What to wear to a wedding: Dress codes explained & outfit ideas

From black tie to smart casual, we've got the lowdown on what you should wear to a wedding and how to advise guests on your own wedding dress code.

Choosing what to wear to a wedding used to be simple: full-on formal all the way. Think pastel dresses with matching jackets and hats, and the smartest of suits. When it comes to 2020 wedding guest dressing, however, the rules aren’t as obvious.


Of course, some traditionally-minded couples will include a dress code with their invitations. This can make life easier, as you at least have a steer on what to wear, but it can also be somewhat panic-inducing if you aren’t sure exactly what it means.

If there’s no dress code included in the invitations, you’ll still want to dress to suit the wedding style – you might feel out of place in full-on sequins and killer heels at a boho countryside celebration, for example. It’s easiest to ask the couple what sort of wedding they’re having and build your outfit from there. But if for any reason you’re not keen on doing this, check out their venue online to get an idea.

To make your wedding guest outfit hunt more enjoyable, we’re going to explain exactly what the most common traditional dress codes really mean. We’ll also reveal the 2020 style rules for wedding guests – and show you our favourite looks to buy right now. All you’ll have to worry about is what to write in the wedding card. Happy shopping!

We may receive a commission on products or services purchased through links in this article. All the products have been chosen independently by our editorial team.

Mint green dress with bird print by Liquorish at Silk Fred
One of the stunning looks from our wedding guest outfit edit

What is a white tie dress code?

If you see this on a wedding invitation, the occasion will be extremely formal. Ladies should wear a full-length ball gown with optional gloves. Men should be dressed in an evening tailcoat (not a morning coat) with a white waistcoat and bow tie, high-waisted black trousers and black leather shoes. Top hats and white gloves are optional. Think Downton Abbey and you’re along the right lines!

What should I wear to a black tie wedding?

This is the second most formal dress code for weddings, usually held in the evening. Men should wear a black dinner jacket and bow tie, white evening shirt and black tapered trousers. Unless dress length is specified, ladies can choose a cocktail dress (fitted, to the knee), formal jumpsuit or trousers, or a full-length gown – this can be any colour.

What does black tie optional or formal mean?

This slightly confusing-sounding dress code means that while male guests can wear a dinner jacket, it isn’t obligatory. A dark suit and tie is a perfectly acceptable wedding guest outfit. Ladies can wear a long gown, a formal cocktail dress, or nicely cut trousers or jumpsuit.

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What is morning dress?

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 or houndstooth trousers, waistcoat, collar shirt, black shoes, tie and an optional top hat. Women should opt for a chic, not too revealing outfit – we’re talking no slip dresses (unless worn with a jacket over the top) or ultra-short dresses.

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, any smart dress 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 go dressy, but it’s more about understated chic than full-on red carpet glamour.

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. For women, we’d suggest 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. Do avoid shorts, unless you’ve been told my the couple that these are acceptable. Female guests could consider a midi or maxi formal summer dress with flat sandals or wedges that are suitable for walking on sand.

What to wear to a wedding in 2020?

Follow our 6 up-to-date style rules to take your wedding guest look to the next level.

Rule 1. Patterns are your friend

The problem with wearing an outfit in one colour is that the bridesmaids may be in the same hue. This isn’t in itself a tragedy, but you might appear a bit recalcitrant to the other guests when you don’t walk down the aisle with the bride squad – and nobody wants to be The Bad Bridesmaid. The way to get round this is by going with a print. Florals are always popular, particularly for summer weddings, but this isn’t the only print in town – on-trend polka dots and abstract designs look just as good.

If you do go floral, make it feel fresh by choosing a contemporary silhouette – 2020 is all about sleeves and shoulders. Of course, the bride may choose floral bridesmaid dresses, but the chances of her picking the exact same style as your guest dress are slim; check with her if you’re concerned.

Colour blocking has been popping up on the catwalks, and is a chic way to avoid a head-to-toe hue if your style is too minimalist for patterns.

Printed Knot Belted Midi Dress – £85, & Other Stories

This dress from high street hero & Other Stories is laidback chic in a nutshell. It’s also available in a watercolour print, if you want something prettier but with the same easy-elegance silhouette.

Buy it now

Stella Dress – £435, BA&SH at Selfridges

We love a metallic pattern, and the flared sleeves and tiered skirt of this BA&SH maxi dress are very 2020.

