After a year of cancellations, postponements and Zoom celebrations, 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 wedding dress code.
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, find out what to wear to every wedding depending on the dress code.
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.”
SL Fashions Ruffled Floral Maxi Dress ($58.99, originally $119; macys.com)
SL Fashions Ruffled Floral Maxi Dress
The truly lovely blue floral print and halter-style neck make this a dress that can go casual to cocktail pretty easily, along with that rhinestone belt.
Bardot Lina Lace Sheath Dress ($139; nordstrom.com)
Bardot Lina Lace Sheath Dress
This sleek sheath with lace detailing is romantic, sweet and everything a casual wedding stands for.
Tie-Strap Smocked Midi Dress ($120; abercrombie.com)
Tie-Strap Smocked Midi Dress
Abercrombie just launched its own wedding shop (shocking, we know) and we’re in love with so many of its designs, including this one. With comfort in mind, this 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.
High-Slit Midaxi Dress ($120; abercrombie.com)
High-Slit Midaxi Dress
Think how gorgeous this would be for a garden wedding. Featuring a high slit detail and a curve-hugging fit reviewers love, it even comes in a whopping six different colors and patterns. We love this green floral though.
Rachel Comey Delirium Dress ($495; shopbop.com)
Rachel Comey Delirium Dress
Cooper picked out this black-and-blue gingham dress, which is available in sizes 00 to 14.
Goodthreads Standard Fit Short-Sleeve Seersucker Shirt (starting at $19.51; amazon.com)
Goodthreads Standard Fit Short-Sleeve Seersucker Shirt
Seersucker works for men too. Pair these with khakis or chinos in a complementary tone.
J.Crew Wallace & Barnes Slim Fit Blazer ($119.99, originally $150; jcrew.com)
J.Crew Wallace & Barnes Slim Fit Blazer
Men can get away with a more casual shirt if it’s topped with a suit jacket in a less formal color and fabric, like khaki or light blue linen.
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.
Mango Pleated Short Dress ($29.99, originally $59.99; mango.com)
Mango Pleated Short Dress
A short dress in a crepe-like fabric can easily be dressed up with a pair of heels.
Twist-Front Cutout Jumpsuit ($120; abercrombie.com)
Twist-Front Cutout Jumpsuit
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.
Biscayne Ruffle Wrap Dress ($275; bhldn.com)
Biscayne Ruffle Wrap Dress
A wrap dress is always a crowd-pleaser, and this one that’s available in this rose gold color as well as sage green and dark navy is one that can take you from wedding to wedding to holiday parties and more, and it can even be worn as a formal gown at fancier events with the right shoes.
Harper Rose Scarf Neck Crepe Jumpsuit ($148; nordstrom.com)
Harper Rose Scarf Neck Crepe Jumpsuit
A jumpsuit is inherently more casual than a dress, but this all-black style is perfect for a cocktail-attire wedding.
Lauren Ralph Lauren Ruffle-Trim Metallic Cocktail Dress ($86.99, originally $175; macys.com)
Lauren Ralph Lauren Ruffle-Trim Metallic Cocktail Dress
The metallic sheen of this cocktail dress makes it feel even fancier.
Peter Millar Flynn Classic Fit Solid Wool Suit ($795; nordstrom.com)
Peter Millar Flynn Classic Fit Solid Wool Suit
A dark suit is a great choice for a wedding that calls for cocktail attire.
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.”
Nightway Cold-Shoulder Keyhole Gown ($99; macys.com)
Nightway Cold-Shoulder Keyhole Gown
The plum 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.
Cali Satin Charmeuse Midi Dress ($168; bhldn.com)
Cali Satin Charmeuse Midi Dress
With a whopping 16 color options and a size range of 0 to 26, this satin charmeuse number is incredibly versatile. Able to take you from cocktail hour to a black-tie affair with the right accessories, it even comes in white, so it could be an affordable wedding dress option too.
Camilla Tiered Georgette-Paneled Embellished Silk Crepe de Chine Dress ($436, originally $949; theoutnet.com)
Camilla Tiered Georgette-Paneled Embellished Silk Crepe de Chine Dress
Look like you’re literally dancing amongst the stars all night long in this stunning dress that’s dark enough to not draw attention from the bride but comes with some extremely gorgeous embellishment for a little flair.
Adrianna Papell Embellished Sheath Dress ($93.99, originally $189; macys.com)
Adrianna Papell Embellished Sheath Dress
An above-the-knee dress works too, as long as it’s in an elevated fabric like this embellished gold style.
Kenneth Cole Reaction Men’s Ready Flex Solid Black Slim Fit Suit ($154.99, originally $395; macys.com)
Kenneth Cole Reaction Men’s Ready Flex Solid Black Slim Fit Suit
A black suit is a great option for a formal wedding that doesn’t call for a tuxedo. Just swap out the tie for a bow tie if you’d like.
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.
Calvin Klein High-Low A-Line Gown ($299; macys.com)
Calvin Klein High-Low A-Line Gown
This high-low gown’s A-line silhouette lends a black-tie-appropriate vibe.
Aqua Off-the-Shoulder Gown ($228; bloomingdales.com)
Aqua Off-the-Shoulder Gown
Save for true black, the fire-engine red hue of this dress is as formal as it gets.
Ted Baker Jenner Slim Fit Notch Lapel Wool & Mohair Tuxedo ($998; nordstrom.com)
Ted Baker Jenner Slim Fit Notch Lapel Wool & Mohair Tuxedo
A lustrous wool and mohair tuxedo is the perfect choice for a black-tie affair.