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Welcome to wedding season: where the hangovers are real, the dress codes are confusing, and we’re all sweating. As if the uptick in vaguely specific dress code attire hasn’t made finding a wedding guest outfit hard enough, summer weddings also require finding something that’s dress code appropriate while also seasonally appropriate. There’s a lot of “vibe interpreting” required for all these confusing wedding dress codes that, frankly, most of us just aren’t cut out for. So to help guide you on your seemingly treacherous wedding guest outfit search, here are some options based on the different dress codes.
Clearly I need to reevaluate my entire circle of friends because I’ve never attended nor have I even been invited to a white-tie wedding. White-tie dress code is the most formal of them all, requiring floor-length gowns, no exceptions. Your gown should be paired with your most elegant clutch and accessories and, if I were you, I’d take full advantage of the occasion and even add some trendy elbow-length gloves. You can make your gown more seasonally appropriate by choosing summery colors and fabrics.
Personally, this is my favorite wedding dress code out of the ones I’ve attended because I love an excuse to dress up. Black-tie dress code means you can wear a formal gown or elevated jumpsuit, either of which paired back to elegant accessories. Basically, think prom-adjacent attire minus the over-the-top tackiness and vodka-filled water bottles. Similarly as with white-tie, you can make your black-tie ensemble more summer- appropriate with light and bright colors, airy fabrics, and more breathable silhouettes.
Formal or Black-Tie Optional
This dress code can be confusing and definitely requires some of that “vibe interpreting” that I mentioned earlier. Black-tie optional is pretty much equivalent to formal and just means slightly less formal than black-tie. The biggest difference for women’s attire is that a full-length gown isn’t required, but something of the same dressiness “vibe” is still recommended. Basically, if you want to get wild and show your ankles then you have permission to do so but I’d avoid going above the knee for your hemline. Add a summer-feel to your formal look with vibrant summer colors or a lightweight mesh fabric.
Cocktail attire means that women can wear shorter hemlines but still need to look dressy. Long story short, it would be inappropriate to wear a gown but also inappropriate to wear a sundress. I realize that leaves quite a large gamut, but basically just think a specialty mini dress, elevated midi dress, or eloquent jumpsuit. Overall, this dress code does imply a bit more of a flirty and playful vibe, so have fun with it but still look classy. Keep it summer appropriate with shorter hemlines, seasonal colors, or even an elevated floral print.
Semi-Formal or Dressy Casual
Semi-formal or dressy casual might be the most vague of all the dress codes because there are no “hard lines” beyond no sweatpants. Rather, you really have to feel into the vibe of the wedding, so maybe just grab a crystal and the invitation and mediate on it? On second thought, maybe just text a fellow wedding attendee to see what they’re wearing and go from there. At the end of the day, err on the side of being over-dressed rather than under-dressed. Remember, it’s about special event elegance without crossing the line of “fancy.” Vague, I know, so best of luck.
As someone who recently attended a beach formal wedding, my biggest piece of advice is DO NOT underestimate the heat. As someone who also attended said wedding in a long sleeve bridesmaid dress, I’m going to suggest you steer clear of sleeves and any material that could potentially show sweat. Instead, opt for lightweight summery fabrics like linen or gauze. And, if you’re really someone who sweats easily, go for an airy printed maxi to help disguise any possible sweat stains. Oh, and bring a handheld fan, you’ll thank me later.
Daytime or Casual
Covid has made the backyard wedding quite a trend, and given how expensive weddings can get, I definitely see the appeal. Backyard or daytime weddings are usually more casual which means they’re perfect for a breezy sundress, pretty mini dress, or sophisticated set. The only “don’t” here is going too casual or too dressy. Just avoid dressier fabrics, overly casual fabrics, stiletto heels, sneakers…and you should be good to go from there.