Buy it now

Colourblock Pleated Midi Dress – £69, Warehouse

It’s grown-up glamour all the way with this Warehouse colourblock midi dress. We can imagine wearing it while drinking champagne on the lawn of a grand country house or tucking into cocktails at a sleek city celebration – it’s that versatile.

Buy it now

Pascale Floral Jacquard Dress – £425, Sea at Matches Fashion

New York’s Sea is very much the brand to know right now, and when you look at their Pascale midi, you get why. This is the modern way to do romance, with a boho-effect floral print, ruffled cap sleeves and tiered skirt.

Buy it now

READ MORE: Wedding guest dresses for a wedding abroad

Tara Pink Polka Dot Shirt Dress – £145, Kitri

The Seventies are a major style influence at the moment, but it’s a trend that risks looking a bit costume. Not so with this Kitri dress. They’ve taken key details from the era, such as the circle belt and pleated belt, but kept the silhouette and fabric utterly 2020.

Buy it now

Mint Green Bird Print Wrap Dress – £59, Liquorish at SilkFred

Wrap dresses are so easy to wear, as this Liquorish at SilkFred dress shows. The print is delicately pretty – keep your accessories bold and architectural for a contemporary edge.

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Honey Trap Dress – £995, The Vampire’s Wife

This silk-satin floral midi is, admittedly, on the spendy side – we’d justify it to ourselves by wearing the dress to a whole lot of weddings, to bring down the cost-per-wear. The silhouette is beautiful, with puffed sleeves and shoulder pads adding volume above the nipped-in waist and fitted skirt. And that tulip pattern is just stunning.

Buy it now

Rule 2. Consider a cover-up

There was a time, not so long ago, when the idea of a wedding cover-up was a bit, well, naff. But you don’t have to shiver when the sun sets if you go with one of these cool 2020 styles. Not only are they wedding-perfect, they’re also chic enough for you to integrate into your daily wardrobe.

Silver Sequin Tassel Cropped Kimono Jacket – £65, River Island

We love an easy-wearing kimono jacket, and this sequin River Island version is ideal for a party – it’ll add interest to a minimalist dress or provide a cool contrast with a floral.

Buy it now

READ MORE: The best plus size wedding guest dresses

Tweed Blazer – £59.99, Zara

Zara always gives good blazer, and the shape of this v-neck jacket has us clicking ‘add to basket’. The tweed fabric is giving us serious Chanel vibes, too, making this an excellent choice for fighting off the evening chill at a summer wedding.

Buy it now

Fluffy Cardigan – £19.99, H&M

Thank goodness cardigans have made it back on the fashion radar – they’re the perfect wedding cover-up. This H&M cropped version has a totally 2020 silhouette, and the fabric is strokably soft.

Buy it now

Giovanna Cape – £29.99 (was £49), Phase Eight

Capes remain on trend for 2020, and we’re very taken with Phase Eight’s cropped beauty. The short, fluted sleeves are elegant, and the front tie gives us very-now pussy-bow blouse vibes.

Buy it now

Structured Single Buttoned Blazer – £95, & Other Stories

A structured blazer over a delicately pretty dress is such an up-to-date look, and the colour of this & Other Stories jacket really makes it stand out. Buy for a wedding, wear for ever.

Buy it now

Elyse Metallic Knitted Shrug – £35, Monsoon

Trust Monsoon to come up with a perfect occasionwear cover-up. Their Elyse knitted shrug will go with a range of wedding outfits, and that top fastening feels fresh.

Buy it now

READ MORE: Cosy winter coats for wedding guests

Rule 3. Jumpsuits are perfectly acceptable

The all-in-one has been on the fashion scene long enough to be an elegant, established choice for a formal setting. After all, if you can get bridal jumpsuits now, why shouldn’t the guests follow suit? We’re still not entirely convinced by playsuits for a smarter celebration, even if nicely styled, but a jumpsuit? Go for it.

Lemongrass Jumpsuit – £300, Reformation

The shape of Reformation’s Lemongrass jumpsuit is so flattering: wide kimono sleeves balance a deep v-neck and nipped-in waist. We love the print, which is pretty without being overly floral.

