The ultimate guide to wedding dress codes and guest attire

A happy couple and guests posing with their hands raised at their wedding.
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If you have a wedding on the horizon, you may find yourself fully immersed in everything that comes with wedding planning. Between flowers and first dance tunes, bouquets, and bridesmaid dresses, there are a lot of choices to make. 

While you’re creating your perfect wedding day, there comes the point when you must ask yourself: what dress code should we choose?

Dress codes are by no means mandatory for a wedding. However, they are a helpful tool that provide your guests with a guide on how to dress. If guests don’t know the overall vibe of your wedding, they may experience a wardrobe predicament—either they take a chance on their attire and risk looking out of place, or they go out of their way to ask you. With all the wedding questions floating around, it’s best to nip that issue in the bud and disclose your dress code straight away. 

Let’s break down what exactly wedding dress codes mean and how they can work to elevate your special day. 


An illustration of white tie attire for women and for men featuring items from the list like white gloves, black tailcoat, and more.White Tie Attire

White tie 

Starting with the most elegant wedding dress code, we have the white tie wedding. A white tie event means dressing in your absolute finest. Think White House presidential. Think Royal Ball. Think 10-course dinner with the Dowager on “Downton Abbey”. 

If you want your guests to feel like they’ve stepped into a decadently divine evening, a white tie dress code can certainly help bring that vision to life. In fact, wedding specialist Anne Chertoff says that a white-tie dress code means “a woman can wear a grand ballgown and opulent jewels.” Other examples of white tie attire include:

— Formal floor-length gown

— Black jackets with tails

– White vest 

— Tuxedo pants

– White bowtie

— Polished dress shoes

— Dazzling jewelry

– Tiara

— Gloves


An illustration of black tie attire for women and for men featuring items from the list like a floor-length dress, elegant heels, and a well-fitted black tux.Black Tie Attire

Black tie 

Though a white tie event is considered a rarity nowadays, black tie dress codes remain relatively common for formal events. However, since both are considered very formal, we know that the distinction between the two can feel blurry. 

Essentially, black tie wedding attire still means formal. If your wedding involves a gorgeous cathedral, ballroom, or elegant dining room, a black-tie dress code may fit perfectly into this elegant aesthetic. 

Here are a few ideas to help you picture a black-tie affair:

— Formal to semi-formal floor-length dresses made with quality fabric (velvet, chiffon, silk, lace)

— Well-fitted black or navy suit jacket with a lapel

— Vest

— Black bowtie

— Elegant heels 

— Classy dress shoes


Black tie optional and formal attire 

Say you want to encourage the black-tie ambiance without feeling like you’re forcing your guests to drop some serious cash on a new vest or floor-length gown. You can opt for a black-tie optional dress code, otherwise known as formal attire. 

Presenting options for formal wedding attire means your guests can feel a sense of flexibility with what they choose to wear. For example, someone could:

— Switch out their bow tie for a nice necktie

— Wear a shorter dress (above or below the knees) rather than a floor-length evening gown

— Opt for a suit instead of a tux, in any color 


An illustration of cocktail attire for women and for men featuring items from the list like a short cocktail dress and a suit and tie. Cocktail Attire


Cocktail dress codes may be a fun option while still maintaining an air of sophistication. Think of this dress code as marrying casual comfort and elevated style. Basically, a cocktail dress code invites guests to dress up in ways that make them feel fancy and not stuffy. 

If your wedding takes place in an outdoor garden, a rooftop bar, or a light and airy venue, a cocktail dress code could fit in very nicely. 

Some examples of cocktail attire include:

– Short, flirty cocktail dresses that fall to the knee (flowy or formfitting) or a dressy jumpsuit

– Suit and tie

– Comfortable, dressy shoes

– A stylish jacket

Cocktail attire blends more relaxed styles with polish. So when in doubt, keep it comfortable and classy.

An illustration of semi-formal attire for women and for men featuring items from the list like a fancy jumpsuit, men’s slacks, and dress shoes.Semi-Formal Attire


If you want to say no to floor-length gowns and cummerbunds but don’t want to sacrifice that special-occasion atmosphere, consider the semi-formal dress code. Also known as “dressy casual,” semi-formal attire suits weddings that want to focus on play and polish. Picture what you might wear to a nice restaurant or a fancy first date. 

