Wedding Dress Codes and What They Mean

Wedding dress codes drawn out
Photo courtesy of Jessica Olah

Wedding dress codes; let’s talk about them. Have you ever heard a term like “semi-formal” or “cocktail” and tilted your head in confusion, because what does that even mean? We’re here to cure your dress code confusion by going over some popular dress codes you’ll probably see on future wedding invitations. On the flip side, if you’re planning a wedding and want people in certain attire, but aren’t sure which words to use, have no fear! We are here to help!


Black Tie

2 men in tuxes and 2 women in floor length dresses standing outside at a black tie wedding.
Photo courtesy of Michele Beckwith

A black tie wedding is the second most formal dress code, and it means that this is an evening event, which usually starts at 6:30pm or later. Feminine options include wearing an elegant floor length gown that doesn’t show your ankles, or a sophisticated pant-suit. The masculine option is to wear a tux. You can also add a vest, a black bow tie, a cummerbund, and leather shoes.


White Tie

President Barak Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama standing with the Queen of England and Prince Phillip
Photo courtesy of Getty Images/Chris Jackson

White tie is the most formal you can get. These events are what White House state dinners, and the Nobel Prize ceremony are classified as. The feminine dress code is a formal floor-length evening gown with heels, jewelry, and a clutch. The masculine option is a tuxedo with a tail (very last century-chic), a formal white shirt, a white vest and bowtie, white or gray gloves, and patent Oxford shoes.



Woman in purple cocktail dress and man in casual suit.

The Cocktail dress code is all about mixing elegance with comfortability, which is why it’s a super popular option! So, feminine options include midi-length dresses or knee-length dresses. Suit and tie is the only option for my masculine folks, so spruce yourself up, but don’t get too fancy with it! You don’t want to be too over the top and show up the couple getting married. We don’t need you getting death glares from the mother of the bride!



Woman sitting in chair with her legs crossed in a semi-formal floral dress.

Semi-formal dress codes change based on the time of day the event is at. If it’s in the morning, go for lighter fabrics and colors, and for the evening, wear darker more formal colors. Feminine options include below the knee dresses or a dressy skirt and top. You may also wear a classy pantsuit! Pair this with nice wedges or heels, but make sure to steer clear of stilettos if you know you’ll be walking through grass! The masculine option is to wear a dress shirt and slacks, with the option of a tie. Just make sure to wear the right colors based on what time of day the wedding is at.



Bride and groom standing in front of groomsmen at a tropical wedding

Think light and breezy fabrics. Think sundresses with sandals or wedges. Think cute sunhats. Tropical weddings or any destination wedding in the warmer months are going to most likely be hot and humid. Come prepared with lots of sunscreen, and clothes that won’t make you want to melt in your seat! There are these shirts that are common at tropical weddings called Guayabera shirts or “Mexican wedding shirts” and they are perfect for masculine presenting people! You can find them in many colors and styles, and some designers make these shirts as well if you want to get fancy with it!


We know, there are so many options. And these aren’t even all of them, but we hope that you have a better understanding of what all of these codes mean. There are cheat codes online everywhere these days, so if you need to get more specific instructions of types of shoes or pants, Google will be your best friend. If you’re planning on specifying a dress code for your wedding, it can be helpful to list some clothing options on the invitation, so guests are clear on what they should wear!

Happy Wedding Planning!



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