We’ve all been there – you show up to a wedding wearing black-tie only to find the attire was meant to be much more laid back; and the opposite, you hear backyard BBQ and assume casual sundress and sandals, but the other guests seem to have gone all out. It’s a dilemma more and more guests are facing as the style of weddings changes. In my grandmother’s day, it was unheard of to have a wedding anywhere other than a church and The Dupont Hotel; the menu was set, the decor pre-selected, and the dress code was always formal. Today, couples are getting married on beaches and wineries, in barns and museums; the possibilities truly are endless. Because of the change in venue and the opportunity for more and more creativity, less couples are choosing to host black-tie affairs, rather brides are getting married barefoot, grooms sans jackets. That being said, some couples prefer the traditional, red-carpeted, tuxes with tails, floor-length ballgown events. The variability is enough to leave guests’ spinning, but don’t worry your pretty little heads, we’ve got the inside scoop on all things attire. We’ll help you figure out exactly what “backyard elegance” means and leave our couples with some tips on how to word your invitations so your guests aren’t left guessing.

White Tie Affair

We know what you’re thinking – I thought it was called a black tie affair? That’s because they are two different things (besides just the color of the tie). If you receive an invitation to a wedding with white tie listed as the dress code, expect to dress to the nines (we’re talking fancy, shmancy, presidential dinner type stuff). Men should don a tuxedo with full tails, a formal white shirt, vest, and bow tie. Oh and to make it even more glamorous? White gloves are considered totally appropriate, if not expected. Women, this is your chance to do some serious shopping. A full length ball gown with formal hair and makeup is considered white tie (think Julia Roberts at the Oscars).

Black Tie Affair

You’re not off the “formal hook” just yet. If an invitation says black tie, men are expected to wear just that, along with a few other things. A black tuxedo, a black cummerbund, and patent leather shoes are appropriate for this evening event. Ladies, you can either wear that gorgeous floor length number we mentioned above or a dressy, shorter cocktail dress. Just remember, this is still a formal event, so use this opportunity to wear something elegant, no matter the length.

Formal or Black Tie Optional

To an event such as this, you’re still able to sport the black tie affair attire, but if you’d rather opt for something a little less formal, now is the time. Formal attire means a tuxedo or dark suit with a classy tie for the gents and a long dress or fancy cocktail number for the ladies. Often times when guests are invited to a wedding, this attire is where their mind goes when they start thinking about what to wear; this dress code is perfect for your traditional ballroom wedding.

Semiformal or Dressy Casual

Okay, we’d like to talk to the individual who came up with the oxymoron that is “dressy casual”. So you’re telling me it’s a dressy event, but it’s also casual? If we’re feeling this way and we’ve been to countless weddings, we’re sure others are, too. Let us help. Dressy casual means you’ve still got to look like you’re going to an event, but you don’t have to rent a tux or buy a ballgown. You likely have something in your closet already. For the gals, a cocktail dress or even a skirt and classy top are perfectly paired with a suit for the men. Take your cues from the time of day the wedding is taking place. Is it a day wedding? Opt for lighter colors and fabrics. If the ceremony begins at 6pm, make it a point to dress in darker, more neutral colors.

Beach Formal

If you’re like most people, the only thing you have ever worn to the beach is a bathing suit and a cover up. What are you supposed to wear to a beach wedding? First of all, make sure you’re dressing for the elements. A beach wedding most likely means the couple is getting married in the summer months, which, believe us, can be really, really hot. Linen is your new best friend. Men, linen suits, linen shirts with khakis, and sandals are totally appropriate (and necessary). Women, don’t waste your time perfecting your up-do. Casual, natural hair and makeup will look great with your summer sundress and flats (please, don’t wear your pumps to the beach).


Ah, our dear friend casual. This dress code can either be so nice or so…not. Casual attire means that men can wear a nice pair of slacks and a button up shirt, sans tie, but it does not mean they can wear their jeans and cowboy boots (unless it is specifically noted, of course!). Ladies, pants with a blouse or a sweet sundress are lovely, but think twice before donning that jean skirt with flip flops. This is a casual wedding, people, not your boyfriend’s baseball game.

Couples, our advice to you is this: if you want your guests to be dressed a certain way when they show up to your wedding, make it crystal clear on your invitations. If you’re opposed to using these classic dress code descriptions, make sure it is made very obvious as to what they should be wearing (Your wedding website is a great place to do this!)