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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.

Choosing what to wear to a wedding is hard enough, and that’s without a confusing dress code being thrown into the mix.

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Additionally, if you’re a bride or groom-to-be wondering what to write in your wedding invitations regarding your dress code, read on to find out what each wedding dress code actually means.

Whether your wedding invitation says white tie, black tie, smart casual or cocktail, here’s what each phrase means, and what should be worn to adhere to that dress code. 

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Image | Getty

What does white tie mean?

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

What should I wear to a black tie wedding?

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.

What does black tie optional or formal mean?

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.

What is a 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.

What is a 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.

What should I wear for a smart casual or semiformal dress code?

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 should wear a cocktail dress, or a very dressy skirt and top.

What is a casual dress code?

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. Jeans are not appropriate. Men should wear a button-down shirt and dress trousers, shoes can be brown. Women can don a summer dress, or a pretty blouse with a skirt or smart trousers.

What is cocktail attire?

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

What do I wear to a beach formal wedding?

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.

Gentlemen 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.

READ MORE: Gorgeous Wedding Guest Dresses For Weddings Abroad

What counts as 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.

READ MORE: Christmas Party Dresses Perfect For Winter Wedding Guests

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

  • DON’T 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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READ MORE: 100 best wedding guest dresses