While we all like to think we know how to dress perfectly for a wedding, the reality can sometimes be different. With dress codes becoming increasingly ambiguous and hyphenated (e.g. formal-beach-with-a-hint-of-cocktail), dressing for a wedding can be fraught with dangers. Even simple sartorial directions such as ‘Garden Wedding’ can give rise to questions about appropriate shoes to wear: Is there grass? If so, will I sink if I wear stilettos? Will gravel get stuck in strappy sandals?
To help you decipher wedding day dress-codes, we’ve put together a list of some of the most frequently used, so you can arrive looking appropriate and, most importantly, stylish.
The Invitation Says: “White Tie”
This is the most formal of dress codes, so take your inspiration from the likes of Scarlett Johansson or Brad Pitt on the red carpet. This is an event to pull out all the stops, so don’t be shy to purchase that sweeping floor-length gown you’ve had your eye on for months.
She should wear: Floor-length dress, glitzy jewellery and the highest heels you can dance in.
He should wear: This is an occasion for gents to go full dapper. A tuxedo, a long black jacket with tails, a formal white shirt, white vest, bow tie and black formal shoes are the way to go. And if you really want to pull out all the stops, black or white gloves are also appropriate.
The Invitation Says: “Black Tie”
This is the next most formal wedding dress code and usually means the wedding is an evening affair.
She should wear: This one can be a little more difficult, as you have a bit more room to move when it comes to deciding what to wear. You can opt to go a little more formal with a floor length dress, or else choose a shorter, dressy cocktail dress with heels.
He should wear: Traditionally a black bow tie, black vest and patent leather shoes are recommended for black tie events, however for summer weddings a white dinner jacket and black tuxedo trousers are also acceptable.
The Invitation Says: “Cocktail”
This dress code implies something slightly less formal than black tie, meaning that while a tuxedo or floor-length gown aren’t necessary, the event is still formal enough for one to be appropriate.
She should wear: A long dress, formal separates or a formal cocktail dress are all good choices.
He should wear: A tuxedo or a formal dark suit, neat shirt, and a tie – preferably not one covered in a lairy print. Save that one for your best mate’s 30th birthday party.
The Invitation says: “Beach Formal”
This means the wedding will be an elegant event held sand-side. Tact must be used alongside your fashion sensibilities, as you’ll be battling it out with natural elements.
She should wear: A formal summer sundress or knee-length dress with either small heels or nice ballet flats or sandals will keep you comfortable and stylish. To stay with the theme, makeup and hair can be natural and everyday. You can be smart with your accessories too: Wear a fashionable hat to keep the sunburn at bay and bring a clutch to stash a little bottle of sunscreen.
He should wear: A summer suit with a linen shirt or linen pants and appropriate shoes. A tie isn’t required but can be a nice touch, as can a jauntily placed trilby. Basically channel George Clooney on a boat.
The invitation Says: “Festive Attire”
This is a relatively new dress-code that’s been thrown into the mix and can leave many guests scratching their head. But don’t worry, no one’s asking you to dress like Santa Claus for their wedding. Instead, guests are given the go-ahead to have fun and play with their look with bold colours, patterns and accessories.
She should wear: A cocktail dress or party dress in a fun color, paired with playful accessories.
He should wear: A suit and shirt, brightened up with a tie, quirky bow tie or fun patterned socks.
Invitation Says: “Semi-formal or Dressy Casual”
Depending on the time of the event, you’ll want to dress somewhere between formal and casual. Wear darker, more formal hues for an evening affair, or opt for lighter colours for a daytime wedding.
She should wear: A colourful cocktail dress or pretty skirt and top separates.
He should wear: A nice neat suit and tie, with the colours and fabrics varying according to the season and time of the wedding.
Invitation says: “Casual”
This dress code is for the laid back couple, who might be choosing to have a picnic style wedding in a garden or something by the beach. Though a more relaxed look is encouraged, this does not mean that tank tops, jeans or – heaven forbid – thongs are appropriate.
She should wear: One of your favourite pretty dresses would be perfect, as would nice separates. Choose whatever shoes work well with the outfit, whether that be heels, ballet flats or dressy sandals.
He should wear: Dress pants or chinos with a button-down shirt and a tie (though this isn’t necessary). Nice closed toe shoes are recommended and please, leave the trackies at home.
With this little cheat sheet up your sleeve, you can can feel safe knowing you’ll make the right choices when the wedding day rolls around!