A Guide To Wedding Dress Codes


Wedding dress codes seem like a nice idea, That is, until you receive an invitation for a "semiformal" wedding and neither you or anyone else that's invited have any idea what you're actually supposed to wear. I've been there and I know a lot of my friends and Instagram followers have too because I frequently get DMs asking me to translate and make sense of wedding dress codes. So to put an end to the confusion, once and for all, I've put together a list of the most common dress codes and a guide to what they actually mean. Keep this guide and you will never go wrong.


Black Tie


Black tie means highly formal and basically means tuxedo. You'll need to read the situation somewhat in terms of what you can play around with here. A sure-fire winner is black peak lapel tux. Colour variations, shawl necks and other stylistic details work well for New Year's balls and red carpets but at a very traditional black tie wedding they will not be welcomed so stick to black and you can't really go wrong. Black tie also means bow tie (although you can opt for a straight necktie but it's not recommended). Your shirt should be double cuffed which you can wear with cufflinks. You can also go for studs for your shirt in place of buttons (but it's not a deal breaker) and you have options like a waistcoat or cummerbund and a white pocket square if you wish to accessorize. Your shows should be black and polished and your socks should also be black.


White Tie


White tie is the most formal of dress codes and it quite literally means wearing a white tie. Your suit will be an evening tailcoat and trousers. Kind of like a tuxedo only fancier. The jacket, the underpinnings and the shirt should all be white. You'll need studs and cufflinks too. For your shoes, go for the most formal options. A polished shoe in patent leather will do the trick.


Black Tie Optional


In plain English: you have the option black tie or the option of another formal suit. If you opt for black tie (tuxedo) then all the same black tie rules apply, but now you can get with a little bit more. If you don't go for the black-tie option then look to the most formal suit you have in a darker colour. Keep your accessories as simple as possible because there will other people there in full black tie regalia so even if you're not, you don't want to look out of place.




Semiformal means no tux, but you are wearing a suit and tie. As I've covered many times already, the type of suit will depend on the location and time of year. If it's semiformal during the winter months, you'll want darker colours and heavier fabrics. If it's spring or summer and/or held outside, you'll likely see less black and dark navy and more blue, light grey or beige. But the jacket and trousers should match, and you should be wearing a formal shirt. The level of formality here is best described as medium to medium-high so you will also need to wear a tie. Also, make sure to match your belt with your shoes. It might seem obvious but you'd be shocked by how often people get it wrong.




The cocktail dress code was invented to bridge the gap between casual daywear and formal eveningwear. So a suit, but you can make it fun (within reason). ‘Suit' has a looser definition here. You can mix and match, like proper trousers with a different colour blazer. Depending on the venue, coloured trousers might be an option. You do still need to wear a collared shirt but you don't necessarily need to wear a tie. A blazer with a pocket square is a good alternative. You can definitely play with colour, both in the outfit and in the accessories. As for shoes, you could do a lace-up or maybe even a loafer.


Beach Formal


Even where you see the word ‘beach', if you see the word "formal" in a dress code, it means wear a suit and tie. For a beach wedding, you can move away from the darker colours usually associated with formal weddings and play around with light summery colours and linen fabrics. You should still wear a tie or a pocket square. For your feet, while might be walking near sand and water, that's no excuse to wear sandals or anything else you wouldn't otherwise be wearing to a formal event. Light colours and shoes you can wear sockless are a good choice here.


Dressy Casual


"Dressy" is the hint that shorts and trainers are not OK. Even if they're fancy expensive ones. You don't necessarily have to wear a suit. You could go for trousers or nice smart chinos. Up top, you could wear a crewneck with a blazer, or just a button-down shirt. A tie is not required here but be careful with your choice of shoe. You might think your "dressy trainers" are perfect. The couple might not. Err on the side of caution.




With a casual dress code, you can get away with a more relaxed ensemble, but it needs to look refined because you're still going to a wedding, after all. You could wear a pair of well-fitting dark jeans (no rips) and a button-down. You could wear a pair of chinos, a t-shirt, and a blazer. For your shoes, keep them polished. You can finally bust out those dressy trainers, or a nice pair of loafers. No running tackies or anything "street style".




You're going to have to depend on the hosts to give some sort of guidance here. If you are hosting, add a line about what you're expecting ("Cowboy hats welcome" or "Saints and Sinners" etc). If you're the guest, don't be afraid to ask. When in doubt, dress a little more formally. It's much better to go with a suit and tie—where you can take off the jacket and tie—than to not have the option at all.

Patrick McLoughney