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How To Decipher The Wedding Dress Code

February 27, 2020

What To Wear When There’s A Wedding Dress Code

Hello, friends! With springtime just a few weeks away, that means we are getting close to my favorite season of the year: wedding season! If you’re attending a wedding this year, trying to figure out what to wear might be a challenge. Or maybe you’re getting married this year and want insight on how to guide your guests to the best attire. Whatever the case, I have the answer for you below where I break down each wedding dress code:

A Romantic Fall Wedding at Maravilla Gardens, invitation suite
Photo by: Jenny Quicksall

White Tie

Despite the name, this doesn’t literally mean wear a white tie. (Read more on whether or not it’s okay to wear white to a wedding on this blog post). A White Tie wedding dress code means, “oh, you fancy”. This is the least common attire for a wedding but, if the event is very traditional, you may come across it. For men, they’re expected to wear full tuxedos with tails and women in formal ball gowns, evening gloves optional. You may not come across this type of wedding dress code often but if you do, be prepared to dress to the nines. 

Formal or Black Tie

groom tux, navy tux, black bowtie
Photo by: Kelsea Holder

If the invitation says the wedding dress code is “formal” or “black tie”, expect to wear your best. This includes a dinner jacket or tuxedo for men with a tie or bowtie. And for women, a formal evening gown is your best bet for a black tie affair. If something isn’t already in your closet (or budget), consider renting the proper attire at a local shop. 

Semi-Formal or Cocktail Attire

Photo by: Sisterlee Photography
and Shot By Ellen

This is probably the most common wedding dress code I encounter these days. “Semi-formal” or “cocktail attire” means you should dress up but you don’t have to be stuffy. Maybe for men your undershirt isn’t a formal white button down but you do wear a suit jacket with slacks. For women, you can branch out a bit more as cocktail attire can mean your dress doesn’t need to be a certain length to be considered elegant. You can even rock an upscale jumpsuit paired with beautiful jewelry. 

Casual or Business Casual

casual wedding dress code
Photo by: Kayla Lilli Photo

This may seem surprising, but I do see more and more “casual” wedding dress codes at weddings. This means there’s generally a large mix of attire at the event, perhaps even the wedding is on a Friday so the couple is expecting people to come after work. Whatever the case may be, casual still means you will want to be dressy but every closet should have the pieces you need. However, I would advise against jeans. Always.


semi formal wedding dress code, big bear wedding
Photo by: Chuy Photography + Michelle Rodriguez 

If you’re still unsure of what to wear to a wedding, you can always ask the couple or try to use your best judgment. For example, if the wedding is on a beach, a linen shirt for men and a beautiful sundress for women might be fine. I was once a guest at a wedding in the middle of the woods in Yosemite National Park. It was absolutely beautiful but getting to the ceremony required a bit of hiking. Wearing 3-inch stilettos and potentially twisting my ankle wasn’t going to be an option. Therefore, I opted for sophisticated boots with a really low heel (and a flowy, midi dress with sleeves to protect myself from bugs.)


As the couple planning the wedding, be sure to mention to your guests if the wedding is all outdoors or what the weather is typically like or maybe you need to mention the terrain. The worst for women especially is when they have stilettos on and it’s all on grass or rocky terrain. Letting guests know what the venue is like or the weather in the area is super helpful for your guests to dress appropriately and come prepared. No one wants their guests to be uncomfortable throughout the night. I always say, the more details, the better!

You always want to look good at weddings but the most important part is to be there to support and celebrate the couple as they take this big step in their lives. Don’t stress out too much about your outfit and have fun dancing! 

If you’re ready to get married but need a great team to help you manage the day, contact me on my homepage here and let’s chat! 

Feathered Arrow Signature Kari Dirksen

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