Q&A: Are there guest style guidelines for wedding attire? - Wedding Etiquette - Wedding Planning

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Are There Style Guidelines for Guests' Wedding Attire?


Cracking the Wedding Day Dress Code

From the location to the time of day to the type of wedding, figuring out what to wear can be tricky. To avoid being under-dressed, follow our guide to cracking the wedding day dress code.

Type of Wedding

Formal, casual, semi-formal, beach chic -- each wedding style comes with its own set of rules. Even if you're not a fashionista, it's important to dress appropriately. Your attire is a sign of respect and a signal to the bride and groom that you really care about this special day.

  • White Tie: The most formal dress code (and rarely seen at weddings these days; white tie is generally reserved for state occasions). Guests should wear their most luxe ball gowns. Usually for women, white tie requires a long dress, often with a train. Bare shoulder may not be appropriate, so women should plan on using a lace shrug, silk bolero or pashmina. Men should wear tuxedos with white ties and white waistcoats (instead of black) and jackets with tails. Most invitations will state explicitly if white tie is expected over black tie. If the invitation simply says "formal attire," guests can assume black tie.
  • Black Tie: Nearly as formal as white tie, black tie is often used for elegant, traditional weddings. Men should wear tuxedos, with black ties and waistcoats (and no tailcoats). Women should wear a very elegant cocktail dress or a long ball gown. Generally, the more formal the location and setting, the longer the woman's dress should be. While bare shoulders are permitted, women may still want to bring a lace bolero or pashmina to wear as they arrive and leave.
  • Creative Black Tie: From here on in, things get a bit more tricky. Creative black tie is generally considered to be less formal, and guests can add some creative panache to their attire. Men should still wear tuxedos, but they can swap their black bow tie for a color or even wear a patterned vest. Women should still be in formal cocktail dresses or ball gowns, but they may also choose a brighter color or pattern. Often with creative black tie, a theme is involved (for instance, 1920's or masquerade inspired attire) so guests should follow the bride and groom's wishes as much as possible.
  • Semiformal: This is, unfortunately, one of the trickiest types of dress code and one of the most common. In general, if the wedding is being held after 5 p.m., guests should assume semi-formal or formal attire is required, unless otherwise stated on the invitation. Even if it's an outdoor evening wedding, guests may still be required to wear semi-formal attire. For women, this generally means a nice cocktail dress and heels; for men, this means a suit and tie. Guests can always check with each other or ask about what the bridal party is wearing if they're still unsure.
  • Casual: Keeping things casual at a wedding doesn't mean shorts and a t-shirt. Men should consider wearing khakis or dress pants with a button-down shirt, no tie necessary. Women can wear a cute dress or skirt with a stylish top.
  • Beach or Outdoor Chic: Whether set on sand or grass, beach weddings allow for relaxed attire. Men can opt for linen pants, khakis or a summer suit with a button-down shirt. Tea-length or knee-length sundresses are a good choice for women, and guests can even bring along a sunhat or small parasol if the wedding is in direct sunlight.

Location, Location, Location

After figuring out the type of wedding, look to the location for any further hints or details about attire. While guests can check witht he venue to see if there's a dress code, this information should be included on the invite. More likely, guests should be able to ask the bride, maid of honor, or mother of the bride or groom if there's anything specific they should know about. For formal weddings, it's important to follow the dress code down to the last detail.

Time of Day

The location and type of wedding are the most important, but guests can also use the time of day to help pick their wedding attire. In generaly, morning weddings are the most casual, midday are slightly more formal and evening weddings are the most formal. Weddings after about 5 p.m. should be considered semi-formal unless otherwise stated. Guests should consider when the reception ends when choosing their attire. So, for instance, if the ceremony is at 2 p.m., but the wedding isn't over until midnight, guests might still opt for something semi-formal since they will be dining and dancing into the evening. when in doubt, just ask someone involved with the wedding. Again, dressing appropriately is a sign of respect for the bride and groom on their wedding day, so have fun and keep it chic.

Read more about guest attire:
Does a church ceremony require a special dress code?
Is it okay to wear red to a daytime wedding?

See More: Etiquette