The Do’s and Don’ts of Wedding Attire: What to Wear

You may be familiar with the tradition of dressing bridesmaids alike. Not too long ago, it was common to dress bridesmaids identically to the bride to confuse nefarious spirits. Today, if a bridesmaid wore white to a wedding, the bride might ask her to leave!

Needless to say, the do’s and don’ts of wedding attire have changed considerably throughout the years. Today, even dressing bridesmaids in matching dresses has gone out of style! When even the oldest wedding traditions are changing, how can you dress for a wedding without breaking an obscure or unwritten rule?

You don’t want to be the guest who ruins a lifelong friendship over the wrong pair of shoes. We’ve created this guide to contemporary wedding fashion Do’s and SNAFUs to help you figure out what to wear to a wedding in 2023.

Read on to learn the dress code rules that will ensure you don’t attract any ire the next time you attend a wedding!

Types of Wedding Dress Codes

The first step toward choosing a wedding ensemble is understanding the event’s dress code. The couple will typically indicate this on the invitation or wedding website. We’ll define some of the most common types of wedding dress codes below (with examples).

White Tie

White tie is the most formal version of a wedding dress code. All gowns should be formal and floor-length. All tuxes should include tails and a full suite of accessories, including gloves.

For example, look at what attendees wear to political state dinners at the White House.

Black Tie

Black tie is a typical formal dress code at evening weddings. Like at white-tie weddings, you’ll want to choose a long, formal gown or tux. You probably don’t need all the fussy accessories, however.

For example, look at the attire celebrities wear to televised award shows.


A formal (or black tie optional) wedding is dressy but allows for more exceptions than a black tie affair. Dresses can show the ankles, and men can choose a suit over a tuxedo. Your hair should be neat and presentable, but there’s no reason to shell out for a fancy salon up-do.


Cocktail attire is one of the most popular wedding dress codes. It sits at the more formal end of the spectrum but allows room for play. Dresses are often knee-length or tea-length, and men should wear suits and ties.

For example, consider what you might wear to a class reunion, graduation party, or engagement celebration.


The semi-formal dress code sits just right of center on the spectrum between formal and casual. This is a common dress code for day weddings. Choose a shorter dress, or wear a dress shirt and slacks, with or without a tie.

Don’t make the mistake of dressing too casually for a semi-formal event. Avoid jeans and sneakers, but feel free to bust out a cute pantsuit or jumpsuit.


A casual wedding dress code is common when an event will be outdoors. Anticipate a laid-back environment. It’s common in intimate ceremonies with a small guest list or receptions after a courthouse wedding.

In most cases, you should not wear sneakers, tank tops, or jeans at a wedding, even if the dress code is casual. Sundresses, collar shirts, and nice pants are often appropriate. Think “school picture day” vs. “backyard hangout.”


A tropical wedding nearly always means a beach wedding and is a standard dress code for destination receptions. You’ll probably be spending time in the sun and want to dress for the heat.

Pick up a Mexican wedding shirt, dressy sundress, or dressy linen outfit. When in doubt, always err on the side of formality at a tropical wedding. Aim for light and bright but not busy, and you should be fine.


If a bride and groom plan a themed wedding, the invitation or wedding website usually includes instructions. They may ask guests to wear one color. Though it seems counterintuitive, “all-white weddings” are becoming more popular and make for stunning photos.

In other cases, the couple may ask you to dress stylistically to help bring their wedding theme to life. For example, a Roaring 20s Great Gatsby wedding might involve a historically-inspired dress code. You’ll see men in hats and women in beaded, art-deco-inspired dresses, which bring the time period to life.

Come As You Are

A “come as you are” dress code is at the polar opposite end of the formality scale. The couple wants you to be comfortable and feel your best. This is one of the only dress code options in which jeans may be appropriate, but ensure they’re clean and nice—in other words, something you’d be happily photographed wearing.

What about piercings at a wedding? If you have extreme body modifications, it might be wise to ask the couple what they consider appropriate. However, ear piercings or a subtle, cute nose piercing are generally acceptable, regardless of the dress code.

Mastering the Unwritten Rules of Wedding Attire

When it comes down to it, the key to solving your wedding attire woes (and, one might argue, solving all problems) is communication. If you’re unsure about the dress code, it’s appropriate to reach out and ask for clarification. We promise the bride will be more annoyed if you show up to her formal wedding in jeans than if you send her a quick email asking for outfit approval!

Most of the time, you can answer many of your own questions with a bit of research. Why not start by browsing the rest of the blog? We have plenty of posts that will illuminate the magic behind wedding dress codes, including fashion ideas to inspire your next classy look.

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