Decoding Common Wedding Dress Codes

August 16, 2017  |  
1 of 15 life concept. gorgeous bride and bridesmaids toasting with champagne and having fun in hotel room wedding morning. hands holding stylish glasses with drinks. space for text.

For better or for worse doesn’t only apply to the bride and room’s vows: it also applies to the new types of wedding dress codes out there today. It is for the better that not every wedding is black tie anymore—renting those tuxedos and buying those ball gowns gets expensive—but it is for worse that many people now receive their invitations, see the attire requirements, and have no idea what’s going on. Ranch chic? Boating bohemian? It can feel like wedding dress codes are some sort of a riddle and if you don’t get the answer, you’ll somehow wind up overdressed, underdressed, too cold, too hot, or getting stung by mosquitos all night. The bride is too busy to answer your questions about this, so we will. Here, let’s decode common wedding dress codes. So you’ll never be embarrassed to be in the wedding photos again.

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Never let semi-formal trick you into thinking he can wear jeans and you can wear a tank top with a flowey skirt. Err on the side of formal. Your partner should wear a suit, but it can be a pre-tailored variety of the $70 and under range you’d find at H&M or Macy’s. You should dress as you would for your parent’s renewal of their vows: nice enough so your mom wouldn’t get mad, but not as nice as you would for their first real formal wedding. Think a cocktail dress and heels.


 dressed man in tuxedo standing outside

White tie

You don’t see white tie often but when you do, get ready to put your bank account to work. To give you some context, the academy awards are White Tie. The man should wear a full tuxedo, including coat tails, a white vest and a bow tie. Adding gloves wouldn’t be going too far. The woman should be in a ball gown. The type you can really only find at a formal wear store.




 of a wedding couplein the garden

Garden party

It’s highly unlikely the wedding will be held in a garden if the weather conditions are not pleasant. With that in mind, it’s appropriate for the man to wear a linen suit. If this is a daytime wedding, he can go with light blue, tan or navy. For evening weddings, navy, black or grey is appropriate. Your chunkiest, flashiest jewelry may not make sense here, but it’s a great time to bring out some elegant hats you might wear to the Polo fields. Garden parties are still fancy, so opt for wedges (per the grass) rather than sandals, and a cocktail dress rather than a sundress.

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Black tie optional

They say it’s optional but if you don’t want to stick out like a sore thumb, consider it mandatory. That means the man is in a tuxedo, with formal shoes, a cummerbund and—you guessed it—a black bow tie. The woman should wear a nice evening gown. It doesn’t need to be as dressy as the one for the white tie event, but should look appropriate for a ballroom setting.








Beach chic

These outdoor weddings can be tricky. Your idea of beach chic may be a sarong and pool heels. But this is the time for the woman to bust out her fancy, bejeweled sandals, a high-quality sundress, some dainty but dressy jewelry and a decorative shawl. Men can wear linen suits again, or stick to simple tailored suits in navy, grey or light blue. A black suit may look too formal here.







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Aren’t weddings always festive? Yes, but this wedding party wants you to get quirky. If your partner has a bright bow tie with martini glasses all over it, this is the time to wear it. If you have some costume jewelry and a sparkly headband, break it out. So long as you look like you had fun putting your outfit together, the wedding party will be happy.





 of a beautiful young woman in style of the great Gatsby of the 20s. Vintage clothing and jewelry

Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby theme is a popular one today. Women can look up styles from the 1920s for inspiration. Flappers dresses with fringes and beads, along with some long pearls and feathered headbands should do the trick. Feel free to add long white gloves. Men should dress up their suit with a double-button vest, suspenders, black and white patent shoes and a top hat or fedora.







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Dressy casual

This is another tricky dress code but again, err on the side of dressy. A dressy casual wedding may happen in someone’s large back yard or at the bride’s favorite park. For men, nice slacks, and a button up shirt—short sleeve is fine—should do. Men don’t need to wear full formal shoes but boating shoes will work. Women can wear sundresses, even their more casual ones, along with dressy sandals and simple jewelry.








Cocktail attire

When you go to a cocktail attire wedding, think of how you’d dress for a New Year’s Eve party. Men can wear their standard office suits but should add a little flare by way of cuff links and pocket squares. Women can wear evening, calf-length or shorter dresses in black, dark colors or bold colors like hot pink. This is the time to wear your flashier jewelry and your stilettos.




 Black Cowgirl

Ranch chic

Ranch chic will be all about the accessories. It’s bound to be warm, and there will be bugs. So you and your partner should stick to fabrics that breathe, like cotton and linen, and wear looser-fitting items. You could wear a peasant’s skirt, flowey blouse, dressy sandals, chunky turquoise jewelry and a cowgirl hat. Your partner can stick to a linen suit, nice cowboy boots or boating shoes, and add a western-style vest for effect if he wants.






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Unless the invitations explicitly states this will be casual, think formal attire for dinner at the Captain’s table on a cruise ship. Women should wear cocktail dresses or floor-length dresses with nice jewelry, heels, and decorative shawls. Men should wear similar to what they’d wear to a cocktail party, but can get away with boating shoes. Men can also add some quirky accessories like pocket squares with anchors on them or captain’s hats.






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If the invitation states church-appropriate then you and your date should dress modestly, both in the cut and color of your attire. Women should stick to muted tones—pastels for the daytime and darker, duller colors in the evening. Men should wear formal suits and formal shoes. Women should avoid wearing dresses that rise about the knee and showing cleavage. Depending on how religious the family is, you may even want to cover up your shoulders.









You can finally relax a bit when you’re invited to a casual wedding. Men might be able to get away with jeans, boat shoes and a nice shirt. To be safe, though, they should stick to kakis or slacks. Women can wear sun dresses, long skirts with tank tops and jewelry, and simple sandals or flats.








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When you go to a formal wedding, you can wear a slightly sleeker, chicer version of what you’d wear to the office. Think structured dresses for women, but in poppier colors with sexier heels. Think tailored suits for men in dark colors with simple ties and formal shoes.




 african american business man posing isolated. Young confident businessman in suit. Success, professional concept

Black tie

See black tie-optional. But this time, a tuxedo for the men and floor-length dress for the women are mandatory. Black tie will typically refer to night time weddings, so this gives you some idea of how to dress for the climate.

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