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Deciphering the Dress Code: What Every Wedding Attire Means

Have you ever received a wedding invitation and been completely floored as to what the wedding attire means? Were you ever confused about the difference between “black tie” and “black tie invited”? Just how casual can you be when the invitation says “casual”? Find Deciphering the Dress Code: What Every Wedding Attire Means.

While brides can go straight to a highly regarded bridal shop for her dream dress and grooms can have their own tuxedos or suits tailored, guests are sometimes left to decipher what exactly the invitation means when it states the requirement for the wedding attire.

To help you decipher the wedding dress code, we’ve listed down the most basic terms below, so you can arrive stylishly and be dressed appropriately for the wedding/event planning.

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Dressing up for weddings can be an exciting experience. Most people would take this opportunity to dress to the nines. Other guests, however, find it a little confusing and challenging.

The confusion comes from not really being familiar with the terms used to describe wedding attire. Invitations would usually just say “formal” or “semiformal”. These terms can be vague and may be open to interpretation. What is formal attire to some may still be considered informal by wedding industry convention.

You’d be lucky if the couple that invites you would specifically indicate the required attire for their special day. Some would even enclose sketches or pegs of how their guests should be dressed.

For destination affairs such as beach weddings, some invitations will even include the name and contact details of a dress shop in the location, so guests won’t have to lug their attire around.

You can’t expect every wedding invitation to come with a dictionary of wedding attire terms, though. So, to make it easier and more enjoyable for you here is a simple guide to help you decode the wedding dress code:

Tips for wedding dress code

1. Dress Code: Casual

While the word “casual” may bring to mind T-shirts and jeans, it would still be seen as too informal for a special occasion like a wedding. The rule of thumb is, when in doubt, always err on the dressier side of caution.

For females, it is best to wear something like an afternoon or summer dress for daytime weddings. Cocktail dresses can also be worn if the wedding is scheduled in the evening.

For males, a button-down or polo shirt and dress pants will do for the daytime. If you have a light-colored suit or blazer, then you can also wear that over a clean plain shirt and khaki pants. For evening affairs, a dark suit would be best.

2. Dress Code: Tropical or Beach Formal

Beach wedding attire can be quite tricky for the uninitiated. Even though you are in a tropical haven, reserve the swimsuits and surf shorts for when you actually need to dive in (unless you’re attending one of those radical underwater weddings).

Instead, girls can wear dresses made of light and airy fabrics such as cotton, chiffon, lace, or linen. Remember that it can be hot and humid so it is ideal to wear something that will not really cling to your skin and make you uncomfortable. An appropriate sunhat will also be useful in blocking the sun.

If the wedding is to be held indoors, guys can wear a breathable jacket made of cotton, linen-blend, or other lightweight material. A light vest or cardigan is also a good alternative. The outdoors may prove to be more challenging because of the heat, so a striped blue and white shirt paired with coral or white chinos may be your best bet. A cotton oxford or tropical print button-down shirt may also be paired with khakis.

3. Dress Code: Semi-Formal

Just as the name suggests, it is a cross between formal and casual attire. It is also sometimes called “dressy formal” as it is a notch higher than your usual casual wedding attire.

For daytime weddings, ladies can wear a short afternoon sundress, a cocktail dress, or a dressy pantsuit. Evening attire can be a much dressier cocktail dress or pantsuit or a more elegant combination of a blouse and skirt. A chic maxi dress may also be worn, but going for a floor-length gown might be considered going overboard.

For men, a light suit will work during daytime events while a dark suit is best during evening affairs. A tie should be worn on both occasions.

4. Dress Code: Formal, Black-Tie, or Black-Tie Optional

Formal attire for women will call for a cocktail or afternoon dress for daytime events. Gloves or head coverings (unless required) may be optional. Evening formal wear can be a fancy cocktail dress or a long evening dress. It may also depend on local customs.

When the invitation says “black-tie”, women can go as elegant and fancy as they can with their outfits. A chic cocktail dress, floor-length gown, or even a classy pantsuit are some good options.

For men, “black tie” means wearing a tuxedo. It is worn with a black vest or cummerbund, a dress shirt, black socks, and black patent leather shoes. For summer occasions, the white dinner jacket and black tuxedo trouser combo may be worn.

The “black-tie optional” or “black-tie invited” attire is really directed to men as it means they have the option to wear a tuxedo. If a tuxedo is out of the question, then men can wear a dark suit paired with a conservative shirt and tie.

5. Dress Code: White Tie

When you see “white tie” on the wedding invitation, visualize yourself as if you are going to a state dinner. This wedding attire calls for the most formal outfit that you can think of.

Ladies are required to wear floor-length gowns or evening dresses. Ball gowns are a favorite, complete with gloves and a tiara (just make sure you do not overshadow the bride). There are bridal shops that also offer fabulous evening dresses that are just right for the occasion. Fine jewelry, high heels, and a classy clutch will complete the ensemble.

For men, “white tie” means the whole nine yards. The first rule to remember is that it requires you to wear a hand-tied white bow tie paired with a crisp white evening shirt, plain or pleated, and cufflinks.

It must be worn with an evening tailcoat, preferably tailor-made to fit perfectly on your body. The outfit also calls for high-waisted trousers with two lines of braid running down the outside. The look must be completed by wearing black evening socks and black patent leather shoes, preferably with black ribbon for laces.

Wonderful Weddings

Witness a milestone by coming prepared. Dressing up appropriately is one of the unquantifiable gifts that you can give because it means you are doing your part in not disrupting the lovely event.


Kristie Romanos is the Regional Buyer and Operations Director at Esposa, a luxury bridal boutique offering every bride-to-be a one-stop-shop to find her perfect wedding look. Esposa Group includes Esposa Privé and Esposa boutiques in Lebanon and Dubai, offering a multi-brand selection showcasing the works of international designers. Kristie is also the designer behind EsposaCouture.

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