Wedding Guest Attire | Wedding Dress Code

While I absolutely love receiving a gorgeous wedding invitation in the mail, most often than not, I’m then left with the dreaded “what should I wear” question. Decoding the difference between ‘black tie’,  ‘formal’, ‘semi-formal’, ‘cocktail’, ‘smart casual’, ‘casual’, ‘beach chic’ (the list could go on) attire as requested by the invitation can leave you with a big fat question mark tempting you to RSVP “no”. So when a darling reader of mine suggested a post on ‘what to wear to weddings’, I saw this as a great opportunity to finally decipher the confusing wedding dress code and settle it once and for all.

In order to decode the wedding dress code, there are a few factors you should first consider: What time is the wedding? Where is the wedding and reception to be held? What does the invitation look like? By answering these questions, you’ll be able to tell yourself whether it leans on the more formal side, whether a little embellishments need to be added to your outfit or whether you need to go get your hair done by a professional and so on.

Black Tie or Formal

Black tie is probably one of the more popular dress codes reserved for evening weddings. For men, a black tuxedo or dinner suit with matching trousers worn with a black bow tie (a black tie would also be appropriate) is the standard. Women can channel the Oscars for this kind of wedding with a glamorous evening gown (such as the Honey & Beau Spinning Maxi Dress – below left) or an elegant cocktail dress, perhaps with some embellishments (such as the J Crew Rosalind Dress – below right), pretty jewelry and coiffed hair.

Semi-Formal or Cocktail

Semi-Formal (or sometimes known as Cocktail for the evening) is one of the easier codes to dress for. Whilst it also suggests a stylish event, it is less formal than the Black Tie or Formal option. Men should wear a dark suit and tie and women, a fabulous cocktail dress or a little black dress (such as the Paper Crown by Lauren Conrad Black Monet Dress – below). I love the lace on the Black Monet Dress!


A Casual dress code is reserved for the more relaxed affair. However, don’t be fooled by the word “casual” as jeans are not appropriate for this kind of wedding.  Men should wear a nice pair of pants and a shirt and women, a nice blouse and skirt, a pretty sundress (such as the Love Chiffon Rainbow Floral Cut Out Dress (below left) or the Paper Crown by Lauren Conrad Tennyson Mini (below right)) or pants paired with a stylish top. Be mindful of the fabric and make sure you don’t wear anything that looks too formal.

Beach Chic / Beach Formal

With all the beach destination weddings these days, Beach Chic or Beach Formal is a becoming a popular dress code. However, just because the word “beach” is included in this dress code, it doesn’t mean you can show up in shorts and flip flops. For this type of outdoor wedding, you should have the elements (sun, sand and water) in mind when dressing yourself. Men could channel Hugh Grant in his white shirt and tailored pants from Bridget Jones Diary 2. For women,  colourful flowy ethereal type dresses (such as the Emerson Fry Waist Dress – below left) or a delicate sundress (such as the Calippo Silk Dress – below right) paired with flat sandals would be perfect.

It’s definitely a fine line between some of the wedding dress codes so if in doubt, err on the side of caution.  To round it off, here are some simple general dos and don’ts when it comes to wedding guest attire. Remember these and you should be alright.


  • Keep it subtle and simple. Opt for simple, pretty or romantic looks rather than the sexy sultry siren look.
  • Keep hair and make up simple and natural.
  • Always be appropriate in your attire (i.e. nothing too revealing or skimpy).


  • Don’t wear white!
  • Try not to wear black for day time events.
  • No jeans EVER.
  • Pauline Lloyd

    I live in the UK and have been invited to a wedding on shelter island. There will be cocktails the evening before, the dress code is, beach formal cocktail attire, please help me to dress correctly, I am in my late 60’s so no strapless on short skirts,

    many thanks from Pauline Lloyd

  • I love that blue floral dress and have fruitlessly been searching for it for months. There’s no point to this comment I just needed to share my pain. Sigh.