What to Wear to Every Type of Wedding, From Black Tie to Garden Party (2024)

While it seems like having a dress code specified on a wedding invite should make choosing your outfit incredibly simple, that's really only true if you understand the styles, fabrics, and colors that fall into each type of dress code. Before you start stressing, rummaging through your closet, or committing to a shopping spree, read through this handy guide to understand common wedding dress codes, from black tie or white tie to garden or beach.

We asked experts to explain the differences in these types of dress codes, as well as give examples for guests. While these rules are a great starting point, the expected attire at every celebration varies based on certain circ*mstances, including but not limited to the season, time of day, and venue.

What to Wear to Every Type of Wedding, From Black Tie to Garden Party

Tips to Keep In Mind

No matter the dress code listed on the wedding invitation, there are a few key universal tips you'll want to remember when deciding what to wear to a wedding.

First, take the location and venue into account. A black-tie wedding outdoors might require different footwear than a black-tie wedding indoors—stiletto heels and grass don't always allow for graceful walking! (Try a block or wedge heel instead.) Similarly, if the wedding you're going to will have a church ceremony first, you may want to consider making sure your shoulders are covered (or bringing a shawl) and hats are removed for that portion of the day.

Second, unless it's specified as a thematic element on the invitation, avoid wearing white or any color that can be construed as white so as not to compete with the bride (a big faux pas).

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White Tie

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White tie is as formal as it gets, and it isn't very common these days. But if you're invited to this type of event, dressing the part is imperative.

For menswear, the dress code is strict: a black tailcoat, a white vest, a formal white shirt, a white bowtie, "and white gloves if you're feeling fancy," says Alexis Corry, luxury knitwear designer and former boutique owner. For your feet, wear black pumps (also known as opera shoes).

For womenswear, it's safest to stick with a long, formal dress. Suzanne Pollak, an etiquette expert, suggests considering the size of your gown, though, because large, voluminous dresses can be hard to sit in. Heels are preferred, but make sure that you can walk in them—it's better to wear a shorter height than to stumble around all evening.

Black Tie

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Evening wear is most appropriate here. For men, this typically means a dark tuxedo, a white dress shirt, a coordinating bow tie, a cumme*rbund, and suspenders (optional), says Corry. Dress shoes, like oxfords, are suitable.

Women can wear either a long gown or a dressy co*cktail dress. Again, heels are preferable.

What to Wear to a Black-Tie Wedding

Black Tie Optional (Formal)

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Sticking to black tie is the safest option at a black-tie optional event, but if you'd rather dress a bit more casually, you can. "I think the rules of formality have changed over the past generation, and now there's flexibility and room to play, even with the more formal dress codes," says Gabrielle Hurwitz, a bridal stylist. "Whereas before, black tie or white tie typically meant women wore gowns in more muted colors, now there's freedom to play with color and print. For black-tie and black-tie optional events, men can wear printed or colored dinner jackets and be a little more creative with their fashion, too."

At a black-tie optional event, men can wear a dark suit instead of a tuxedo and a conservative tie instead of a bow tie, while "a chic co*cktail dress" or dressy separates are appropriate for women, says Corry.

Creative Black Tie

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Both Corry and Pollak note that they rarely come across this dress code. "For a guy, it means have fun," Pollak says. This might entail wearing personality-infused accessories (think unique ties, cufflinks, or even socks) or menswear (like a jacket in a unique material or color).

It's the same idea for women. "Take yourself less seriously and have fun with your outfit," Corry says. Statement jewelry, shoes, handbags, and more are all game (though Pollak emphasizes keeping comfort in mind).

Semiformal (co*cktail)

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According to Corry, the name says it all. "On the spectrum of wedding attire, semiformal falls somewhere between formal and casual," she says. In her opinion, men's suits can be worn with or without ties, while Hurwitz recommends a tie with a suit in a darker color, like blue, gray, or green.

"Women tend to have a little bit more flexibility and can get away with wearing a knee-length or tea-length dress," says Hurwitz. Try a maxi dress, jumpsuit, or separates in a dressy fabric, like silk-blend or chiffon, she says.

Dressy Casual

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A dressy casual dress code is slightly less formal than co*cktail, explains Hurwitz. "I think this is where linens and cottons are an appropriate choice in a dressier silhouette (think a dress, skirt, or trousers)," she says. "A fully sequined or beaded dress would be overkill at a dressy casual event. A sports coat and trousers is a great choice here for men, with a neck-tie being optional."

