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Wedding Dress Code Explained: From Formal To Smart Casual


Not knowing the wedding dress code for a wedding can be so frustrating and confusing. You open a wedding invitation and you get lost on what wedding attire to rock. It is even more embarrassing showing up at a wedding ignoring the dress etiquette for the wedding. You are either overdressed, showing some much skin or the clownish looking odd one out.

A lot of couples are not even very specific in the wedding dress code wording. They say something like “black tie optional”, “show up informal” or a cocktail dress code. How are you to know what is formal enough, or how optional black tie is?

But not to worry, we are here to guide you through avoiding wedding fashion faux pas. We will help you touch up your looks from formal to casual, and other dress code types. Throw your wardrobe open, get a pen and paper, read this post until the end!

“Do I have to put a dress code on a wedding invitation?”

Yes! Dress code on invitation lets your guests know your theme and work into it. They will dress to blend.


Formal Dress Code For Wedding

Before we begin, we would answer the question, “what is a formal dress code?“. Formal wedding attire is the traditional dress code for the westerners. It is split into the day dress and evening attire. The former which can be a white tie flies until 6 pm. The later which is a black tie will fly for evening events.

You wear them to weddings, funerals, christening, formal dinners, etc. I hope this sheds some clarity on the semi vs formal debate. A lot of people cannot differentiate them.

You can rock formal wears and remain stylish. All you have to do is to read down and stick to our guide. We bring what to wear to a formal wedding for ladies and gentlemen.


Wedding white tie code

This is the highest kind of formal dressing. It is a very rare state dinner and Oscar-worthy attire.


  • Evening ball gown of floor length
  • Glamorous make up
  • Dainty pair of heels
  • A statement clutch
  • Attractive pieces of jewelry

Source: Rocío Osorno


  • A jacket or tux with tails
  • White formal dress shirt
  • Pique white vests
  • Bow Ties
  • Gloves to match in white or grey
  • Shiny patent leather shoes

Source: Davidson Petit-Frère via Instagram


Wedding black-tie optional

This allows some flexibility on the black-tie. You may do away with the tux and go for something more toned down.


  • You can touch up your make up a bit. A black-tie optional doesn’t affect the ladies as such. Their attires remains the same.

Source: Vestidos de Festa via Instagram


  • Black suit or tux strictly formal
  • Dress shirt
  • Laid back tie
  • Leather shoes.

Source: Saint Crispin via Instagram


Semi-Formal Wedding Attire

A semi-formal wedding dress code lets you relax a bit. A full option tux is not a must for a semi-formal wedding. But you should still show up dressed appropriately and a bit formal. Some factors affect what to wear to a semi-formal wedding. These include the time of the day, and in what weather the wedding holds.

For evening wedding dress code, do more of thick dark and grey shades. A daytime wedding will require bright colors and light fabrics. Let’s see how to combine them.


  • A smart combination of a dressy skirt and a top
  • An elegant cocktail dress
  • Power pantsuit
  • Chic flats
  • Show-stopping wedges

Source: Chic Wish via Instagram

Do not ever wear a floor length gown to a semi-formal wedding. You’d show up overdressed and off looking. Again, if it’s an outdoor wedding, wear wedge shoes. Pin heels will keep getting stuck in the grass and could embarrass you.


  • A full elegant well-tailored suit and tie. The color depends on what time of the day wedding holds.

Source: Katie Pritchard Photography

Casual Wedding Attire Dress Code

A casual wedding is often laid back and holds in the outdoors. It may be on the beach, in a barn, in the park, etc. This will also reflect on what to wear to a casual wedding. But this does not mean that anything goes. It is a great fashion error to show up at the wedding in Bermuda shorts or sling tops.

You can go with a summer casual dress code for hot weather. There is also the smart casual dresses for weddings regardless of the day and weather.

With the men, khaki is great, especially for a country casual wedding attire.


Smart casual dresses for weddings


  • Soften chiffon summer sundress
  • Sandals or dressy flats
  • Wedges
  • Blazers
  • Button down shirts
  • A little black dress
  • Dress pants

Source: Said Mhamad via Instagram


  • Simple collared shirt
  • Tie or sports jacket
  • Dress pants
  • Dark blue denim
  • Khaki pants
  • Boat shoes, loafers or brogues
  • Chinos
  • Sweaters for the cold

Source: Dapper Guest via Instagram

Dressy casual

Here is one nagging question, “what is a dressy casual?” Almost everyone we asked could not explain it. Worse is if you saw such in a wedding invitation mail. Let’s bring you out of your ordeal.

A dressy casual is one which alternates between formal and casual. You dress up formal but tone it down with a little casual here and there. Do you know the combination of business with a little casual, please? That’s it. It almost resembles semi-formal, but it’s not. We will get right down to it.


  • Dress skirts
  • Silk pantsuits
  • Patent Leather Flats
  • Dainty sandals with glitters or embellishments like stones, bows or prints.

Source: Apparentia via Instagram


  • Sportcoat
  • Trousers
  • Dress shirt
  • Blazers
  • Slip-on shoes
  • Leather loafers
  • Tie (optional)

Source: Dapper Guest via Instagram


Country casual attire

Country casual wedding attire is quite laid back. It gives off a man of the manor and the girl next door vibe.