Look, I love weddings. I love getting drunk and I love getting dressed up—all in the name of eternal love, of course. But, what I don’t like is the confusing wedding dress codes. Like, I’m a smart girl. I have a college degree. But I don’t know wtf it means when the dress code for your wedding is “dressy casual”? Or black tie optional? Like, it should be black tie, period. Right? Don’t throw “optional” in there and start making me overthink everything. I’m spending a lot of money to be a guest at YOUR wedding, the least you could do is give me a straight-up answer about what the dress code is. But, since that’s not going to actually happen, I’m here to break down the four primary wedding dress codes: casual, cocktail, formal, and black tie. So, in an attempt to help you all out, here are the four main wedding dress codes and what to wear for each!
Casual, also known as “informal”, is probably the easiest yet most confusing dress code of them all. Like, my version of “casual” is leggings and a hoodie, but I’m pretty sure that’s not what the bride meant when she said “casual” on the invitation. Everyone has their own interpretation of what casual means—just ask my co-worker who seems to think casual Fridays means you can wear a graphic tee that says “future queen” across the chest to the office. So in regards to “casual” I would align your outfit with the theme or the setting of the wedding, and always err on the side of being too dressed up, rather than not dressy enough. For example, casual for a beach wedding may be a maxi dress, while casual at a restaurant venue may require a more polished outfit, such as a jumpsuit or matching set.
Show Me Your Mumu Emanuelle Smocked Top and Marley Shorts
superdown Karolyn Square Neck Jumpsuit
Under The Moon Light Patchwork Maxi Dress
Cocktail attire is synonymous with mini dress and heels. Of course, you don’t have to necessarily wear a mini dress, but think that vibe. Your accessories, makeup, and hair should definitely be more elevated than what you’d wear for a casual wedding, but also not as extravagant as black tie. So like, don’t wear your best Claire’s accessories, but also don’t wear your family diamonds. Make sense? Hopefully, your answer is “yes” since you can’t actually respond to me. Cool, moving on. Here are some dresses to wear.
superdown Oriana Ribbed Halter Dress
Lovers + Friends Jay Blazer Dress
ASOS DESIGN Square Neck Midi Pencil Dress
3. Formal/Black Tie Optional
Okay, so here’s where I’ll do some clarifying because, to be frank, I’ve always been confused over the difference between cocktail and formal. So, the first key difference I’ll address here is that formal is also the same as black tie optional. Why not just say formal??? Beats me. Like why do you have to include that it’s optional? Technically, everything is optional, but that’s not the f*cking point of a dress code. GAWD! Basically you can wear a short or long dress, it’s up to you. But you better have heels on and you better still wear something that wouldn’t make you stand out in a group picture. When it’s formal, men may wear tuxes, so you have to be prepared for if they do, and make sure your ensemble matches their dressy level accordingly. Classic catering to the man #patriarchy.
Cara One-Shoulder Micro Mini Dress
UO Flamenco Ruffle Tie-Back Slip Dress
Nookie Lust One Shoulder Gown
4. Black Tie
Black tie is my favorite dress code because it’s the simplest and gives you an excuse to wear a gown. Which like, I don’t know about you, but I haven’t been able to wear a legit gown since prom. Call me basic, but I just love the princess feeling of a long dress. Sue me. This should go without saying, but gown doesn’t mean a big poofy dress that gives the bride a run for her money, nor a maxi that just happens to be long dress either. You have to get something elegant and not just like, a long sun dress.
Yaura Off Shoulder Thigh Split Maxi Dress
NBD Luna Gown
Shona Joy Luxe Bias Cowl Slip Dress
Hopefully this guide to wedding dress codes at least helps give you some form of guideline of what the f*ck to wear. Worst case, if you still mess it up, just get drunk at the open bar and then no one will remember you as the girl who dressed inappropriately. Instead, you’ll just be the girl who got blacked out and grinded on all the groomsmen. Up to you to pick your poison here.
Images: Eric Ward / Unsplash; Revolve (7); Free People (2); Asos (2); Urban Outfitters;