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Casual attire really varies, and can depend on things like location and time of day. At its most formal, it entails a sport coat. Button-downs, sweaters, and relaxed pants (chinos, khakis, etc.) are usually fine. At its least formal, men can get away with polos and shorts. In all cases, footwear is less restricted (boat shoes may be worn, for example).

Women can wear a "less-dressy dress," like a sundress, says Pollak. More casual shoes, like sandals or flats, are appropriate here.


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In some cases, you may be asked to wear attire that aligns with a culture's customs. For example, a couple having a traditional Indian wedding might ask women to don saris. In these instances, do your research, ask for help when needed, and always dress respectfully.

Custom or Themed

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When assigned an imaginative dress code—a theme, a specific color, an inspirational Pinterest board—"embrace the theme to the best of your ability," says Hurwitz. "If you don’t want to invest in an entirely new look, consider looking for accessories that will fit the bill."

The wedding's location may also spur a specific dress code. "Our wedding dress code was upscale-casual, and we asked our guests to be inspired by the Tuscan landscape for their attire," says Corry, who's pictured above at her wedding in Italy. Most of her celebrants showed up in neutral hues like these.


What to Wear to Every Type of Wedding, From Black Tie to Garden Party (10)

Florals are an obvious choice to satisfy a garden dress code, but the attire can be less formal than black tie. "A garden party dress code suggests some level of formality without needing to break out a tux or gown," says Hurwitz. "I'd suggest a knee-length or midi dress, a jumpsuit, or a suit. Think cheerful when it comes to color, and don't be afraid to incorporate some florals into your look, like a printed dress or patterned tie or pocket square."

This type of dress code should also determine your footwear. "Garden party implies you'll be walking on grass," says Hurwitz. "A block heel or wedge of some sort will keep you from sinking into the ground."

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The specific destination helps inform the details of a beach-inspired dress code, says Hurwitz: "A beach wedding in Hawaii is vastly different than a beach wedding in Martha's Vineyard."

But some consistent rules apply. Choose a knee-length or midi dress or a maxi dress with flat sandals. "For masculine dressing, a linen-blend suit or a sports coat and trousers is always a safe choice," says Hurwitz. "But generally speaking, I'd opt for lightweight fabrics that will prevent you from overheating. Think about footwear, especially if the ceremony will be in the sand."

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the standard dress code for a wedding?

    "If no dress code is provided, I don't think you can go wrong with a semiformal or co*cktail-attire appropriate outfit. After all, it's better to be overdressed than underdressed, especially at an event like a wedding," says Hurwitz.

  • Does the couple have to provide a dress code?

    Yes—and the more guidance you can give your guests, the better. "Instead of simply saying, 'tropical,' I would say, 'tropical black-tie,'" says Hurwitz. "I also love when couples put together mood boards for their guests. It's a great way to provide visual guidance to your friends and family on the dress code and inspire them to dress the part."

  • What shouldn't a guest wear to a wedding?

    A wedding ceremony is a serious occasion, so you should always dress respectfully: Skip anything too casual (no jeans), too bridal (no formal, white gowns), or too short. "I think a micro mini dress is always too short when it comes to a wedding," says Hurwitz. "A mini is OK, but I think the fingertip rule that we had to use in middle school is still a good rule of thumb for an appropriate length. Save the micro minis for the rehearsal dinner or the after party."

  • Can a female wedding guest wear black to a wedding?

    The short answer is yes—but it's important to keep in mind the suggested dress code, time of day, and location when you make this decision. Generally, it is acceptable to wear a black gown to a more formal event (including those marked black and white tie).

What to Wear to Every Type of Wedding, From Black Tie to Garden Party (2024)


What to wear to a black tie garden wedding? ›

For men, this typically means a dark tuxedo, a white dress shirt, a coordinating bow tie, a cumme*rbund, and suspenders (optional), says Corry. Dress shoes, like oxfords, are suitable. Women can wear either a long gown or a dressy co*cktail dress. Again, heels are preferable.

What do you wear to a garden party wedding? ›

For a garden party wedding, your attire should be slightly dressier to reflect the special occasion. For women, elevate your look with longer hemlines, elegant fabrics, and a bit more sparkle. For the guys, you can add a colorful tie or a dressier pair of shoes to take your ensemble to the next level.

