Wedding Attire: White Tie? Beach Formal? What to Wear to a Wedding

Black Tie & Formal

If you’re a wedding guest trying to choose the right wedding attire and scratching your head over what exactly “white tie” means, we’re here to help. Most of us aren’t familiar with dress codes other than “formal” or “business casual,” but wedding dress codes are a little more nuanced. For example…

White Tie: This is the fanciest of all wedding dress codes – even more so than “Black Tie” (which we’ll deal with in just a sec). Gentlemen, this is your golden opportunity to bust out a top hat and a dress coat with tails. Ladies, this type of wedding calls for full-length evening gowns ONLY, and don’t forget to layer it up with your best bling and accessories. Back in the day, ladies wore their furs to such events – but today a nice faux fur will do just as nicely. White tie events more frequently include state dinners or charity galas than weddings, but some particularly fancy evening weddings are still white tie.

Black Tie: Gents, you’ll want to rent a tux, if you don’t already own one. Ladies – historically, dresses shorter than “tea length” were not acceptable at black tie events or weddings, but nowadays, cocktail length dresses are generally considered appropriate. Use your best judgement! A fancy, formal gown is always a safe bet.

Top photo looks left to right: Opening Ceremony,, John Lewis, SSense

Creative black tie attire. Photo via

Creative Black Tie: Oh boy. This one is open to some interpretation – be sure to check with your hostess, because there may be a theme involved. This is essentially black tie with a healthy dose of whimsy – so feel free to bust out an over-the-top hair piece, a fancy dress with a crazy optical print – what have you. Gents can mix it up with a colorful and/or slightly wacky shirt, tie, or cummerbund.

Formal OR Black Tie Optional: A nice dark suit is totally appropriate for dudes in lieu of a tux at a formal/black tie optional affair. Men should definitely strive to look as spiffy as possible. Ladies can don cocktail dresses, formal gowns, or dressy separates for a formal wedding. Note: In the case of “Daytime Formal,” men are allowed to wear lighter suits.

Semi-Formal & Casual

Looks left to right: Ralph Lauren, Macy’s, Ralph Lauren, Forever 21 

Semi-Formal: No tuxes are required or expected in this scenario, but guests should still dress up. Men, think fancy business meeting. Ladies – less than formal dresses are appropriate here, but avoid overly casual looks, like cotton sundresses or maxis.

Cocktail Attire: This is practically the same as “Semi-Formal.” Girls, just be sure you can differentiate between a nice cocktail dress and a sexy mini dress that’s better suited for the club.

Beach formal wedding attire. Photo via

Beach Formal: This is a tricky one! At a beach formal wedding, you should dress for the elements, but you should refrain from wearing overly beach-y things like flip flops, or a dress that’s really more of a swimsuit cover-up. And by all means, DON’T wear your swimsuit under your clothes. Ladies can wear a nice long or short dress and flats (NEVER wear heels on a beach). Men can wear a summer suit, or linen or khaki pants with a nice button-down shirt, and sandals.

Casual: Be very aware that “wedding casual” is not “weekend casual.” Women should wear a nice dress or dressy separates, and men should at least wear khakis and a button-down shirt or polo. Whatever you do – don’t wear jeans to a wedding. EVER. Even if it’s “Hoe-down” themed.

Have you ever been stumped by the stated dress code on a wedding or party invite? We wanna know!

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Comments (1)

May 7, 2012

Lauren Conrad and her friends are like the epitome of cool beach formal. Good job ladies!


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