Despite a couple years of postponements and uncertainty, wedding season is officially back. Sure, that means most of our weekends may be spent celebrating happy new couples, but it also means decoding the always tricky dress code for wedding guest outfits.
Sometimes the couple makes it easy for you by writing it on the invitation. But if the invitation hasn’t explicitly specified a dress code, there are a few clues to decipher it, says Micaela Erlanger, a celebrity stylist who’s worked with Lupita Nyong’o, Diane Kruger and Meryl Streep.
First, look at the style of the invitation: Does it come with a sheet of protective tissue paper and a delicate wax seal? Was it sent via email? Is the font particularly casual or formal? Second, look at the day of the week as well as the time: Is it on a Saturday night at 7 p.m., or a Sunday luncheon at three in the afternoon? Lastly, take a look at the venue: Does it have a proper ballroom, or is it more of a banquet hall? If there’s a wedding website you can visit with more details, that’ll help decipher the dress code too.
Ahead, some of our favorite wedding guest outfits depending on the dress code.
Casual wedding guest outfits
There are a few ways to know a wedding will be casual: It usually starts in the morning or midday, and oftentimes it might be at somebody’s home or a restaurant. Still, the invitation or wedding website, if they have one, should specifically mention that casual dress is welcomed. Either way, you should still rule out light-wash jeans, shorts or anything that wouldn’t be appropriate in an office setting.
“Fabric choice would be top of mind in this scenario,” says fashion editor Leah Faye Cooper. “I’d opt for a dress in a lightweight cotton like gingham, seersucker or a standard nonstretch weave. For shoes I’d go with a flatform sandal, and I’d stash my essentials in an understated mini bag or small clutch.”
$248 at Shopbop
The floral pattern of this midi dress gives it a more laid-back vibe, making it a perfect option for a casual wedding.
$220 at Banana Republic
What a pop of color this is. For a wedding in a warmer climate, this one is modern and breezy, with cute cutouts on the sides, voluminous sleeves and a short silhouette.
$35 at Target
A wedding guest-appropriate ensemble for less than $40? Count us in. This easy-breezy dress comes in black, hot pink and a very pretty abstract blue and white pattern. Reviewers rave about its comfort and the fact that it has pockets.
$128 $89.60 at Shopbop
This gingham dress can easily be dressed up or down. Pair yours with open-toe espadrilles for something truly casual, or kitten heel mules for a bit of elegance.
$139 at Nordstrom
This sleek sheath with lace detailing is romantic, sweet and everything a casual wedding stands for.
$120 $39.99 at Abercrombie
With comfort in mind, this dress features smocking all the way down for a curve-hugging fit, plus tie straps, cute ruffles and three lovely patterns to choose from. Sizes range from XXS to XXXL, and it comes in both tall and petite sizes.
From $17.05 at Amazon
Seersucker works for men too. Pair these with khakis or chinos in a complementary tone.
$400 at Banana Republic
If the wedding veers more casual, don’t worry about the jacket. If it’s a step up, grab a jacket in a similarly lightweight fabric like linen, and pair it all with chinos or navy slacks.
Cocktail attire wedding guest outfits
The most common of wedding dress codes, “cocktail attire says it all,” says Erlanger. That usually means an evening-appropriate cocktail dress and heels for her, as well as a dark-colored suit for him, she says. “Wear a party dress, and dress it up with heels and fun jewelry,” she continues. “You can also opt for a fun jumpsuit or chic pantsuit. This is the chance to really have fun.”
For the men, this typically means jacket and tie. While a floor-length gown isn’t a requirement, it’s better to err on the side of formal than casual for a cocktail wedding.
$248 at Reformation
With its tomato-red hue and asymmetric neckline, this is the ultimate modern wedding guest dress. It’s available in black as well.
$120 $49.99 at Abercrombie
A jumpsuit that dreams are made of. The twist-front makes it great for both small and larger chests, and reviewers rave about how comfortable it is to wear all day (and night) long. It’s available in both red and emerald green.
