional
A toned-down version of black tie. A tuxedo isn’t necessary, but dressing to the nines still is.
A floor-length dress or cocktail-length dress.
A tuxedo or a dark suit and tie with the dapper additions of a vest, pocket square, or tie clip.
Usually reserved for festive, less formal occasions. Dress your best (and throw some fun in the mix).
A cocktail-length (i.e. to the knee) dress, a blouse and skirt combination, or a smart pant look with an elegant blouse. Opt for an updo or a sleek blowout.
A light or dark suit, depending on the season. No tie required, but add some personality with a colored or printed shirt and refined accessories.
Often seen on invitations for beach weddings. But take note: Just because there’s sand involved doesn’t mean you can wear flip-flops.
Tea- or knee-length sundress. A stylish shawl and fancy flat sandals (heels and beaches don’t mix). A simple chignon or loose waves are appropriate hair styles.
A linen or seersucker suit or a lightweight blazer with a shirt, linen pants, or chinos. No tie required. Light brown shoes.
Often used for laid-back events, like the morning-after brunch or other weekend activities.
A sundress, skirt and blouse pairing, or chic jumpsuit. Playful accessories. Natural hair and makeup.
Err on the side of caution: opt for khaki’s over denim, with a long or short sleeve button-down shirt or pique polo. If you choose shorts, make them chinos and pair with a crisp shirt.