A Visual Guide to Dressing For Every Type of Wedding

Getty/Jeremy Moeller

“What to wear to a wedding?” is likely a question you’ll soon be contemplating (if you aren’t already). After a two-year hiatus, in-person celebrations are back, and the extravagant bridal-dress trends are proof the sartorial bar has been raised for both brides and wedding guests. Still, the anticipation doesn’t make it easier to decide what to wear, especially if the wedding card comes with a specific dress code. Semiformal, black-tie, festive, or tropical? What exactly do these wedding dress codes mean?

There is a range of dressing styles you can embrace to make an appropriate and memorable entrance. While black tie is the most common wedding attire, ambiguous terms like “semiformal” or “dressy casual” occasionally get thrown in the mix, adding to the confusion about what really makes an acceptable wedding style choice. It’s also normal to wonder whether or not you can wear white to a wedding. To that question, the short answer is no, out of respect for the bride. That said, there are multiple ways to incorporate white into your look without competing with the bride.

The best way to nail a wedding dress code is to ask the bride as soon as you receive the invite. You can even share some options as you narrow down your choices. If that’s not an option — say you’re someone’s plus-one without direct access, you can also research the wedding venue to get a feel for the wedding style and acceptable dress code. Is the ceremony happening beachside? Then perhaps a chic satin midi dress or crochet silhouette will perfectly match the background. If it’s taking place at a garden, then a chic cocktail dress will likely do the trick. These subtle clues can help you make an appropriate choice.

What If There Is No Wedding Dress Code?

In some rare instances, no dress code is indicated on the wedding invitation. In that case, rely on context clues to choose your outfit, whether it’s the location, the time of the ceremony, or the invitation design. When in doubt, a mid-length dress or classic suit is a foolproof choice for any occasion.

What Should I Not Wear to a Wedding as a Guest?

Wearing white to a wedding is rarely acceptable, if ever — unless the couple explicitly writes “white attire” in the wedding invite. In addition, avoid overly revealing or flamboyant clothing that could steal the spotlight from the bride. Jeans and sneakers are almost always too casual for the occasion, even if the dress code says “dressy casual” or even has “casual” in it.

Ahead, read about the different types of wedding attire (i.e. formal, black tie, cocktail, tropical, and festive). Prepare to be the best-dressed guest at the wedding with our guide to the most common wedding dress codes.

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