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Wedding Tips: Decode the Dress Code!

There’s nothing more uncomfortable than feeling under or overdressed at a wedding celebration. Which is why setting a dress code for your wedding can actually be a great way to alleviate outfit anxiety for guests, by giving them a helpful guideline to follow for their own wedding day attire.

But with so many different dress codes to decipher – what does each one actually mean, and how can you choose the best fit for your wedding?

With wedding season now in full swing, we thought this would be the perfect time to get clear on some of the most common wedding dress codes, from black tie to formal, cocktail and smart casual.

Keep reading for our top tips on setting the right dress code for your wedding, along with a dress code cheat sheet to help your guests, too!

Wedding tips: Decode the dress code! | Tweed Coast Weddings
Image via Nicola Lemmon

Dress code: Black tie

A black tie dress code basically means, this is a very fancy wedding!  

This dress code style is usually reserved for the most formal kind of wedding celebration. If you guys are going all out with a super glamorous wedding at a luxury venue or private estate, a black tie dress code will help to set a sophisticated tone for the evening and complement the elegant “theme” of your day.

A black tie dress code is a signal for your guests to get totally glammed up in their very best evening wear – think “red carpet” in terms of attire.


Image via Figtree Wedding Photography

Dress code: Formal

If you still want the aesthetic of your day to be elegant and refined without being quite as extravagant as a black tie affair, a formal dress code might be a good fit for your wedding celebration.

Formal dress is like a modern, less-traditional version of black tie. While your guests can still opt for black tie attire, they can dress it down slightly without necessarily having to don a ball gown or tuxedo. Setting a formal dress code is ideal for creating a high-end feel for your wedding without putting too much pressure on guests.

Wedding tips: Decode the dress code! | Tweed Coast Weddings
Wedding tips: Decode the dress code! | Tweed Coast Weddings
Images via Figtree Wedding Photography

Dress code: Semi-Formal or Cocktail

A semi-formal or cocktail dress code is probably the most common for today’s modern weddings.

This is a good go-to dress code if you’re not 100% sure where your wedding sits on the dress code scale. It works for pretty much any kind of setting, and it’s the kind of dress code your guests will already be familiar with – so, less confusion on their behalf.

You might also consider this dress code if you’re planning a cocktail wedding, garden wedding or outdoor wedding, where a more formal dress code might not be as comfortable for guests during the day. This style is still about dressing up and making an effort, but with a slightly more relaxed vibe and more options in terms of attire.

Wedding tips: Decode the dress code! | Tweed Coast Weddings  Wedding tips: Decode the dress code! | Tweed Coast Weddings
Images via Figtree Wedding Photography

Dress code: Smart Casual

So you’re planning a pretty chilled wedding but you don’t necessarily want guests rocking up in their jeans? A smart casual dress code is a great way to encourage guests to look polished without having to go all out with formal attire.

Smart casual dress is usually best suited to daytime weddings taking place outdoors. If you’re planning a relaxed summer wedding and want to make sure your guests are comfortable in the weather, this might be the best pick for you!

Wedding tips: Decode the dress code! | Tweed Coast Weddings Wedding tips: Decode the dress code! | Tweed Coast Weddings
Images via Figtree Wedding Photography

Dress Code Cheat Sheet and FAQs

When it comes to choosing the perfect outfit to wear as a wedding guest, the struggle can definitely be real. While some dress codes like black-tie are easily understood, others may fall into more of a grey area.

To help your guests choose the perfect wedding day attire, simply point them in the direction of this dress code cheat sheet below (along with the answers to some frequently asked questions they may be stuck on!).

Black tie: For the ladies, a formal evening gown with heels, elegant jewellery and accessories will be the best pick for a black tie affair.

The guys should be channelling some serious James Bond vibes with a black tuxedo or dinner jacket, bow tie and leather dress shoes.

Formal: For the ladies, a mid-length formal dress, dressy separates or even an ankle-length jumpsuit are all appropriate for a formal wedding, paired with heels and elegant accessories.

For the guys, an evening suit and tie (bow tie optional) with formal dress shoes will be best suited. Darker tones like black, navy and charcoal tend to be better suited for a formal wedding.

Semi-formal/Cocktail: Ladies can scrap the evening gowns altogether in place of a cocktail dress, dressy top and skirt, or even a dressy playsuit paired with heels. Accessories can be fun rather than formal. Think about the kind of outfit you’d wear to a day at the races!

For the fellas, a more relaxed lounge suit (jacket and tie optional) is a-okay for a cocktail or semi-formal dress code. Lighter suit colours are also appropriate, as opposed to being restricted to darker tones only.

Smart casual: For the ladies, a summery midi/maxi dress or top and skirt combo are appropriate for a smart casual affair, with a more relaxed shoe style like wedges or even dressy flats.

For the guys, a suit is definitely not required. A button-up shirt paired with chinos is suitable attire for a smart casual wedding, and dress shoes can be swapped for a more casual alternative like boat shoes or loafers.

Can I wear shorts to a wedding?

For a black-tie, lounge, semi-formal or cocktail wedding, shorts are definitely not well-suited. However, you might find a rare exception for a super casual summer wedding that has clearly been marked as informal – like a small gathering taking place outdoors or by the beach. We’d say opt for lightweight pants instead if you’re worried about the weather, or send a quick text to the couple to confirm. If you do get the green light, go for a tailored or formal pair of shorts that you can dress up with your shirt and footwear choices.

Can I wear jeans to a wedding?

This one is a definite no! Even for a casual wedding, opt for chinos or relaxed dress pants as opposed to jeans. Weddings and denim just don’t mix!

Is lounge suit the same as cocktail? What does lounge suit mean for girls?

Generally speaking, lounge suit is pretty much in line with a cocktail dress code. Follow the same guidelines when it comes to attire – so, lounge suits for the guys, and semi-formal attire (cocktail gowns or dressy seperates) for the ladies.

Can girls wear white as a wedding guest?

When the bride has probably spent a small fortune on her own white dress for this once-in-a-lifetime celebration, we’d say steer clear of white (including creams, off-whites and ivory). Let the bride have her moment!

Wedding tips: Decode the dress code! | Tweed Coast Weddings

Wedding tips: Decode the dress code! | Tweed Coast Weddings

Remember, setting a dress code for your wedding is less about restricting your guests, and more about making sure they feel comfortable. Consider your wedding venue, styling aesthetic and the date and time of your wedding to help you choose the perfect dress code to complement your wedding celebrations (and keep this helpful cheat sheet handy for your guests, too!).

One final tip: make sure you state your dress code clearly on your wedding invitations or wedding website rather than relying on word of mouth, so that nothing gets lost in translation!

Want more wedding planning tips? Head over to the Tweed Coast Weddings blog for some practical advice, venue spotlights and real wedding inspiration to help you plan the perfect nuptials!

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