What to wear as a wedding guest for every type of dress code, from casual to black tie

What to wear as a wedding guest for every type of dress code, from casual to black tie
Insider created a guide for wedding guest dress codes.Goodboy Picture Company / Getty Images
  • Guests are often confused about what to wear to a wedding.
  • Insider spoke to fashion experts about appropriate attire for different types of nuptials.

More people are getting married this year, which means more wedding guests—and more dilemmas over what to wear.

Celebrating your loved ones is often a blast, but that excitement can easily be derailed by the eternal question: What outfit? Many of us know the unique challenge of decoding the appropriate attire as a wedding guest.

So Insider spoke to wedding fashion experts Samantha Brown, a celebrity stylist, and Julie Sabatino, the founder of wedding styling company The Stylish Bride, for all the inside tips on every type of dress code.

First things first, do some research on the wedding venue

The dress code listed on an invitation or the wedding website is your best indicator for what you should wear to a wedding. Beyond that, Sabatino and Brown recommend taking a sneak peak at the wedding venue before you pick an outfit. It's as simple as googling the website for pictures of the property.

"It's always important to look at the venue because dress codes and venues should be somewhat in alignment," Brown said. "Let's say it's a barn wedding that's black tie. That's probably not your New York City hotel black tie because maybe you'll be on grass and maybe you'll be somewhere a more country."


That goes for casual attire too. It could imply two totally different visions based on where the wedding location.

"If it says 'casual' for the Thursday night clambake and you're on the beach, you can certainly show up in khaki shorts and a button down or a polo," Sabatino said. "But if it says 'casual' and you are in New York City at a restaurant, then the dress is different."

Jeans aren't appropriate at a casual wedding

If you are invited to a casual wedding, appropriate attire includes dresses, jumpsuits, khakis, and lightweight jackets, according to Brown and Sabatino. Not included? Denim jeans.

"Regardless if a wedding is casual or formal, it's respectful to dress nicely for your hosts," she said. "I would not wear something that you're going to hang out in on Saturday afternoon."

Brown suggests a sundress or other look that feels breezy. The trick is to style it more elevated than day-to-day casualwear.

What to wear as a wedding guest for every type of dress code, from casual to black tie
Casual wedding outfits include linen blazers and jumpsuits.DmitriiSimakov / Karen E. Evans / RoNeDya / Getty Images

"Something in a floral would be really lovely, especially in spring and summer," Brown said. "You could also go for a linen suit or a lightweight tropical jacket. It's something you could style with a t-shirt underneath, instead of doing the button down or tie. You can loosen it up and even pair it with a sneaker."

It's a broad range, but comes with a stipulation: Sabatino recommends avoiding everyday fabrics like denim to show respect to the couple.

There's little difference between cocktail attire and a semi-formal dress code

Although they have different titles, semi-formal and cocktail weddings basically call for the same type of outfit, say both Brown and Sabatino. It means dressy and stylish.

"That's when you can go a little bit more glitzy," Brown said. "Instead of a cotton sundress, you can look for more luxurious fabrics or fun jewelry to take it up from casual attire."

What to wear as a wedding guest for every type of dress code, from casual to black tie
Cocktail and semi-formal attire are the same.Anchiy / Nikola Stojadinovic / ta-nya

Sabatino agreed, recommending guests wear "a nicer dress or a nicer pant ensemble" to a cocktail or semi-formal wedding, though a dress wouldn't need to be floor-length.


"There are a lot of cute jumpsuits out there these days, so I don't want to rule out the pants entirely," she added.

Men can don a button down shirt with a suit. You don't need a tie, Brown said, but it could be accessorized with a pocket square or trendy loafers.

Formal and black-tie optional weddings call for similar attire

Like cocktail and semi-formal, formal and black-tie optional weddings imply similar levels of dress, according to Brown and Sabatino.

"Black-tie optional means that you can wear a tux or a gown, but you won't be underdressed if you wear a formal cocktail dress or a suit," Brown told Insider. "But definitely, it means suit and tie, if not a tuxedo."

What to wear as a wedding guest for every type of dress code, from casual to black tie
Black tie optional is just a step down from black-tie.Cavan Images / Tony Anderson / MOAimage / Getty Images

Sabatino also said tea-length dresses are appropriate for a black-tie optional wedding.


"I wouldn't go super short, but ankle length or tea length are more appropriate today than they have been in the past," Sabatino said.

Also welcome? Costume jewelry, glam makeup, and pocket squares.

The dress code at a black-tie wedding is strict

Black tie means black tie, and you risk being a fashion faux pas if you don't stick to the dress code.

"Traditionally, black tie means a gown and a tux," Brown said of the attire for women and men.

The gown should be floor-length for women, and men should don a tuxedo. It's what differentiates it from a black-tie optional wedding, Sabatino explained.