Buy it now

Dallas Jumpsuit – £68, Chi Chi London

Even the most hardened jumpsuit sceptic will be won over by Chi Chi London’s Dallas. That sweetheart neckline, embroidered bodice and nicely cut trousers combine to elegant effect.

Buy it now

Grace Pink Velvet Halterneck Jumpsuit – £66 (was £165), Kitri

Wear Kitri’s Grace jumpsuit to an autumn or winter wedding and you’ll be winning in the style stakes. That rich pink velvet fabric is simply delicious, and the halter neck (which ties at the back) makes it feel fresh.

Buy it now

READ MORE: 23 things you know if you’re a serial wedding guest

Navy Printed Culotte Jumpsuit – £35, AX Paris at SilkFred

For sophisticated at an affordable price point, this AX Paris jumpsuit is hard to beat. Culottes are a 2020 hero trend, so the trouser length here will keep you on trend, while the shapes flatters your figure.

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Patched Print Jumpsuit – £56, Oasis

This Oasis jumpsuit takes the look firmly in the pretty direction, with a delicate print in ice cream shades. The polka dot waist panel keeps it interesting, though.

Buy it now

Rule 4. Choose a micro bag

The micro bag trend is rather annoying in daily life (where, precisely, are we supposed to put our stuff?), but for a wedding, where you’ll hopefully need little more than keys phone and lipstick, it makes much more sense.

Suzy Apricot Scrunchie Mini Cross Body Bag – £20, Topshop

Also available in silver and sage versions, Topshop’s Suzy micro bag is incredibly cute, and the cross-body style keeps it up-to-date for 2020.

Buy it now

READ MORE: The worst ever wedding guest outfits

Animal Print Buckled Multiway Bag – £19.99, Zara

Whenever we feel the need for a new bag to freshen up our look, it’s Zara we turn to. Unsurprisingly, they’re all over the micro bag trend, as this animal print version shows – it’s the mini version of a timeless, Grace Kelly-esque style, and we love it.

Buy it now

Cult Gaia Pearl Angelou Mini Bracelet Bag – £96 (was £320) at FarFetch

Cult Gaia produces some truly covetable accessories, like this pearl Angelou bracelet bag. We can imagine it looking incredible at a stylish beach wedding.

Buy it now

Pearlescent Beaded Clutch Bag – £55, & Other Stories

Pearl is the hero trend of 2020, but the best thing about this & Other Stories clutch bag is that it’s a design that’ll last, so you can be both on trend and timeless. Clever, eh?

Buy it now

Hand Beaded Accessories Purse – £255, Ganni

Ganni leopard print drawstring purse

Ganni can always be relied on for a unique, high-quality interpretation of the trends. It’s not often you see a drawstring evening bag, but this beaded, leopard-print pouch really works – and there’s a side pocket for your phone, so it’s practical as well as pretty.

Buy it now

READ MORE: 19 thoughts every summer wedding guest has

Kaya Faux Python Clutch – £125, French Connection

French connection faux python clutch

The slouchy shape of French Connection’s Kaya clutch bag keeps it feeling fresh, and that textured faux python will go with anything.

Buy it now

Lattice Design Bag – £29.99, Mango

If your style tends towards the more pared-back, we recommend Mango’s lattice bag. It’s not overburdened with detail, but what there is is beautifully executed, such as the knots on the strap. Simple and elegant – what more could you want from an evening bag?

Buy it now

Rule 5. Black is fine, white is out

There’s been much debate about which colours are acceptable to wear to a wedding. We’d still recommend avoiding white, unless it has an extensive coloured pattern. Black, once considered unacceptable, is now perfectly fine for guests at contemporary weddings, although if in doubt, check with the couple. To avoid looking too sombre, choose a style where the colour is broken up – lace panels, mesh and glittering finishes all add a sense of lightness. If you do want a simple all-over-black outfit, statement accessories are a must. This is a joyous occasion – let your look reflect that, while still staying chic.

Sequin-Embellished Midi Dress – £252, Maje at Selfridges

All-over sequins mean this Maje dress will sparkle on the dance floor. The silhouette is simple but beautifully judged, from the dipped hem at the back to the v-neck.

Buy it now

READ MORE: The best-dressed pet wedding guests

Audrey Jumpsuit – £95, Phase Eight

We love the subtle sexiness of Phase Eight’s Audrey jumpsuit, particularly those sheer sleeves. It comes with a detachable belt – we say keep it on, tied in a front knot.

