life·14 min read

Our Guide to Wedding Dress Codes, From White-Tie to Casual

wedding-dress-codes
Design: theSkimm | Photos: Nordstrom, Fame and Partners
May 12, 2022
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So you’ve been invited to a wedding. Now comes the inevitable double-check of the invite for the dress code. Maybe you’re a bit confused over what ‘glam cocktail’ actually means. Lucky for you, we’re here to explain the differences between dress codes, so you can show up confident in your outfit. And ready to throw your hands up to “Shout” on the dance floor.

True to us, we’ve also found options ranging from classic and elegant to fun and flirty. Cheers to spending less time stressing over what to wear and more time celebrating love. D’aww.

White-Tie

White-tie is the most formal dress code. Think White House dinners or charity galas. Though this type of occasion is more rare for most people, it’s good to know that it means wearing a floor-length gown, with no exceptions. It also means pulling out your finest jewels and heels to accessorize. PS: These types of weddings are always evening affairs.

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Black-Tie 

We’ve arrived at black-tie, which is a little more counterintuitive than you might think. First things first, no, you don’t have to wear black. You should wear either a floor-length gown, fancy cocktail dress, or dressy pantsuit or jumpsuit. Traditionally, ankles should not be showing just like with white-tie.

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Formal or Black-Tie Optional 

When the invite says ‘black-tie optional,’ it’ll leave you wondering what that really means. The key here is in the ankle. It’s essentially the same guideline as black-tie, but showing your ankles is more acceptable. So opt for a floor-length gown to remain on the more formal end of the spectrum. FYI: an ankle-baring cocktail dress would be the most pared down option here.

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Cocktail 

Cocktail attire is the most popular wedding dress code, so if you’re picking from this section, you’ll likely get multiple uses out of your purchase (win-win). Choose a dress that’s either tea-length (hits at mid-calf), knee-length, or midi (which falls anywhere from right above the ankle to mid-calf). Feel free to choose something in a pastel hue or a not-too-bold pattern like floral.

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Semi-Formal 

For a semi-formal wedding, the most important thing to take into account is the time of day. These are often brunch or midday weddings, which make them more casual. Wear a dress that hits at the knee (or slightly above), or a skirt and top. Mostly all colors and  prints are appropriate.

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Festive

Festive as a dress code has really only emerged in recent years, but don’t let it intimidate you. Think bright, bold colors or large-scale patterns, playful accessories, and leaning into the party atmosphere. Have fun with it.

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Casual

And finally, the casual wedding. This is usually a beach or outdoor wedding, where taking into account the weather and location is important. Will your heels get stuck in sand or grass? Opt for a summer sundress in a breezy knit or linen fabric, and most often stick to polished sandals.

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Skimm'd by Martha Upton, Alexandra Napoli
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