Despite a couple years of postponements and uncertainty, wedding season is officially back. Sure, that means most of our weekends may be spent celebrating happy new couples, but it also means decoding the always-tricky dress code for wedding guest outfits.
Sometimes the couple makes it easy for you by writing it on the invitation. But if the invitation hasn’t explicitly specified a dress code, there are a few clues to decipher it, says Micaela Erlanger, a celebrity stylist who’s worked with Lupita Nyong’o, Diane Kruger and Meryl Streep.
First, look at the style of the invitation: Does it come with a sheet of protective tissue paper and a delicate wax seal? Was it sent via email? Is the font particularly casual or formal? Second, look at the day of the week, as well as the time: Is it on a Saturday night at 7 p.m., or a Sunday luncheon at 3 in the afternoon? Lastly, take a look at the venue: Does it have a proper ballroom, or is it more of a banquet hall? If there’s a wedding website you can visit with more details, that’ll help decipher the dress code too.
Ahead, some of our favorite wedding guest outfits depending on the dress code.
Casual wedding guest outfits
There are a few ways to know a wedding will be casual: It usually starts in the morning or midday, and oftentimes it might be at somebody’s home or a restaurant. Still, the invitation or wedding website, if they have one, should specifically mention that casual dress is welcomed. Either way, you should still rule out light-wash jeans, shorts or anything that wouldn’t be appropriate in an office setting.
“Fabric choice would be top of mind in this scenario,” says fashion editor Leah Faye Cooper. “I’d opt for a dress in a lightweight cotton like gingham, seersucker or a standard nonstretch weave. For shoes I’d go with a flatform sandal, and I’d stash my essentials in an understated mini bag or small clutch.”
$248 at Shopbop
$220 at Banana Republic
$35 at Target
$128 at Shopbop
$139 at Nordstrom
$120 $39.99 at Abercrombie
From $15.01 at Amazon
$400 at Banana Republic
Cocktail attire wedding guest outfits
The most common of wedding dress codes, “cocktail attire says it all,” says Erlanger. That usually means an evening-appropriate cocktail dress and heels for her, as well as a dark-colored suit for him, she says. “Wear a party dress, and dress it up with heels and fun jewelry,” she continues. “You can also opt for a fun jumpsuit or chic pantsuit. This is the chance to really have fun.”
For the men, this typically means jacket and tie. While a floor-length gown isn’t a requirement, it’s better to err on the side of formal than casual for a cocktail wedding.
$248 at Reformation
$120 $49.99 at Abercrombie
$324 $259.20 at Karen Millen
$148 at Nordstrom
$198 at Nordstrom
$119 at Nordstrom
$845 at Nordstrom
Formal wedding guest outfits
A formal wedding is usually another name for “black tie optional” — which means that gowns and tuxedos aren’t required, but a long or midi-length dress in an evening-appropriate hue and a bow tie are never a bad idea.
“With ‘black tie optional,’ you can wear anything from a fancy cocktail dress to a gown. I tend to find that people err on the side of getting more dressed up,” Erlanger says. “For men typically you should wear a jacket and tie, more elevated than a cocktail look, but not a full black tie.”
$348 at Reformation
$99 at Macy's
$89 at Nordstrom
$198 From $118.80 at Nordstrom
$150 at Shopbop
From $139 at Macy's
$565 $282.49 at Nordstrom
Black-tie wedding guest outfits
Save for “white tie,” which is usually reserved for events like the Oscars or State of the Union dinners, black tie is the most formal of common wedding dress codes.
“My fashion advice is always the same: Wear what makes you feel the most amazing,” says Cooper, who wore a tulle skirt over a black bodysuit with a fur shrug to the last black-tie affair she attended. “So, if a wedding is black tie optional, I’d suggest an elevated version of whatever that is. If you love pants, consider a beaded, lace or silk-chiffon jumpsuit, or a sleek tuxedo — maybe in a bright color, or velvet or both. If you prefer dresses, here’s an opportunity to wear one in taffeta or tulle, or covered in a million beads or sequins.”
She should wear a long, formal gown — or take a note from Cooper and go for separates — and he should wear a tuxedo with a bow tie or cummerbund. “I love a black-tie wedding and I think that it sets the tone for what is supposed to be a really special and memorable event,” Erlanger adds.