Wedding dress codes are always a tricky thing. Casual. Cocktail. Dressy Casual. Semi-formal. Black Tie Optional. Beach Chic. What does it all mean?!? Sometimes it feels like you need a translator just to go shopping. Most often the required attire (say that 10 times fast!) is intended to match the wedding style. While it may not be practical to call up the bride and groom to ask them what they mean, you can look to clues in the invitation to help understand their “definition” of dress. For example, is the wedding in a church or house of worship? Is it outdoors or indoors? Is it at a country club or reception hall? These hints can help clue you in to what “semi-formal” really means.
In the meantime, here is a quick roundup of common wedding attire dress codes to help you along the way:
Anything goes with this dress code, though depending on the time of day and the venue, guests should still be weary of donning jeans, shorts or tank tops.
Him: Business casual, polo and khakis or even a sport coat or sweater Her: casual cocktail dress, sun dress, separates
Beach Formal/Beach Chic
A dress code with the word “beach” included can be intended as a warning to dress for the elements. Beach formal implies that while you are outdoors, and in the sand, the couple still intends to have a more formal atmosphere for the event. In some locations, especially here in Miami, Beach Chic can also imply a “dress to impress” atmosphere for the guests.
Him: Summer suit (no flip flops or shorts) Her: formal sundress, dressy flats are OK
Semi Formal/Dressy Casual
Semi Formal attire is the most often used in the wedding scene, and when in doubt, use this style as a guide for any event. As the name states, Semi Formal is a more casual take to dress attire, offering a wider range of style options.
Him: A casual suit is appropriate, or think business casual: dress shirt and tie Her: Cocktail dress, formal sundress for daytime events, even a formal take on separates is fine
Formal/Black Tie Optional
This dress code indicates that the event is still a very classy affair, but doesn’t require quite so much etiquette as the forms below. It allows guests to go a bit more casual if they wish. Sometimes, you may even see “Creative Black Tie” which allows the guest to, well, “get creative” with their color choices and accessories.
Him: Full suite or tuxedo if so desired Her: Long dress or dressy cocktail dress. A dressy suit is also appropriate
I often consider black tie as the jazzed up version of formal wear without the stuffy extras of white tie. Black Tie dress codes are also a good indication of an evening event and vice versa.
Him: A tuxedo is appropriate, or a dinner jacket, black accessories (tie, cummerbund) Her: long gown or a very dressy cocktail dress, neutrals are the way to go
This long forgotten style is the most formal of all dress codes. While we don’t see it too much in everyday affairs in the states (think White House, Formal Award Shows), a White Tie dress code tells the guest they need to dress their fanciest of fancies!
Him: Tuxedo, coat with tails, white accents (vest, shirt, bow tie, gloves), shoes without laces Her: floor length formal gown, be weary of loud colors
If you’re still left in the dark, don’t be afraid to speak up and ask questions. When in doubt, I advise leaning towards a dressier edge – it is better to be over dressed than under dressed! Plus, you can never go wrong with Semi-Formal attire!
sources: Emily Post, Emily Post Weddings, The Knot, Martha Stewart