  • Polo shirts or open necks
  • Simple chic dresses
  • Full skirts
  • Minimal uptown girl pieces of jewelry

Source: By Handel


  • Khakis
  • Open necklines
  • Polo shirt
  • Belt and a simple timepiece
  • Leather shoes

Source: La Donna Hochzeitsatelier

Avoid all sneakers and tennis shoes. Country casual may sound laid back, but these type of shoes don’t fit in.

Beach wedding dress code

For a beach wedding dress code, the fabrics should be light and free. Work with materials like organza, chiffon, cotton or lace. They are simple, yet stylish for women. The best for men are cotton and linen materials.

Do patterns, floral prints, stripes or polka dots. Wear them in bright colors like burnt orange, fuchsia, peach, terracotta, turquoise, peach, and aquamarine blue. The men will work better with beige, grey, tan or blue colors. They are quite laid back but appealing.


  • A maxi dress
  • Roped pair of dressy sandals
  • Trinkets.

Source: Sherri Hill


  • Shirts with mid forearm (3/4) sleeves
  • Button down shirts with sleeves folded
  • Long pants

Source: Miss Gen Photography


Cocktail Dress Code Wedding Ideas

What does a cocktail dress code mean to you? In general terms, cocktail attire wedding dress dangles between fun casual and formal. It is a perfect balance between flannel shirts/sundresses and tux/ball gowns.

This is acceptable for a semi-formal wedding. For ladies, they range from a few inches above the knee to knee length. For men, what to wear to a cocktail wedding depends on the time of day. Men’s cocktail dress code for morning and evening weddings include a charcoal or navy toned suit. White or pale colored shirt, tie or pocket square.

At noon, you can go lay back by wearing patterned shirts, muted tones, and pocket square.

Summer cocktail dress code

A summer cocktail dress code is for when the weather is hot. Yet you have to show up to a cocktail themed wedding. Check what to wear below.


  • Wear a tea length formal summer dress
  • Light skirts
  • Pant-suits and jackets
  • Cocktail length, dress formally
  • Tops with embellished details
  • Dressy suit
  • Minimal pieces of jewelry
  • Dainty heels or fancy flats
  • Do only pale and neutral tones

Source: Sherri Hill


  • Formal dark suit
  • Tuxedos
  • Vest
  • A pair of Oxfords or monk strapped shoes
  • A pair of dress socks to match

Source: Forever Photography via Facebook


Garden cocktail dress code

A garden cocktail dress code tilts more towards formal cocktail attire than casual. You will stick to dark hues only.


  • Cocktail or floor length ball gown
  • Playful accessories
  • A pair of sleek wedges semi

Source: Zuhair Murad


  • Tuxedos
  • Silk black tie
  • Cummerbund
  • Slacks
  • Full dark suits or white dinner jacket with black dress pants
  • Loafers or leather shoes

Source: Amy Lou Photography

Country cocktail dress code

Country cocktail dress code is quite laid back and relaxing. It takes little or no effort and puts comfortability first.


  • Laced short dress
  • Cocktail dress at knee length
  • Skirts pleated with simple tops
  • Tea length below the knees dress
  • Jumpsuits
  • Flowery accessories
  • Sandals
  • Calf length pair of boots

Source: Rebecca Vallance


  • Plain jeans, flannel shirts, tweed jackets, and boots
  • Chukkas, chinos trousers, gingham shirts, rustic lightweight sports coat
  • Norwegians with double soles or wing tips, knitted tie, vests, and tweed suits

Source: Dan Stewart Photography


Black-Tie Dress Code For Wedding

The black-tie wedding dress code is for fancy weddings, most held in the evenings. This is a formal dressing only one step below the white tie dress code. You can get creative if the invite says so. Add more colors and styles to your suit and tie dress code.

Rocking a jacket and tie dress code to a black-tie wedding gives a suave look. This category is more for the men than the women though. It takes quite a little to dress a man up. But to get the perfect and proper look, you need to pair your attire right. If you are still thinking of what to wear to a black tie wedding.

Check here for your coat and tie dress code.


  • Pull out the stops and shine in a cocktail gown or floor length ball gown
  • Pair with heels or smart flats
  • Pantsuits and jumpsuits won’t go amiss too
  • Accessorize modestly, but titles toward making a statement
  • Simple up-do hair with full option face beat.

Source: Matt + Lena Photography


  • Pair a dinner jacket, with white or black slacks
  • Full suits with labels and silky black tie
  • Expert tailored tux, classic silk black bow tie, black ties
  • Black vests
  • You can also do a dress shirt, button-down shirt or white morning shirt
  • Pair with suspenders or cummerbunds
  • Finish with Oxfords patent leather shoes.

Source: Dapper Guest via Instagram

Wedding dress code for a wedding can be confusing, even for a fashionista. But for every wedding, there are appropriate dress code types. Knowing the right wedding attire for a wedding will save you from getting embarrassed at such functions. Read this post to understand the difference between cocktail dress codes for a wedding dressy casual. Etc. At the end of the day, picking out attires is fun as attending the wedding!