Decoding Wedding Dress Codes: What to Wear to Any Summer Wedding (With Shoppable Links!)

May 22, 2019

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It's wedding season y'all! And if you're like me, you're thinking about what you're going to be wear to all your upcoming soirees this summer. But sometimes you receive an invitation with a dress code that makes you scratch your head. Isn't that the worst? You know your friends meant well by trying to be creative, but really, you wish they'd just told you what to wear. Today I'm decoding wedding dress codes and giving you SHOPPABLE LINKS! 

Yes, friends! Whether you're shopping for an upcoming wedding or you want to help guide your guests with the right suggestions, this article will help you and your guests will feel good about what you're going to wear to this season's weddings! Hint: For those wedding planning, link to this post on your wedding website so your guests know EXACTLY what to wear (and NOT wear) to your wedding.

This may or may not surprise you, but I grew up in southern Virginia. I took cotillion and one of my FAVORITE parts of cotillion was learning about all the dress codes. Did you ever wonder why you need a wedding dress code? Wedding dress codes specify what's appropriate so your guests know the level of formality of the event. You don't want them showing up underdressed and feel embarrassed or self-conscious. The #1 rule of hospitality is to ensure your guests' comfort. Guests like it when you tell them what to do. When there's ambiguity, it creates confusion and unease among your guests. So, without further ado . . .

Unsure what to write on your wedding invitation? Tired of decoding wedding dress codes? Use this guide so you and your guests know exactly what to wear to look their very best.  | Verve Event Co. | #weddingdresscodes #weddingfashion #weddingstyle #blacktiewedding

The “Casual” Wedding Dress Code

“Casual” is your most basic of basic when it comes to attire. Since it's still a wedding, I don't recommend jeans, shorts, or tank tops. This is like “business casual” in the work place. If you wouldn't wear it to work, don't wear it to this wedding.


Wear dress pants with a button-down shirt or a polo. Men can also wear blazers and no ties.


Wear a sundress or a skirt or pants with a nice top or a cute pantsuit. This would only be appropriate for a daytime ceremony (before 6 p.m.) and a less formal dinner reception. I don't recommend “casual” dress for ceremonies after 6 p.m. as it's starting to get more formal then. Hair and makeup can be natural.

Related: Wedding Dress Shopping 101

The “Semi-Formal” or “Dressy Casual” Wedding Dress Code

This can go either way, depending on the time of the event. For a daytime wedding, wear lighter colors and fabrics. At evening affairs, wear darker, more formal colors.


Wear a suit and tie – a darker suit for colder months and a lighter suit for spring and summer weddings.


Wear a cocktail dress, a dressy skirt and top, or a jumper/pantsuit. Hemlines should fall between the knees and ankles. A floor length gown would be inappropriate, but a more casual maxi dress is fine. Hair and makeup can be natural. If the ceremony is in the morning, opt for something a little more casual. If it's in the afternoon or evening, something more formal is appropriate.

Related: The Boho Bride Steps Aside: 2020 Bridal Fashion Trends

The “Beach Formal” Wedding Dress Code

This is for a more refined and elegant fête as most beach weddings would fall under the “Dressy Casual” dress code. Don't be afraid to wear something nice, but also remember the elements (sun, sand, and water).


Wear a light summer suit, such as a seersucker suit. Khakis and a linen shirt and sandals are fine, too. Ties are not required.


Wear a formal summer sundress at tea length (down to your ankles) or knee length. But wear flats or wedges because you might be walking in sand. Hair and makeup can be natural.

The “Cocktail Attire” Wedding Dress Code

This is one step down from “Black Tie” and “Black Tie Optional.” It's as fancy as you can get without wearing a tux.


Like “Semi-Formal,” gentlemen should wear a suit and tie. Again, lean towards darker, more formal hues in colder months. Lighter grays or blues are appropriate during the summer months.


Wear a cocktail dress, a tea length dress, a dressy jumpsuit, or dressy suit with heels. This would appropriate for an afternoon or evening affair.

Related: Finger Lakes Wedding Goals at The Inns of Aurora

The “Formal” or “Black Tie Optional” Wedding Dress Code

This type of event is formal enough that a tuxedo would be appropriate, but it's not required. Expect some guests to wear a tux and others to wear a really nice suit.


Wear a tux or a formal dark suit and tie. I won't say the tux has to be black anymore because ) It says “Black Tie Optional” and 2) There are so many more options these days for tuxes, they don't have to be black!


Wear a long evening gown, dressy suit, or a formal cocktail-length dress (which is between below the knees and your ankles). The “Optional” part only applies to the guys. There's no difference between “Black Tie” and “Black Tie Optional” for women.

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La Petite Robe Di Chiara Boni

The “Black Tie” Wedding Dress Code

Black tie is the second most formal wedding dress code. It usually indicates an evening affair. The ceremony can be later in the day (around 4 p.m. or after) and the dinner reception is after 5:00 pm.


Wear a tuxedo with a bow tie, cummerbund, and patent leather shoes. A suit, no matter how nice, is not appropriate.


Wear a chic cocktail dress or a long evening gown paired with a clutch or evening bag. Heavier makeup and striking or dramatic jewelry and hair are appropriate.

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The “White Tie” Wedding Dress Code

White tie is the most formal of all dress codes. Think dinner with The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, the Oscars, or State Dinners at the White House.


Wear a long black jacket with tails, a white pique vest, and bow tie. Formal footwear like derby shoes or oxford shoes. And for those who want to get really fancy, white gloves are appropriate. According to The Knot, trousers should match the color and fabric of your coat and tails, and often feature a subtle satin or grosgrain stripe along the outer seams.” Rules regarding the color of your bow tie and other accessories have loosened up. Traditionally, they were all white, but it's now more common and acceptable for men to add personality with a patterned bow tie or pants.


Wear a formal, full-length ball gown. Glamorous makeup and striking or dramatic jewelry are appropriate. If there's ever a time to get your hair and makeup professionally done, this is it. The main difference in dress for ladies between Black Tie and White Tie is that a full-length ball gown is a must for a White Tie wedding. At a black-tie wedding, you could get away with a chic, glamorous cocktail dress or jumpsuit.


And there you have it. A precise explanation of each dress code with outfits IRL to make your shopping and your guests' shopping super easy! Whether you're trying to decide what to ask your guests to wear or you're attending an upcoming wedding, this post has it all. And if you liked this article, make sure you subscribe to my wedding planning micro-podcast: Ask the Planner – Answers to Wedding Questions You Never Knew to Ask. Quick tips in the time it takes to pick out your OOTD.

If you scrolled to the bottom . . .

Guests need wedding dress codes to help them decide what to wear. Be clear. Don't be cutesy or creative because that will lead to ambiguity and your guests won't know what you mean. Unless you're okay with guests coming in a wide of array of interpretations. But even then, it still creates work for the guests. Most weddings range from “Cocktail Attire” to “Black Tie.” And the only difference between “Black Tie” and “Formal or Black Tie Optional” is whether the men have to wear a tux or not. There's no difference for women.

Happy shopping & happy planning!

Disclosure: This page may contain affiliate links. That means I get a small commission if you purchase through this link. However, I only link to tools and products I truly love and use for myself or my clients. Thanks for contributing to my macaron fund! 


PS: Don't forget to save this post for later!

Unsure what to write on your wedding invitation? Tired of decoding wedding dress codes? Use this guide so you and your guests know exactly what to wear to look their very best.  | Verve Event Co. | #weddingdresscodes #weddingfashion #weddingstyle #blacktiewedding


Planning a wedding for 2021 or 2022? Grab my wedding planning checklist here so you know EXACTLY what to do every step of the way.