Wedding Dress Code Wording – What Does It All Mean?

Wedding dress code wording can have you scratching your head and wondering, what do the dress codes mean?

A wedding is usually a pretty fancy affair, and it makes sense that you dress formally and in your best clothes. However, formal attire is a very broad term and there are many other dress codes that may be printed on your wedding invitation.

If you’re reading this and you are part of the wedding couple, you can have an idea of what your guests will be wearing based on the dress code you print on the invitation.

cockail weddng dress

Now, let’s dive into the wedding dress code wording commonly found on wedding invitations.

Black tie dress code

This is a formal-attire dress code. In many cases, a black-tie wedding takes place in the evening, which helps to emphasize the feeling of a fancy late-night affair. Men should wear a tux or at least a decent black or dark suit. Women typically wear floor-length dresses, though they could also choose an elegant suit.

If you are looking for more gender-neutral options, there are plenty of options you can choose from that you feel most comfortable in. Suits, pantsuits, and long dresses can come in all different cuts and sizes to suit all body types. You don’t need to stick to the binary rolls, just keep the attire formal.

Note: Wearing anything strapless or sleeveless can be a no-no to a religious wedding ceremony. If you opt for a strapless dress, a wrap should be brought to cover bare shoulders.

Man in tuxedo

Formal dress code

Or black tie optional. This is similar to a black-tie but the women have a little more choice in what to wear. It’s slightly less formal and though women can still choose a floor-length gown, an elegant cocktail dress is also suitable.

Men can still wear a tuxedo or a good suit. In warmer weather or daytime weddings, a light-colored tuxedo jacket with black suit pants can also be worn, so it’s not too hot in the dark colors.

Suit Set Elegant Cocktail Pantsuit


This attire is elegant cocktail dresses for the ladies, anything knee or calf length. For the men, it’s a nice suit or sports jacket, shirt and dress pants.

Cocktail dress

Cocktail attire starts to become a little more casual. It tends to be the default dress code for most weddings. Just like the semi-formal code, cocktail dresses are a great choice. Play around with colors and patterns, depending on the season or the location.

For a more gender-neutral look, an elegant jumpsuit or pantsuit is also an option.

The cocktail dress code allows for higher hemlines (i.e. above the knee) but suggests more structured fabrics.  Beads or sequins should be avoided, or at least minimal. Casual cocktail wedding attire for men could be a dress shirt, dress pants, and blazer. Ties can be optional.

Brighter colors are best suited for daytime weddings, while darker and more muted colors are more appropriate for evening weddings.

Dressy casual

Dressy casual or smart casual is perfect for a small, informal wedding or a garden wedding. A floral dress or blouse would be perfect, or a dress shirt and smart pants, with an optional tie.

Beach chic attire

This is the dress code often used for beach weddings and destination weddings. For the men, think linen suits or lighter colored suits, with no ties or bow ties necessary. Do take note though that linen creases very easily, so if you’re traveling far for the wedding this may not work so well.

For women, colorful cocktail dresses, sundresses, or flowing maxi dresses. Avoid heels as they will sink in the sand. Instead, opt for wedges or flats.


White tie dress code

This one is near the bottom of the list because it’s not a common dress code attire to have at a wedding unless it’s super fancy. Evening dress or white tie is the most formal of the dress code levels, and indicates that females will be expected to wear a ballgown. Men wear top hats and tails.

Take your inspiration from what you might’ve worn to Prince William & Catherine’s wedding. If your invite wasn’t lost in the post like mine was.

How to tell what the wedding’s dress code is – even if the couple didn’t tell you

Sometimes, the couple doesn’t actually state the dress code on the invitation. So, then what do you wear?

The rule of thumb: what sort of wedding invitation did they send? An invitation that is formally crafted is an indication that the wedding you’ll be attending will also be formal.

An invite with casual wording will call for a nice, but casual outfit.

Still not sure? Here are some other dress code hints:

  • The location of the wedding. Church = formal. Beach = informal.
  • The time of day dictates formality. White and black tie weddings are usually held after 5.00 pm. (So if the ceremony is at 3 – in theory the dress code is cocktail attire.).
  • A floaty dress that easily gets caught in the wind may not be appropriate for an outdoor wedding…
  • High heels should be avoided at a garden or beach wedding, as these easily sink in the grass or in the sand. Stick with wedges or flats.
  • A breezy dress will help keep you cool in a hot location.
  • A more dressy and tailored outfit can be used in a wedding held indoors, such as a five-star restaurant or a country club.
  • The invitation usually reflects the colour scheme and theme, so it gives a good indication of what colours to avoid – unless you want to be mistaken for a bridesmaid!

It’s pretty vague, unfortunately, because every couple, wedding location, and their dress code expectations are different.

Clothes you shouldn’t wear to a wedding

  • Anything white is discouraged especially fabrics that do not have prints.
  • Anything dark during a daytime wedding – if you must wear a black dress, brighten it up with your accessories
  • Jeans – just don’t!
  • Anything too revealing.
  • Anything with tears, stains or holes (unintentional or otherwise).
  • Anything too small or too big.

If you’re not keen to buy a new dress….

Rent one! There are places all over the world that let you rent gorgeous gowns and elegant cocktail attire.

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