Buy it now

Neve Ruffle Ballerina Dress – £398, Needle & Thread

This is how to make a black dress look romantic. Everything about Needle & Thread’s Neve dress is enchanting: those tiered tulle layers; the beaded ribbon trim at the waist; those satin ribbon straps – it all adds up to a dark fairy tale.

Buy it now

Belted Back Slit Maxi Dress – £65, & Other Stories

This belted black maxi from & Other Stories is the black dress you’d wear to a destination wedding somewhere hot and fabulous. We think it would work best with gold accessories for an extra shot of glamour.

Buy it now

Sequin Circle Lace Maxi Dress – £380, Self-Portrait

Everything about this sequin lace dress is so 2020, from the bandeau panel in the bodice to the chiffon puffed sleeves. This would be a real showstopper at an autumn or winter wedding.

Buy it now

READ MORE: 22 thoughts all winter wedding guests have

Black Mesh Short Sleeve Midi Dress – £40, River Island

Whoever designed this River Island dress is a genius. It would have been chic enough in a plain mesh fabric – adding the stripes makes it next-level elegant. We also adore that high ruffle neck.

Buy it now

Rule 6. Don’t dismiss flats

For the longest time, there was a generally accepted belief that heels were the only acceptable female footwear for a formal or glamorous occasion. Not any more. The fashion world’s love affair with flats and barely-there heels continues, which means there are plenty of beautiful options for party shoes that won’t leave the balls of your feet burning. As for high heels improving posture, we’re not convinced – so long as you walk tall in your flats or super-low-heels, you’ll be every inch the wedding guest goddess.

Silver Embellished Pointed Toe Sandals – £45, River Island

If it’s glitz you’re after, look no further. These River Island pointed-toe mules will add sparkle to any outfit, and the barely-there heel means you can razzle dazzle ’em in comfort.

Buy now

Amora Flat – £350, Sophia Webster

When it comes to big-occasion shoes, Sophia Webster can be relied on for something uniquely show-stopping – like these Amora flats. This is an alternative way to do glamour, with the heart-shaped toe caps and mermaid glitter finish. The price point is punchy, but you’d wear them again and again – these would pair with jeans as beautifully as with a wedding guest outfit.

Buy now

READ MORE: How to be the perfect wedding guest

Annie Metallic Square Peep Slingback Flat Shoes – £19, Topshop

You don’t want your shoes to fight with your outfit, so if you’re wearing something on the elaborate side, keep your footwear pared back. These Topshop Annie peep toes are perfect, and the square toe keeps them 2020.

Buy now

Rockstud Patent Leather Mule – £500, Valentino

We’ve long been in love with Valentino’s iconic Rockstud range, which spans a range of heel heights. We struggled to choose just one of the flats, but in the end, it had to be their patent leather mule in poudre. The delicate shade and chic shape contrast so wonderfully with the tough-girl studs.

Buy now

Studly Block Heel – £45, Aldo

White studded mules Studly by Aldo

Of course, Valentino’s isn’t the only studded-shoe game in town. These Aldo mules have a broadly similar vibe, and we like the low-block heel.

Buy now

Planet Choc Flat – £565, Christian Louboutin at Selfridges

We couldn’t do a shoe round-up without a Loub. These glittering flat mules feature a stunning silver strap inspired by rock crystals. We beg you not to hide these under a maxi – show them off to full effect with a midi or short dress.

Buy now

Julia Pointed Flats – £90, Boden

These pointed Boden flats also come in the ubiquitous leopard print, but for something fresher, we say go for the zebra. The textured calf hair finish adds extra interest.

Buy now

READ MORE: 11 ways to save money as a wedding guest

Strappy Lace-Up Sandals – £177, J.Crew

A simple design, beautifully executed, these J.Crew block heels are bang on trend for summer 2020 thanks to the strappy style and toe ring – oh yes, toe rings are going to be even bigger, fashion-wise.

Buy now

Soft Leather Ballet Flats With Chain – £95.99, Zara

We think these Zara ballet flats are fabulously minxy. The chunky silver chain contrasts with the butter-soft leather and elegantly pointed toe.

Buy now


Still need to get the happy couple a gift? Take a look at our engagement gift edit.