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Of the many experiences you'll have in your lifetime, one that will excite you the most—and one that you're sure to want to remember—is your wedding....
You received a wedding invitation to your dear friends' big day, yay! Now you need to figure out what the heck to wear. Finding that perfect outfit can be one of the most challenging parts of being invited to a wedding. After all, the last thing you want is to feel out of place because you look underdressed—or maybe overdressed. While you can refer to the dress codes printed on the invitation for suggestions, sometimes they can be a bit confusing.
Is "black tie" attire the same as "black tie optional"? What should I wear when the invitation indicates "come as you are"? You've probably had similar questions before and may still be looking for answers. If that's the case, this short guide will help you discover the meaning of some of the most common wedding dress codes, from white tie and black tie events to semi-formal and casual affairs. You'll also find outfit recommendations for each type of dress code to help you decide on the ideal wedding guest ensemble that will make you look good and put you in the right mood to celebrate with the couple on their special day!
White tie is the most formal dress code, usually reserved for highly formal events, such as royal banquets and state dinners. As such, you should make an effort to dress your very best. An elegantly designed floor-length evening gown is a must for women, not to mention a pair of sheer nude pantyhose or knee-high hosiery, as it's more formal than going bare-legged. Complete the classy, polished look with elegant jewelry and closed-toe heels that complement the dress.
As for men, the acceptable attire is pretty strict: a black tailcoat, a white tuxedo shirt and waistcoat, and a pair of high-waist black tuxedo trousers. Other must-haves include black leather shoes complemented with black evening socks and a white bow tie. White gloves are recommended, but they're optional.
The black-tie dress code is slightly under white tie in formality, so the recommended outfits are similar. Women should opt for a long evening gown, sheer stockings, and heels for a put-together look. For a black tie dress code, women should stick to floor-length gowns. A classy suit is also an option. Either option can be dressed up with beautiful jewelry such as pearls or diamonds.
For men, a black tie ensemble means a dark tuxedo, a classic white spread collar shirt, a black bow tie, and a black cummerbund or vest. A pair of leather dress shoes and mid-calf evening socks are staples to complete the outfit.
If you're attending a wedding that says "black tie optional" as the dress code, it is slightly less formal than black tie but still an elevated dress code. Black tie optional allows for a knee-length cocktail dress instead of a floor-length gown, although a floor-length dress is still appropriate. Women can also opt for an elegant pantsuit. Sheer stockings and pumps are staples to tie the formal outfit together.
Men don't need to wear a tuxedo for black tie optional, although they can if they would like to. If they skip the tux, men should wear dark colors for their outfits. They can wear an elegant dark suit and a conservative tie. Dark socks and dark leather shoes remain essential.
A cocktail dress code is one of the most popular dress codes for wedding guests. Women should opt for a knee-length or tea-length dress instead of floor-length. If you prefer to wear a maxi dress, look for one with a less formal material and pattern so that you aren't overdressed. A little black dress with heels or dressy flats is a fantastic option for a cocktail dress code.
Men should wear a suit and tie with dark, dressy shoes. Men need to wear a full suit jacket for a cocktail dress code. If the wedding occurs during the summer or warmer months, men can opt for a suit in a lighter color.
Also called dressy casual, a semi-formal dress code is a cross between formal and casual ensembles. Semi-formal is a small step below cocktail attire in terms of formality. A dress that falls below the knees, fancy separates, or a classy pantsuit are great options for women. Pair them with heels, stylish wedges, or pointed-toe flats to create a polished appearance.
For men, slacks and a nice dress shirt worn with or without a tie are an excellent choice. While dressy shoes are not required, it's still best to go for classic and elegant pairs, like loafers, derby shoes, and oxfords, as they can elevate any outfit.
A casual dress code calls for a more relaxed ensemble. However, it's worth pointing out that jeans, shorts, and other overly laid-back garments are only appropriate for weddings if explicitly noted in the invitation. Women can wear a lovely sundress, a stylish jumpsuit, a chic high-low dress, or a tasteful two-piece outfit for casual weddings.
Men can wear a button-down shirt, a blazer, or khaki pants. Sweaters, polo shirts, and chinos are fantastic alternatives as well. And since the ambiance is more relaxed, the gents can opt for less formal footwear, such as suede loafers or rubber-soled derby shoes.
If you're attending a wedding with a "come as you are" dress code, it doesn't necessarily mean you can wear whatever you like—especially overly casual pieces like sweatpants and flip-flops. The best way to come up with an appropriate outfit would be to consider the time and location of the wedding and what the couple usually wears. These things will clue you in on suitable attire that will make you look and feel good.
The next time you get invited to a wedding, use the information in this piece as a guide or a jumping-off point when selecting the ideal wedding guest outfit. And if you come across overly creative attire recommendations not contained in this list—or if there's no dress code mentioned, consider checking the couple's wedding website or Facebook event page. If there's none, you may want to err on the side of caution and dress more formally for an evening wedding or semi-formal for any other time of the day.