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Wedding Dress-Code Decoded

Wondering how to sync your style to an invitation's dress code? We've "decoded" the most popular wedding dress codes to make it easy! Follow the guidelines below and rest assured, you'll be wearing a perfectly matched wedding guest dress on the big day.

White Tie

When you see "white tie" on a wedding invitation, think "White House"—that's how formal your look will need to be! Only floor-length gowns (and tuxes with tails for the gentlemen) will do at this wedding. This isn't the time to rock red-carpet reds, though; only traditional colors are appropriate—think black, navy, and other deep colors. The good news? This is the time to bring on the glamour! Enhance the look of your formal wedding-guest dress with glittering earrings and necklaces, beautiful makeup, and striking hairstyles—even long opera gloves would be appropriate. For fabrics, choose rich and lustrous satins to bring dimension to deeper hues.

Black Tie

A bit less formal than white tie, black tie weddings give you the option of choosing a mid-length cocktail dress if you prefer not to wear a full-length evening gown. But this event is still formal, so stay away from bold colors or patterns. Opt for black or dark hues that are rich, not loud, and stay away from too much sparkle or flamboyant details. Usually, black-tie events take place at night, making a wrap or small jacket a nice way to add a touch of expressive personality to your formal wedding-guest dress without stepping out of bounds. When considering fabric for your black-tie wedding attire, select satin for its classic glamour or go with layered chiffon for refined grace.

Formal or Black Tie Optional

Formal or black-tie optional gives you a bit more freedom to decide how fancy you want to get—and lets you decide where the focus should be. Put the spotlight on sparkling heels in a shorter cocktail dress or gown that stops short of the ankle. Choose stylish, layered ruffles to create movement, or go for an off-the-shoulder wedding guest dress to showcase the upper body. Fancy separates are also OK for black-tie wedding attire, such as a floor-skimming skirt paired with a tailored blouse. Fabrics like chiffon, crepe, satin, and dupioni work well. For your color palette, neutrals, black, and darker colors are still your best bet; steer clear of pastels and patterns. It's acceptable to add sparkling sequins, lace, or beading, but keep it subtle so that the look remains elevated and sophisticated.

Semi-Formal/Cocktail Attire

The easiest way to dress for semi-formal or cocktail attire? Take a look at the time that the wedding takes place. An event during the day means lighter colors are good choices. For daytime wedding style, go with a short cocktail party dress, day dress, or tea dress. If the wedding takes place in the evening, opt for colors like berry reds or jewel tones without getting too dark. You can also go for sophisticated patterns in a print wedding guest dress, a pop of color with a red party dress, or the classic look of a little black dress with bold jewelry. Feel free to go a bit shorter in a cocktail dress. A gown or dressy separates are good picks, but take care not to get too formal.

Festive Attire

When you read "festive attire," get ready to get creative! Cocktail party dresses paired with fun accessories and fabulous shoes will work at this kind of wedding. Rock fun clutches and bold jewelry with your semi-formal wedding guest dress, and don't hold back in your color choice; bold solids and surprising patterns are welcome. For an evening celebration, a party dress with a unique design, eye-catching straps, or glittering sequins will look great on the dance floor.


A casual wedding welcomes laid-back looks—but this is still a far cry from jeans and a t-shirt! Strive to look lovely in your casual wedding attire, and feel free to layer dressed-up separates. If it's an outdoor wedding, the best styles and fabrics for the weather will work. A comfortable day dress paired with a cardigan or wrap will go the distance outdoors and still look dressy without being stuffy. Keep in mind that "casual" doesn't limit you to short hemlines; a maxi dress, tea-length skirt with blouson top, or high-low party dress is best to ensure you look respectfully dressed-up. Jersey and mesh are great fabric choices for comfort and style in a casual wedding-guest dress.

Destination: Beach

A beach wedding might sound like vacation, but your look still has to work! Stay away from long dresses that might drag in the sand, but don't go so short that an ocean breeze can lift your skirt. Tea length or knee length are good choices, and fabrics like chiffon or georgette will ensure that your dress for a destination wedding has a flattering flutter without the risk of a lifted hemline. For a color palette, stay away from black: it's too formal, and it will soak up the sun's rays.