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If you’ve ever thought, “Help! I’ve received a wedding invite and I can’t understand the dress code!” you’re in the majority of people. When this happens, there is unfortunately no “Life Alert”-style necklace for you to press to ask someone what on earth “Tropical Formal” means. You’re stuck Googling a bit, making the best guess you can, and crossing your fingers that you aren’t the only person in a dress at the ceremony. But because weddings shouldn’t be stressful, we’ve created the ultimate wedding dress code guide to clarify things.

From “What is creative black tie?” to “Does this dress count as formal?” it can be tricky to figure out exactly what is meant by the calligraphy you read on your invitation. Dress codes have transformed and gotten more inventive over time, but your default should be to stick to the more formal version of whatever the invite says. If “Semiformal,” is confusing, err on the side of “Formal.” Being overdressed is always better than being underdressed. If you want to play it safe, stick to the most classic definitions of each dress code, from “White Tie” to “Casual.” Let’s break this down once and for all!

White Tie

The most formal dress code in all the land!

For women, a full-length evening gown that hits the floor is your only option. Keep it formal, and opt for dark colors. Gloves are optional.

For men, the code is quite literal: wear a tuxedo with white bow tie, white vest and white piqué wing-collared shirt. Your dress coat should be black and have tails, and your pants should match and have a single stripe of satin down the side. If we’re following classic rules, you should be wearing (or at least bring) white or gray gloves. Black shoes and socks as well!

Black Tie

When you receive an invite to a Black Tie affair, treat it like a White Tie event, but with a bit more room for flair.

Women can wear either floor-length or fancier cocktail dresses of a shorter length — talk to other women attending the wedding to see what they are wearing. If you want to be certain you will be dressed appropriately, wear something long. A dark, dressy suit, jumpsuit, or separates can also be appropriate.

For men, if we’re going with always being overdressed, you’re stuck with a tuxedo. A black jacket and bow tie are the most appropriate, and make sure you have a cumberbund as well.

Creative Black Tie

An ever-confounding dress code that simply means, dress in something black tie adjacent — have a very nice, but very maroon tux? Go for it. For women, jumpsuits are absolutely fine, and any fun accessories or large jewelry pieces you can add to your outfit are even better.

Black Tie Optional

Giant hack: “Black Tie Optional” and “Formal” mean the same thing when it comes to dress codes.

Women can wear a long dress, a shorter cocktail dress that still feels vaguely formal, or even a two-piece skirt-and-top situation. Feel free to have more fun with colors.

For men, formal means that you can absolutely wear a tuxedo, but you can also wear a dark suit instead. Add a pocket square and cuffs, but steer clear of the kind of ties your middle school math teacher might wear.

Semiformal

Don’t wear jeans, but feel to wear more casual clothing to these events.

For women, short afternoon or cocktail dresses or a long skirt and dressy top are fine. Consider the time of day if you’re wondering how far towards “formal” you should go.

For men, a dark business suit with a tie works, make sure you’re wearing leather shoes as well.

Dressy Casual

According to Emily Post, this dress code can sometimes involve jeans and dressy tops, but for weddings, stick to standard semiformal attire. Men can dabble in blazers and slacks instead of full suits, but again, better safe than sorry when it comes to a wedding reception.

Festive Attire

During the holiday season, this dress code can steer guests to dressing nicely for events that don’t technically have a dress code. For weddings, “Festive Attire” is to “Semiformal” as “Creative Black Tie” is to “Black Tie” — your hosts are encouraging you to have fun with your look.

For women, cocktail dresses are better than long dresses, and accessories are where you can have some fun. Tight and bright is OK!

For men, wear a suit, but don’t be conservative — this is your chance to whip out that lilac bow tie.

Casual

A casual dress code is pretty literal, but it doesn’t mean you should show up in the jeans and leather jacket you would wear out to dinner on a Friday night.
For women at casual weddings, sundresses and shorter skirts can work. Steer clear of logos, and if you’re going to wear nice jeans, make sure you won’t be the only one.

For men, Khakis are appropriate, as are button-downs, fun socks, and loafers or nice sneakers. Is the wedding on the beach? Look nice for the beach. On a mountain during the winter? Throw a navy blazer on even though you don’t necessarily have to.

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