How to Decide on a Dress Code for Your Wedding

Discover the attire that's right for your big day.

Obviously you can’t be in complete control of how others choose to dress, but it is fairly standard to set a level of formality for your wedding.

Photo: Milanés Photography

When coming up with the design for your wedding, a lot of attention is focused on the bouquets, ceremony backdrop, centerpieces, tablescapes, and other décor options for both the ceremony and reception. Even before the big day itself, the invitation suite and other paper goods also help to set the tone. You may even choose your wedding attire based on the vibe desired for your celebration... But what about what your guests will wear? Obviously you can’t be in complete control of how others choose to dress, but it is fairly standard to set a level of formality for your wedding. You just have to decide which dress code is the right one for your event.

bride and groom with wedding guests formal semi formal attire dress code rustic desert western

Photo by Mi Belle Photographers

White tie is the highest level of formality, and is very rarely used unless you are a member of high society, or perhaps even marrying into a royal family. Should you want your wedding to feel fancy, formal, and classic, black tie is a great option. However, keep in mind that black tie must also reflect the event itself. It should start at or after 6PM and feature a plated dinner service. Extravagant gowns and tuxedos should not be requested of your attendees, however, if you'll be hosting a more laid-back reception.  

If you don’t want to be too strict in your attire request but still want an elevated look from your guests, consider black tie optional. Men won’t feel pressured to purchase or rent a tuxedo if they don’t already have one, but everyone will still be dressed up. White tie, black tie, and black tie optional are typically the only dress codes that should be mentioned on an invitation, but others can be listed on your wedding website, especially in a FAQ section. 

Formal attire is not very different from black tie optional, but will generally feel a little less strict. This may work for you if you don’t mind men not wearing tuxedos, but prefer the ladies to be in longer dresses. Your venue should be fairly traditional and an evening reception is still expected. 

Semi-formal and cocktail attire are great choices for weddings that are a bit laid-back, but will still feature many standard traditions. If you’re getting married at a museum, restaurant, loft, or another trendy location, this could be the dress code for you. 

Casual is often considered the most suitable for nuptials held at a park, rustic barn, beach, or another outdoor location, but you can likely still get away with semi-formal if you desire a dressier look for your guests. 

For more tips, discover options of what to wear for each wedding dress code, find out if it's okay to wear black to a wedding, learn how to deal with the heat at a summer wedding, and take a look at these wedding hacks to make your life easier while planning.