There’s nothing quite like the dread of opening a wedding invite and trying to make sense of the cryptic attire instructions. Dress codes can seem like a relic of time-gone-by, but when used properly they’re a handy way to avoid anybody worrying about what to wear.
As the host of a wedding, having a dress code is an important way of communicating to your guests what they can wear without being out of place or drawing attention to themselves. This doesn’t necessarily have to be written on the invitation, but should at least be firmly decided so that it can be communicated through word of mouth.
So what are the main dress codes you will come across?
The Usual Suspects
White Tie – Okay, so you probably won’t be coming across this anytime soon, but if you do, we’d hate for you to be unprepared. This is where you really don’t want to mess up the dress code, as it’s the most fancy and traditional. Showing up in a cocktail dress would be quite the faux pas! White tie events are usually held after dark in expensive locations like ballrooms or high-class restaurants. The dress code should be very clear if this is expected, as most people will not show up to a wedding in tails or a full-length ball gown.
Black Tie(formal)– A step down from royalty, but still very formal. Black tie events are the dressiest affairs most of us will ever attend, if we attend one at all. They are much like white tie events, but full ball gowns and tails are not required. Instead, tuxedos and evening gowns are expected. Some events are specifically creative black tie. This gives guests more opportunity for some creative stylistic choices, such as less traditional suits or bright colours. Specifying this in the dress code indicates that the event is very formal, but not necessarily traditional.
Cocktail(semi-formal, lounge suit)– This is what most of us would typically wear to a wedding if given no guidance on the matter. For women, this usually means a short dress (not floor-length) and heels. For men, anything from a nice shirt with suit pants, to a full suit. The cocktail dress code is much more flexible than white or black tie.
Casual(informal, smart casual, business casual)– Most commonly found at beach or backyard weddings, although a casual wedding is anyone’s game so long as the chosen venues don’t enforce a strict dress code. While ‘casual’ does mean that you can dress comfortably, it is usually expected that guests do dress up a little. Avoid denim jeans, flip-flops (especially for men), and any sort of exercise-wear (track pants, hoodies etc.)
Some general rules
- Avoid wearing a white dress— It may be okay if it’s not long and lacy, but best to be on the safe side here. The bride deserves all the attention, and you want to make sure nobody has even a moment of confusion about whose day it is.
- Avoid wearing all black —This rule is falling out of favour, but it’s best to be on the safe side. Don’t dress like you’re in mourning or attending a funeral. If you must wear black, try to pair it with accessories in bright colours.
- Be respectful–A wedding is a family event, likely to have children and grandparents in attendance. It may be held in a church. Regardless of the dress code, avoid dressing like you’re hitting the club. You don’t need to wear a robe, but try to keep your outfit relatively modest.
- If in doubt – Consider asking a member of the bridal party if you are unsure what the dress code entails. If still unsure, take your queue from the time and location of the wedding, and consider wearing something that can be dressed up or down with the quick addition or removal of a few accessories.
Deciding on a Dress Code:
If you’re the one hosting a wedding and trying to decide on a suitable dress code, here are some things to consider which will point you in the right direction.
- What are your chosen venues? Do they have their own dress code? A country club may require jackets and ties in their restaurant, while more practical attire may be best for guests at a beach wedding.
- What time of day is your wedding going to be held? Evening weddings are typically more formal than daytime events.
- What style of wedding are you planning? Will it be a relaxed party atmosphere or an elaborate gala? The dress code should match the tone you are aiming for with your invitations, decorations and other stylistic selections.
- What is the bride wearing? You probably don’t want her to be dressed in a less formal dress while the guests are in full ball gowns.
- Who are your guests? Think about your attendees and the sorts of events they typically attend. Can they afford to buy extravagant outfits for your wedding? Are they likely to ignore the dress code entirely?
Of course, whatever guests wear, it’s (hopefully) unlikely that they will be asked to leave. But it’s best to make the effort to blend in and fit the occasion.
Now go find something stylish!