Demystifying Dress Codes

by | Inspired Words, Weddings


Sarah Dickens

Photos by SugarLove Weddings from Rosalind and Blake – The Celebration

With wedding season in full swing, I imagine that plenty of wedding invitations are currently making their way through the mail system, soon to be arriving in a mailbox near you. In an effort to assist in the answering of the all too familiar “what do I wear?” question, I have decided that the Dress Code component of the wedding invitation needs to be addressed (pun intended).

In simpler times, dress codes on wedding invitations were not seen. A wedding after 6:oo pm was simply black-tie. A morning affair, you guessed it, called for for nothing other than a morning coat. In recent times, dress codes including smart, cocktail, formal and even beach formal have appeared. It is imperative that the dress code on your wedding invitation is as clear and helpful as possible. Having been a guest at a few weddings, there is simply nothing worse than trying to decode the dress code!

So let’s start with the most exclusive dress codes –

White – tie: This dress code is rarely seen at weddings these days. For the men, it’s full dress tails with a white tie and for the women, full-length gowns, sky high heels and coiffed hair is a must!

Black – tie: For the men, you guessed it, a penguin suit a.k.a a tuxedo. For the women, a cocktail style dress, long evening gown or dressy separates will do. Black – tie screams glamour, nothing too revealing!

If you want to take it down a notch –

Formal: In most cases means Black-tie but a little more relaxed. For the men, a dark tuxedo without a tie is acceptable. For the women, a long dress, cocktail dress, dressy separates or a tailored suit will suffice.

Semi – Formal/After 5: For the men, no tuxedo required, a dark suit will be fine. No long dresses for the women, a cocktail dress will suit. Save the satin and sequins for a more formal event. Definitely include some tasteful bling!

Cocktail: Is usually for weddings held after 5:00pm. Dark suits for him, and a short elegant dress for the her. Try not to go over the top with the sparkle.

Smart: For him trousers, a collared shirt and a sports jacket or blazer. For her, dressy separates or a short elegant dress. Leave the ballgown at home!

And for those informal events –

Beach Formal – Lightweight trousers and a smart looking shirt are good choices for him. For her, sun dresses, maxi dresses and soft flowing skirts are perfect for a beach wedding. Consider a pashmina or cardigan. Shoes that are easy to take on and off are a must.

Casual – Usually means “anything goes” but when it comes to weddings opt for a more business casual approach. For him nice trousers and a short sleeved button up shirt. For her, a nice dress or skirt and blouse.

Regardless of what dress code is on the invitation, under NO circumstances are jeans or shorts allowed. Try to avoid an all white outfit, traditionally this is reserved for the bride. Flashy or skimpy outfits are a no-n0 and try to avoid an all black outfit, you aren’t going to a funeral. Remember – subtlety is best. If in doubt keep it simple!

Ms Gingham says: Thanks to Sarah for clearing that up! Whew! I can’t help but feel that these little ceremonies are what make weddings so exciting and special though!!  A really lovely and joyous occasion to be dressing up for.

Sarah says: “Newly Wed who loves to blog about weddings and food! Loved everything about planning my wedding and honeymoon, and absolutely devastated that it is all over now. icon sad Unique Wedding Gifts Have the most amazing husband who I love with all my heart, and am so looking forward to the journey life will take us on together now that we are married!”

Read previous posts from Sarah here.

  • Peta says:
    October 19, 2011 at 2:51 pm

    i made it simple and on my invitation wrote ‘dress to impress’!

  • Sarah Dickens says:
    October 21, 2011 at 9:45 pm

    Peta – what a great idea! Sx

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  • Helen says:
    May 24, 2012 at 11:50 am

    The majority of invitations to the weddings I attend are formal, but a tux is not expected of the men (simply because most men dont own a tux). I think a dark suit with suitable tie (if partnered, something that complements their partners outfit) would be acceptable 🙂



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