Guest Attire Decoded: What to Wear to Any Type of Wedding

By Rachel Wilkerson,

There are many different types of wedding attire; it can be hard to know the etiquette (or even the definition!) as a guest -- or even as a bride! Here are the different types of wedding dress codes you may be presented with as a guest, and tips on what to wear and what to skip.

White-tie and black-tie.

Donna Morgan Bridesmaids Lauren Sweetheart Neckline Gown

From Donna Morgan via

White-tie is the most formal look for men; it includes a jacket with tails and a white vest and tie. Black-tie is slightly less formal -- men can simply wear a tuxedo, and should wear an actual black tie. (Plus a black vest, cummerbund, or suspenders.) For both black-tie and white-tie events, women should wear a formal evening gown and feel free to go all out with hair, makeup, and jewels. This is your red carpet moment! You can also wear a dressy cocktail dress.

Black-tie suggested.

Disney Royal Maidens Style 508

From Alfred Angelo via

Men can wear a tuxedo if they have one, but can otherwise opt for a black suit, white shirt, and conservative tie. Women can wear the same as they would for a black-tie event: evening gown or dressy cocktail dress.


Adrianna Papell Metallic Pleated Sheath Dress

From Nordstrom via

Semi-formal is probably the most common type of wedding attire you'll see on invitations. A nice cocktail dress is a sure thing here; pay attention to the season and venue as you select your dress to really look on point.


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A casual wedding is the perfect opportunity to wear a cute sundress, a pretty skirt and top, or skirt with flats or even nice trousers with a pretty top. But unless the host specifically said that blue jeans are OK, skip them.

Beach weddings.

puerto rico beach wedding | Studio 1208 | Bridal Musings (11)

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Though beach weddings may sound casual, they aren't all created equal; guests should pay attention to what it says on the invite and wedding website. If it says "beach formal" or you get the vibe that it's going to be a pretty glamorous affair, wear a nice maxi dress with embellished flats or dressy cocktail dress with wedges. If it says "shoes not required," you can get away with a more casual maxi dress or a nice sun dress. Just stay away from anything that looks like a beach cover-up.

No matter what the invite says (or doesn't say) about attire, you can ask yourself these questions to avoid a fashion faux pas:

1. Is it a daytime or evening wedding?Cocktail dresses typically work for both day and evening weddings, but if you aren't sure whether yours is appropriate for a wedding, consider the time. If the wedding and reception will be over before sunset, opt for a non-strapless cocktail dress; if it's a late afternoon or evening affair, strapless is likely fine.

2. What do I know about the bride's and groom's cultures? As a guest, you should always strive to look appropriate for the circumstances, and different cultures and religions have different definitions of appropriate. Do your homework and see if open-toed shoes, sleeveless/strapless dresses, or showing up without a hat would be considered inappropriate for this couple's ceremony.

3. What are the bride and her bridesmaids wearing? You may not know, but it doesn't hurt to ask around -- you don't want to show up looking like a missing bridesmaid. And brides, if you're not wearing a white gown, let your guests know what the off-limits color is by adding something like, "Semi-formal. (PS The bride's wearing pink!)" to the invites so guests can avoid that color instead of the traditional white.

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