$324 at Karen Millen
Is there anything more fun than this turquoise mini dress with feathered cuffs?
$99.99 at Mango
This is a party dress if we’ve ever seen one.
$148 at Nordstrom
Don’t be fooled by the sleeves of this fitted, off-the-shoulder cocktail dress: There are slits in the back to make dancing easy.
$119 at Nordstrom
A simple, slim-fit jacket and matching slacks is the perfect option for a cocktail wedding.
$845 at Nordstrom
A dark suit is a great choice for a wedding that calls for cocktail attire.
Formal wedding guest outfits
A formal wedding is usually another name for “black tie optional” — which means that gowns and tuxedos aren’t required, but a long or midi-length dress in an evening-appropriate hue and a bow tie are never a bad idea.
“With ‘black tie optional,’ you can wear anything from a fancy cocktail dress to a gown. I tend to find that people err on the side of getting more dressed up,” Erlanger says. “For men typically you should wear a jacket and tie, more elevated than a cocktail look, but not a full black tie.”
$348 at Reformation
Sleek, modern and available in lots of pretty colors, we adore this slip-like dress that’s available in sizes 0 to 12.
$99 at Macy’s
The deep red hue of this gown keeps it from falling into true black-tie territory, but it’s still fancy enough to match a date in a bow tie.
$89 at Nordstrom
The silky material and midi-length make this jewel-toned gown a great option for a formal wedding. Dress it up even more with fun earrings and strappy open-toe heels.
$198 From $118.80 at Nordstrom
The various color options of this dress makes the floor-length gown more appropriate for a formal wedding than a black tie one.
$150 at Shopbop
This strapless dress is easily formal wedding-ready if you pair it with strappy heels and some crystal chandelier earrings.
$149 at Macy’s
Bring a little shimmer to the night with this gorgeous draped gown, which is available in black, dusty blue and dark gray, all of which come with plenty of sparkle.
$565 $282.49 at Nordstrom
A tux isn’t necessary, but swap out the tie for a bow-tie and top it off with a satin-lapel jacket.
Black-tie wedding guest outfits
Save for “white tie,” which is usually reserved for events like the Oscars or State of the Union dinners, black tie is the most formal of common wedding dress codes.
“My fashion advice is always the same: Wear what makes you feel the most amazing,” says Cooper, who wore a tulle skirt over a black bodysuit with a fur shrug to the last black-tie affair she attended. “So, if a wedding is black tie optional, I’d suggest an elevated version of whatever that is. If you love pants, consider a beaded, lace or silk-chiffon jumpsuit, or a sleek tuxedo — maybe in a bright color, or velvet or both. If you prefer dresses, here’s an opportunity to wear one in taffeta or tulle, or covered in a million beads or sequins.”
She should wear a long, formal gown — or take a note from Cooper and go for separates — and he should wear a tuxedo with a bow tie or cummerbund. “I love a black-tie wedding and I think that it sets the tone for what is supposed to be a really special and memorable event,” Erlanger adds.
$348 at Reformation
Look like you’re about to attend the Oscars in this jaw-dropping jewel-toned gown that hits in all the right places.
$299 at Macy’s
This high-low gown’s A-line silhouette lends a black-tie-appropriate vibe.
$228 at Bloomingdale’s
Save for true black, the fire-engine red hue of this dress is as formal as it gets.
$198 at Shopbop
A black, floor-length gown is a safe bet—let your personality shine through with colorful makeup, a fun clutch, or over-the-top jewelry. Now’s the time!
$388 at Reformation
The fitted bodice and ruffled straps give this lightweight fabric a leg up.
$525 at J.Crew
Save for a three-piece suit, this is about as formal as it gets. This Italian Wool option from J.Crew is made to be worn with a bowtie—and the peak lapels are a nice added touch.
$998 at Nordstrom
A lustrous wool and mohair tuxedo is the perfect choice for a black-tie affair.