What to wear as a wedding guest for every type of dress code, from casual to black tie
Black-tie calls for floor-length dresses and tuxedos.Ornela Lundra / EyeEm / g-stockstudio / Tim Garcha / Getty Images

But that is changing as guests put their own spin on their fashion choices. Brown noted that weddings have become less formal as a whole.

"Nowadays the interpretation has become a looser," she said. "You see people wearing shorter hemlines or wearing dressier suits that aren't tuxedos," she said. As long as it's hinting at glamorous and luxurious, you should be in the clear.

White-tie weddings are the most formal nuptials

White-tie is the most formal attire possible for a wedding, but it's a rare choice today.

"It means you're supposed to wear tails," Sabatino said. If you're wearing a gown, you'll be expected to wear white gloves with it, she added.

What to wear as a wedding guest for every type of dress code, from casual to black tie
White-tie is the most formal type of wedding.Simon Marcus Taplin / Wavebreak / Getty Images

Both Brown and Sabatino said white-tie weddings are very uncommon, in part because it puts stress on your guests.


"It's tricky, because in the States you can't really rent white tie," Sabatino said. "What that means is that you would have to buy the jacket with the tails, the white vest, and a white tie. It makes it hard on your guests because they don't really have access to that kind of thing."

The 2022 Met Gala dress code was white tie.

You should defer to the engaged couple if you are invited to a themed wedding

If you are invited to a themed wedding, Sabatino recommends turning to the engaged couple for advice on what to wear.

"If you are going to do that as the host, you need to be specific in what you're expecting people to wear," she said.

But as a general rule, Brown recommends against attending in full costume. "You never want to show up to a wedding, even if it's a theme wedding, feeling like you're in a costume," Brown said.


She suggests embracing the theme through accessories rather than a full ensemble.

"I had a bride who wanted to do a country Western rehearsal dinner because she and her fiance had met in Santa Fe," Brown said. "So we accessorized a very cute dress with white boots, a cowboy hat, and turquoise jewelry."

At a beach wedding, be mindful of your shoes

Beach weddings typically have a relaxed dress code because they take place outside—and in sand.

Brown advises light fabrics like cotton or linen, and you can wear a suit, sun dress, or even shorts if the wedding is during the day.

"You want to be mindful of the fabrics that you choose because you're going to be in the sun," Brown said. "Beach weather is unpredictable in terms of the moisture and the humidity."

What to wear as a wedding guest for every type of dress code, from casual to black tie
Beach weddings are usually more relaxed.Oleg Breslavtsev / Mireya Acierto / Getty Images

Plus, keep in mind your shoes. You'll be standing in sand, so some footwear is just impractical. (Ahem, stilettos.)

If you're invited to a non-Western wedding, talk to the couple about outfit expectations

Rules for attire and customary clothing for many non-Western weddings is different from Western weddings. For instance, you might be expected to wear a lehanga to an Indian wedding, while it's inappropriate to wear red at a traditional Chinese wedding.

Both Sabatino and Brown said that if a couple expects you to wear clothing that is traditional for their culture, their invitations will likely specify as such.

"If the bride and groom are hoping that their guests will wear traditional clothing, they should add resources on their wedding website for what is specifically requested," Sabatino said.

If the couple has not specified a dress code on their invitation or wedding website, Brown suggests talking to the couple about what they're hoping attendees will wear.

What to wear as a wedding guest for every type of dress code, from casual to black tie
Dress codes often including cultural attire for non-Western weddings.IVASHstudia/Shutterstock

"When you've been invited to a non-Western wedding and the dress code hasn't been specified, it's always best to check in with the bride or groom to inquire about the appropriate attire," Brown said. "When in doubt, don't make assumptions. A simple email or text on the preferred dress code for an upcoming event will always provide clarity."

If you're unsure where to find customary clothing, Brown recommends asking the couple about that too. "You can always ask for recommended retailers," she said.

The ultimate wedding attire faux pas: white

Although attire will vary for different types of weddings, Brown and Sabatino do have one golden rule for all guest attire: you should not wear white at a Western wedding.

"You should never wear white to someone else's wedding ever, or any of the surrounding events," Sabatino said.

What to wear as a wedding guest for every type of dress code, from casual to black tie
Don't wear white unless you are getting married.Thomas Barwick / Getty Images

"It's the bride's moment to have that color for the night," Brown added. "I don't even recommend a white base, even if it has a colorful, floral pattern. Anything that's in question should be avoided."


If you have any doubts, Sabatino said, don't do it.

Similarly, try not to wear a color similar to the wedding party, if you happen to know the shade.

"Don't show up in something that looks like you're a bridesmaid, mostly because it's difficult for the guest," she said. "People might ask you questions or approach you thinking that you're part of the bridal party. That's uncomfortable."