Etiquette guide: Wedding guest dress code explained

From black tie to smart casual, we've got the lowdown on what you should wear to a wedding depending on what it says in the invitation.
Photo | Ashley Taylor
Photo | Ashley Taylor

Have you received a wedding invite with a dress code you’re not sure about? Don't worry! Learn to decipher dress code wording with these wedding outfit tips from the Wedding Team from London’s luxury online jeweller TheDiamondStore.co.uk

White tie

If you see this on a wedding invite the occasion will be extremely formal. You should be dressed to the teeth! Ladies should wear a full-length ball gown with optional gloves. Your date should be dressed in tails with a white waistcoat and bow tie plus black leather shoes, or military uniform.

Black tie

This is the second most formal dress code for weddings, usually held in the evening. After 5pm men should always wear a tuxedo with a bow tie and black leather shoes. During the day a dark suit is fine. Unless dress length is specified, ladies can choose a cocktail dress or a ball gown.

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Black tie optional or formal

This slightly confusing sounding dress code means that while a tuxedo can be worn by male guests, but it isn’t obligatory. A dark suit and tie are perfectly acceptable. Ladies can wear a long gown, a formal cocktail dress, or if the wedding is in the morning, a dressy tailored suit.

Morning suit

You’ll normally see this formal dress code on an invite to a very traditional wedding. Men should wear a black or grey morning coat, striped trousers, waistcoat, collar shirt, black shoes and an optional top hat. Women should opt for a knee-length dress or a skirt worn with a jacket and a hat.

Lounge suit

This is another typically British wedding dress code. A “lounge suit” is simply a suit. It could be black or dark grey, with a white shirt and a smart tie, which doesn’t have to be black. For the ladies, a cocktail dress at knee-length is perfect. A long evening dress would be over the top on this occasion.

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Smart casual or semiformal

Don’t be fooled by the word “casual” here. The couple does not want you to arrive in jeans. Men should wear a suit and tie, but can take their jacket off later during the reception party if the groom and groomsmen lead by example. Women will want to wear a cocktail dress, a very dressy skirt and top.

Casual

Casual sounds like you’re allowed to turn up wearing anything you like. However, you should read “casual” the same as “casual Friday” at work. Again, jeans are not appropriate. He should wear a button-down shirt and dress trousers, shoes can be brown. She can don a summer dress, or a pretty blouse with a skirt or smart trousers.

Cocktail attire

Cocktail attire usually means an evening wedding, but you should avoid looking like you’re going to a nightclub. An elegant frock that’s neither too formal nor too casual is perfect. Men should stick to a dark suit and tie.

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Beach formal

This tricky combination means you must look elegant, but also prepare for sand, wind, water and sun! Just imagine you’ve been invited to a smart beach-side restaurant on a summer’s day. He should wear a linen suit or shirt with khaki or linen trousers. Smart leather sandals are perfect for him and no tie is necessary. Female guests should wear a knee-length formal summer dress with flat sandals or wedges that are suitable for walking on sand. Warning! Unless specifically requested, neither male nor female guests should wear white unless they want to be mistaken for the bride or the groom. Stick to beiges, pastels and pretty floral prints.

Festive dress

Attending a themed wedding? Or perhaps the event takes place at Christmas or New Year’s? This dress code depends entirely on the date and the venue, and will usually come with further instructions from the couple. You’ll normally be safe wearing formal cocktail attire with added flair and sparkle.

Essential wedding dress code DO’s and DONT’s: 

  • DON’T ever wear white to a wedding unless specially asked to. It’s the bride’s colour.
  • DON’T bear it all. Mini skirts, bulging bosoms and tight, see-through dresses are a no no.
  • DO make an effort. At a wedding, it’s not cool to look like you just don't care.
  • DON’T break the bank. Consider jazzing up a smart work outfit with dressy accessories.
  • DO take your gloves off when eating at a formal wedding.
  • DON’T dress “loud”. As a guest, you should blend in a let the couple have the limelight.

Finally, if there are no instructions on the invite, it’s safest to err on the side of caution… those wedding photos last forever! If in doubt, ask the bridal party for advice. Remember it’s an honour to be invited to a wedding, so pick an outfit that’s respectful and doesn’t bring attention to yourself. Then you can simply enjoy the day and focus on the celebration of love.

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