The Ultimate Guide to Wedding Guest Dress Codes

The Ultimate Guide to Wedding Guest Dress Codes

Crafting a look for your wedding is no easy feat and for some it extends to what the guests wear, inviting (or requesting) them to dress in a certain way. Let’s face it — we’ve all been there, going to the mailbox and finding a wedding invitation for loved ones, only to open it and find you are being asked to dress in a certain color, style, or theme. Sometimes it’s as simple as asking for black tie, other times it’s about a theme like Great Gatsby. It brings up L.O.T.S. of questions and we’ve got answers. So no matter what kind of guest attire you’re asked to wear, we’ve got you covered thanks to advice from Sarah Liu, the Chief Designer of JJ’s House.


What Wedding Guest Attire is on Your Wedding Invitation?

“Cocktail Attire”

When the wedding invitation you receive asks for cocktail attire, Liu explains this is “a dress worn on semi-formal occasions. It is a balance between formal and casual, and comfortable and elegant.” The length should be above-the-knee, not to short or too long, she advises, with detail designs, ruffles, sequins, or lace appliqués.

 Wedding guest dress codes explained


According to Liu, black tie attire calls for a formal dress. “A long dress that reaches the ground, and it can also have a little tail.” She notes, it’s usually “made of high-quality fabrics, such as chiffon, satin, lace, mesh, sequins, velvet, etc. These fabrics can add luster and texture to the dress, making the dress look more elegant.”

Wedding guest dress codes explained 

“White Tie”

On the opposite end of black tie, we have white-tie, which is “typically the most formal dress code which requires grand ball gowns.” These are floor length gowns, Liu says, which “typically has the most exquisite detail design, such as fine pleats, embroidery, beads and so on. These designs can make the dress look very gorgeous, unique, and memorable.”

 Wedding guest dress codes explained


Semi-formal attire, Liu notes, is “a little more formal than cocktail dresses, but not as solemn and formal as black tie or white tie. . . . It usually requires more formal but not too formal dresses, meaning you should not wear your everyday outfits nor do you have to wear a gown.” And in terms of length, it is similar to that of a cocktail dress.

 Wedding guest dress codes explained


The options are high with a casual dress code. According to Liu, that “usually  means that [there is no] strict dress code, so you can choose dresses according to the occasion and your preferences.”

Wedding guest dress codes explained 

“Black-tie Optional”

In keeping with the idea of options, this black-tie optional dress code “typically requires women to wear formal dresses, but not necessarily having to be long gowns or formal evening gowns. [It] can be a long skirt or a short skirt. The length is usually a few inches above or below the knee, but it does not necessarily need to reach the ground. Black-tie optional dress is usually more formal and elegant than cocktail dress, but slightly simpler than black tie or white tie skirt.”

 Wedding guest dress codes explained

Formal Evening Gown


 Wedding guest dress codes explained

Cocktail Dress



“Formal dress code usually requires women to wear formal, elegant dresses,” explains Liu. It’s “usually a long dress, and the length usually needs to reach the ankle. If you choose a short dress, the length also needs to be a few inches below the knee. Formal dress is usually more formal and elegant than black-tie optional dress, with gorgeous detail design. At the same time, these dresses usually have less skin revealing for a formal and dignified vibe.”

“Come as You Are”

A dress code calling for you to come as you are means you can wear whatever you want. “This usually means there aren't any formal attire requirements, and you can choose something comfortable, casual, or statement-making.”

 Wedding guest dress codes explained



 Wedding guest dress codes explained



Wedding guest dress codes explained 




A festive dress code references a celebratory occasion, such as festivals, parties, or special celebrations. Here, Liu tells us, you “can choose some shiny, gorgeous, vibrant skirts to match the Festive Theme.” Opt for bright and vivid colors like red, green, gold, silver, etc. with textured and luxury fabrics, such as silk, satin, sequins, lace, etc. She goes on to explain with this festive dress code, you can choose some creative and special designs, such as ruffles, pleats, tassels, sequins, hollows, etc. And, of course, she advises the length should be appropriate to your personal preferences, such as miniskirts, knee-length skirts, long skirts, etc.

Wedding guest dress codes explained 

When the Wedding Invitation Doesn’t Stipulate a Dress Code

When there is no dress code stipulated on the wedding invitation, it’s common for guests to dress according to the time of the wedding — be it brunch, afternoon, or late-afternoon and evening. Choosing what to wear can become that much more difficult, but there are certain suggested guidelines you can follow to avoid an epic nightmare.

Brunch Wedding

Liu advises that for a brunch wedding without a specific dress code, “guests can choose some relaxed, elegant and comfortable clothes for the wedding.”

She suggests a light dress or skirt, either above or below the knee length, in bright spring colors like baby blue, pink, lemon yellow, etc. Or a lightweight pantsuit, such as a pair of pants and a light shirt, that can be worn with comfortable flats or sandals.

Afternoon Wedding

Here “wedding guests can choose some semi-formal or casual attire.” Examples include: a well-fitting dress or skirt can be above or below the knee in length, neutral in color, and simple in style, depending on the theme of the wedding. Or a proper trouser outfit, such as a pair of trousers and shirt with a refined jacket or fleece coat, which can be paired with a pair of heels or flats.

Late-afternoon Wedding

For a late-afternoon wedding in the evening, Liu suggests “wedding guests choose some semi-formal or formal attire, such as a formal evening gown or a long dress in a dark color.” She explains, this is your chance to “go for bright colors or flashy designs, but avoid styles that are too revealing or dramatic.” Another appropriate outfit option would be a skirt or trousers, paired with a formal top or jacket and a pair of heels.

Evening Wedding

For an evening wedding with no stated dress code, then guests should select formal clothes. Liu suggests a long gown, in black or dark, with simple jewelry and heels.

“Or for a proper evening gown, go for bright colors or flamboyant designs, but avoid styles that are too revealing or too dramatic.”


Banner photo courtesy of Meagan Puett Photography; other photos by JJ’s House

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