What do you wear to a garden wedding? ›

The garden party dress code is semi-formal, meaning it is open to interpretation rather than just having a co*cktail dress code. The garden party dress code is fairly loose, so you can experiment with colour, patterns, frills and statement silhouettes.

How to describe dress code for garden party? ›

Garden party attire should be dressy but typically not too formal, effortless but not too casual. Flowing pretty fabrics are a great way to stay cool on those warmer days and pastels, whites and primary colours are a key component.

What colors not to wear to a black tie wedding? ›

The only real color that's off-limits as a wedding guest is white, but there are some color schemes that work best for black tie weddings. "Most guests will stick to darker hues like burgundy, black, navy and gray.

What is garden party formal attire for men? ›

Suits: For a more formal garden party, a lightweight suit is a must. Brands like Brunello Cucinelli and Isaia offer suits that blend comfort and luxury. Sneakers: Complete your look with a pair of stylish sneakers. Kiton and Santoni offer a range of sneakers that add a modern twist to your garden party attire.

What is the taboo color for wedding guests? ›

The tradition of wearing a white wedding dress dates back to Queen Victoria's wedding in 1840, and it has since become a symbol of purity and innocence. As a guest, wearing white to a wedding is considered a major faux pas because it can be seen as an attempt to upstage or overshadow the bride.

Can you wear a black dress to a garden wedding? ›

While black is acceptable for a summer wedding, it may not always be a wise choice. If the wedding is outdoors, it simply may be too hot to wear black. Skip a black dress for a cooler color that will reflect the sun.

What is a black tie optional for a woman? ›

Emily Post Institute offers a similar definition: “A black-tie optional dress code gives guests a couple of formal options to choose from. Men are requested to wear a tuxedo, but can opt for a dark suit. Women can choose either a formal evening gown, a shorter co*cktail dress, or dressy separates.”

What to wear to a 4pm wedding? ›

The staff suggests that if a wedding is taking place at 4 p.m. or 5 p.m., you should wear something that easily transitions from day to night; any ceremony after 6 p.m. should be strictly co*cktail.

How to describe attire for backyard wedding? ›

A smart casual or semi-formal dress code is ideal for an outdoor wedding. It is possibly one of the most enjoyable dress codes to have for a wedding celebration. Without the formality of an indoor wedding, it allows your guests to be that little more casual and relaxed.

What is semi-formal dress code for outdoor wedding? ›

Semi formal wedding attire sits at the sweet spot between co*cktail attire and a black tie dress code. It's also commonly referred to as “dressy casual” — kind of like a weekend version of business casual. Think: flowy dresses, simple suit jackets, and timeless silhouettes.

What do you wear to a black tie wedding? ›

Traditionally, a black-tie dress code denotes a formal evening occasion, where men are meant to wear tuxedos and women, floor-length gowns. "The atmosphere is a more formal vibe," says Elaine Swann, an etiquette expert.

How do you describe a garden wedding attire? ›

Think of it as a blend of elegance and comfort. It's about looking polished and put-together, but in a way that's suitable for an outdoor setting. For women, this could mean a chic midi dress in a floral print. For men, a light-colored suit or blazer could be the ticket.

What kind of shoes to wear to a garden party? ›

Wear Espadrilles or Block Heels

If you're going to be outside on a lawn, don't risk braving stilettos. You'll most likely be on your feet for most of the party, so opt for a comfortable pair of espadrilles or block heels that won't sink into the grass. If you prefer to wear flats, choose a slide sandal or mules.

What does a woman wear to a black tie wedding? ›

For Women. For women attending black tie events, full-length formal gowns are typical. This is the most formal dress code, so it's fitting to opt for a full length gown. Alternatively, you can also wear a formal jumpsuit or pantsuit, depending on your personal style.

What colours do you wear to a black tie event? ›

Don't go for black every time

But this is also a wonderful opportunity to embrace colour and textures. 'Opt for Quality Street colours, such as coffee creams, ruby reds, emerald greens and opulent orange,' Virginia says. 'Bold primary colours are also perfect for commanding attention.

What should you not wear to a black tie optional wedding? ›

Style. While floor-length gowns should be prioritized when searching for a look, women can also opt to wear a fancy co*cktail dress or a dressy pantsuit. What's absolutely not allowed, however, are short and mini dresses, as those types of styles lean more casual than formal.

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