Simplifying The Wedding Dress Code

It is May and wedding season is upon us. If you are in your mid-20s, like me, you are probably getting to the point where all your friends are starting to settle down and tie the knot.  Nowadays weddings are stepping away from the traditional church setting and can be anywhere from a backyard party to a castle.  With this change of scenery comes many different styles of weddings that can leave you as a wedding guest wondering what to wear.

Typically couples will list the dress code on their wedding invitations to give you an indication of what to wear.  Wedding dress codes these days, however, can be confusing with wording like beach formal, black tie optional, dressy casual, or festive. Like WHAT…? What are you trying to tell me? Wording like this is fun, but sort of confusing for those attending the wedding on what it is appropriate to wear.

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You know me, I am always trying to make your life simpler, so in my head, I break these wedding dress codes down into 4 categories:

  • Casual  
  • Garden Party
  • Semi-Formal
  • Formal 

To give you a flavor for what to wear for each, I teamed up the suavest man I know, Jelani- a menswear blogger at The Science of Suave and personal shopper, and his gorgeous wife, Dorese, to create 4 great looks chosen from clothes in their own closet. You can re-apply these looks to any wedding you are invited to. Scroll through and check out each look and see how you can obtain a similar look for your wedding guest attire.


The Casual Wedding Attire Break Down:

Wedding Setting: Backyard, barn, brewery, rooftop

Synonymous Invitation Dress Code: Country Chic, Casual

What to Wear: Casual doesn’t mean show up in holey jeans and yoga pants. Since it is a celebration, casual wedding attire is still a bit dressier than your normal every day.

For Her: Try a simple blouse and skirt or wide leg trouser combo. Here, Dorese chose an orange A-line lace skirt paired with a flouncy white blouse to bring a soft feel. This is juxtaposed against her edgy cream colored purse to complete the look.

Get the Look: Skirt, Shirt, Purse, Shoes

For Him: Try a light blazer or patterned button-up shirt. Here Jelani chooses a linen blazer paired with a blue and white patterned shirt that gives off a springtime feel. To elevate the look he adds a pop of color with an orange tie and fun striped socks.

Get the Look: Blazer, Pants,  Shirt, Tie, Tie Clip, Pocket SquareShoes, Socks, Watch, Bracelet 1, Bracelet 2




The Garden Wedding Attire Break Down:

Wedding Setting: Arboretum, Historic gardens

Invitation Dress Code: Garden Formal, Dressy Casual, Classy Chic

What to Wear: I break the garden wedding into its own category for two reasons: 1. when a wedding is in a garden it usually has a more elevated feel than that of a casual wedding. And 2. When it is garden wedding it is usually outside and so dressing for warm weather has to be taken into consideration.

For Her: To create a chic look go for a fun colored dress that is light and flowy. Add a cute thick heal just in case you will be walking in the grass. Here Dorese chose to stay cool and classy in a navy sheath dress with fun purple and peach floral print and strappy brown sandals.

Get the Look:  Dress, Shoes

For Him: Don’t shy away from bright colors to compliment the scenery around you and be sure to choose light fabrics to stay cool. Jelani brings his pop of color with his light orange pants and light blue blazer. He finishes off the look with a bright orange pocket square and brown leather shoes.

Get the Look: Blazer, Pants, Shirt, Tie, Pocket Square, Tie clip Watch, Shoes


The Semi-Formal Wedding Attire Break Down:

Wedding Setting: Church,  Hotel, Banquet Hall, Mansion

Invitation Dress Code: Semi-Formal, Cocktail, Festive attire

What to Wear: For a semi-formal wedding, it is the in-between stage of casual and formal. You should think of this as being on a spectrum from what you would wear to a nice church service, like Easter, to what you would wear to a cocktail party.

For Her:  Ladies this is the time to pull out those cute knee length dresses or a killer jumpsuit. Elevate your look with playful jewelry. Here Dorese chose a deep maroon capelet dress the with some glitzy drop earrings and a subtle gold necklace. She adds a touch more sparkle with strappy gold sandals to bring the look together.

Get the Look: Dress, Shoes, Earrings, Necklace

For Him:  Pair a shirt and tie with a navy, gray or black suit. Jelani brings some flavor to the boring old suit by pairing his navy blazer with gray pants. He compliments this mix of color with a neutral brown belt and shoes. He adds in touches of fun with his maroon and gray tie and gray chevron pocket square.

Get the Look: Blazer, Shirt, Pants,  Tie, Tie Clip, Watch, Pocket Square, Shoes




Photo Credit: Misty Enright Photography

The Formal Wedding Attire Break Down:

Wedding Setting: Hotel, Mansion, Musume, Formal Government Building

Invitation Dress Code: Formal, Black Tie Optional, Black Tie, White

What to Wear: The is the most dressy of the wedding categories. Clothing choices should resemble the grown-up version of what you wore to prom with more demure colors and less glitz.

For Her:  Now ladies this is the time to play dress up and get little glamorous.  If an invitation says formal or black-tie a floor length dress is required. If it says white tie this is the most formal of dress and it is time to have your Oscars red carpet moment with a large ball gown. For formal attire stay away from bright colors and stick with staples like black or deep jewel tones. Here Dores stuns in this classic black floor length gown with dazzling statement drop earrings for some added elegance.

Get the Look: Dress, Earrings, Shoes

For Him:  Men, for a formal wedding it is time to get your 007 on.  If an invitation says formal or black tie option either a suit and tie can be worn or a tuxedo.  For black tie, a tuxedo is required and white tie a tuxedo with tales is required. For both occasions, a bow-tie should be worn.  Jelani shows off his formal flair with a gray and black tartan print blazer with satin lapels. He adds to this with a black silk tie, which could be easily substituted for a black bow-tie.  He finishes off the look with patent leather shoes and a gold lapel pin.

Get the Look: Blazer, Shirt, PantsTie, Watch, Shoes, Lapel Pin


Hope this helps in describing the wedding guest attire dress code. Leave a comment below and tell us what look you like the best!


3 thoughts on “Simplifying The Wedding Dress Code

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