Examples of a dressy casual wedding dress code may include:

— Dress shirt and slacks with an optional tie

— Skirt and blouse in high-quality material

— A knee-length dress

— Tasteful pantsuit or jumpsuit

Semi-formal allows guests plenty of flexibility to choose clothes that make them feel good and look good. 


An illustration of casual attire for women and for men featuring items from the list like a sundress, a sport jacket, and navy pants.Casual Attire


If formal isn’t your style, you can opt for casual wedding guest attire. A casual dress code could work well for you if your wedding takes place outdoors, in a barn, at a park, in a casual restaurant, or in a brewery. While T-shirts and tank tops don’t precisely fit the vibe, your guests should feel encouraged to leave their formal wear at home and opt for a more laid-back look. 

Casual dress codes may include clothing choices such as:

— Sundresses

— Collared shirts

— Skirts

— Khaki pants

— Sport jackets

— Wedges

— Dressy sandals

A casual dress code can allow your wedding guests to enjoy the party without worrying about uncomfortable shoes or spilling wine on their expensive suits.


If you have a destination wedding, you’ve opened up a world of exciting attire options for your guests. 

Beach wedding

Beach weddings give off very flowy, romantic vibes. Match the energy of the sea with a semi-formal dress code. A beach or summer wedding dress code will invite guests to choose breezy dresses or linen suits so they can enjoy the stunning shore and stay comfortable. 

Country wedding

Country weddings center their aesthetics on the beauty of nature. Whether in a backyard or a barn, casual comfort typically works well for country weddings. A casual or semi-formal wedding attire lets your guests know that dresses and suits are welcome but not necessarily required. 


Themed attire 

Do you have a themed wedding up your sleeve? Don’t let all that thoughtful planning go to waste. Let your guests join in on the fun. 

Implementing a themed dress code can allow your guests to join in on the fun. Your theme may stem from a shared interest between you and your spouse or simply you may just want to create an enjoyable environment for your big day. Whatever your reason for themed dress codes, your guests will appreciate a chance to amplify the occasion and spark joy with their outfits. 

Unsure of how to implement a theme with a dress code? We’ve got you covered. 


— Retro-inspired theme: If your wedding has a throwback feel, you can go general and call the dress code: Vintage. 

Vintage could mean many things in terms of attire options, such as:

— Vintage dresses

— Costume jewelry

— Old-fashioned hats or fascinators

Feel free to get more specific to your themed attire by using popular retro phrases or identifying a particular decade that reflects the style you’d like your wedding by saying things like:

— Come in your finest Roaring 20s flapper attire

— Come on down in your grooviest 70s getup

— Wear what you looked like in the 80s 


— Color scheme theme: With all the color coordinating you’ve likely already done, why not take it a step further and implement it with your dress code? If you’re a sucker for color schemes, feel free to let your guests know. Give them multiple options for colors that will compliment your flower arrangements, table linens, and centerpieces. 


— Holiday theme: If you’re sharing your wedding anniversary with a national holiday, you can always dress for the occasion. Invite your guests to join in on the holiday fun by making it clear they should indulge in their holiday spirit. 

Spread your holiday cheer with a dress code:

— Ask them to dress in a color scheme associated with the holiday, such as pastels for Easter, red, white, and blue for Independence Day, or red and pink for Valentine’s Day.

— Tell them to wear their favorite costume (hello, Halloween!)


Invite your guests to dress to impress 

Communicate your dress code to your guests with a stylish invitation. This will also give your guests a sneak peek into your dreamy wedding day.

Richmond Park: Perfect for a black-tie affair, give your guests a glowing first impression of your glorious day.

Falling Floral: Choose an invite that compliments a flowery formal event or even a wedding in the country. Let the petals fall and let the RSVPs roll in.

Collins Avenue: If you’re celebrating your big day with a cocktail dress code, go for this subtle, understated invitation that lets your guests know what they should expect. Classy, simple, fun. 


Say “I do” with Paperless Post 

With so many wedding logistics to keep track of, don’t let your dress code fall by the wayside. Disclosing your dress code in your invitation can give your guests some peace of mind and provide your wedding with a cohesive look to help fulfill your vision of the perfect day.

At Paperless Post, we aim to excite your party-goers by providing them with gorgeous virtual invitations to delight the senses and set the stage for an unforgettable event. Browse our collection of fully customizable invites that align with your vision. Send them out to your contact list instantly and get one step closer to your happily ever after. 

Dress to impress and invite with finesse with Paperless Post.


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