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Welcome to wedding season: where the hangovers are real, the dress codes are confusing, and we’re all listening to Mr. Brightside on repeat. As if the uptick in vaguely specific dress code attire hasn’t made finding a wedding guest outfit hard enough, you also have to think about the fact that you’ll probably be in the background of a wedding photo on the couples mantle for an entire lifetime. That’s, like, a lot of pressure. The idea of being underdressed (or overdressed for that matter) literally makes me cringe. There’s so much “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 advantage of the occasion and pull a full-on Mia Thermopolis and add some elbow-length satin evening gloves. You can make your gown more seasonally-appropriate by choosing a color of fabric fit for the season you’re in.
One-Shoulder Scuba Crepe Gown
Shop it: Betsy & Adam One-Shoulder Scuba Crepe Gown, $249, Macy’s
Sweetheart Off The Shoulder Stretch Satin Dress
Shop it: Jules And Cleo Sweetheart Off The Shoulder Stretch Satin Dress, $109.92, David’s Bridal
Strapless Glitter Tulle Gown
Shop it: Mac Duggal Strapless Glitter Tulle Gown, $498, Saks Fifth Avenue
TBH, this is a favorite dress code of mine because I honestly don’t have many reasons to get out of sweatpants these days. Black-tie dress code means you can wear a formal gown or elevated jumpsuit, either of which should be paired with chic-AF and elevated accessories. Basically, think prom-adjacent attire minus the over-the-top tackiness and vodka-filled water bottles. Similarly to with white-tie, you can make your black-tie ensemble match the season by choosing colors and fabrics that could either scream, “Mango Sherbet” or “Pumpkin Spice” simply with shift in hue.
Yaura Plus drape column maxi dress
Shop it: Yaura Plus drape column maxi dress, $124.30, ASOS
Floral Tiered Gown
Shop it: Mac Duggal Floral Tiered Gown, $458, Saks Fifth Avenue
Mary Kate Gown
Shop it: Katie May Mary Kate Gown, $295, Revolve
Formal or Black-Tie Optional
Okay, I wish we could honestly just take this option off the table because it’s confusing as hell. That being said, 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. If you truly can’t make up your mind, you can’t go wrong with a midi-dress.
Volume Sleeve Satin Midi Dress
Shop it: ASOS Edition Volume Sleeve Satin Midi Dress, $220, ASO
Cayla Side Drape Gown
Shop it: Norma Kamali Cayla Side Drape Gown, $150, Revolve
Black Halo Corrine Jumpsuit
Shop it: Black Halo Corrine Jumpsuit, $415, Shopbop
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 lot in between, 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, as always, keep it classy.
Gala Midi Dress
Shop it: L’idee Gala Midi Dress, $395, Revolve
Blaine Taffeta Square-Neck Bow Train Mini Dress
Shop it: Sachin & Babi Blaine Taffeta Square-Neck Bow Train Mini Dress, $298, Anthropologie
Curve Off Shoulder Corset Midi Wrap Skirt Dress
Shop it: ASOS Design Curve Off Shoulder Corset Midi Wrap Skirt Dress, $79, ASOS
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.
Women’s Gaia Dress
Shop it: ASTR the label Women’s Gaia Dress, $98, Amazon
Let Me Be Strapless Asymmetrical Dress
Shop it: Let Me Be Strapless Asymmetrical Dress, $220, Anthropologie
Remarkable Entrance Navy Blue Floral Print Satin Midi Dress
Shop it: Remarkable Entrance Navy Blue Floral Print Satin Midi Dress, $75, Lulus
IDK about you but this one has truly left me scratching my head. The first thing that comes to mind when I hear “festive” are ugly Christmas sweaters—and I highly doubt that’s actually what the couple actually wants you to wear to their wedding. The best way to think about festive is to have fun with your outfit. Choose something in the cocktail/semi-formal arena with a little sass, if you will. Add a fun print, feathers, or even some sparkle and you’ll have yourself a festive look. Bonus points if your shoes are more fun than the entire wedding party.
Ruffled A-Line Flutter-Sleeve Mini Dress
Shop it: Mac Duggal Ruffled A-Line Flutter-Sleeve Mini Dress, $598, Anthropologie
Shop it: LPA Aurora Dress, $158, Revolve
Curve Floral Sequin And Bead Mini Dress with Faux Feather Hem
Shop it: Curve Floral Sequin And Bead Mini Dress with Faux Feather Hem, $200, ASOS
Daytime or Casual
The pandemic 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.
Fresh Florals Navy Blue Floral Print Puff Sleeve Mini Dress
Shop it: Fresh Florals Navy Blue Floral Print Puff Sleeve Mini Dress, $75, Lulus
Shop it: Reformation Farley Dress, $248, Reformation
Shop it: Free People Sundrenched Maxi, $148, Revolve
Editor’s Note: This post has been updated with new information in April 2023. It was originally written by Shannon McCormick
Images: Omar Lopez / Unsplash
As a longtime secret hoe (lol I’m not that secret about it) I’m constantly looking to push the envelope bring shame to my mother via my fashion choices. And the older I get the more I thrive off the challenge. High school dress code? Sorry not sorry you didn’t account for betches with small arms when you established that fingertip length rule. College? Okay, that was less of a challenge and more of a free for all, but I remember it fondly just the same. Business casual office attire? CAROL, do not start with me rn, this crop top is clearly not in violation of the dress code and let me tell you all the reasons why. And since all of my friends are suddenly throwing away their youth engaged I just know it’s time for me to take my talents to the wedding scene. I, mean, my friends are getting eternal happiness, shouldn’t I at least be able to flash some cleavage in the group photos? It really only seems fair. So because I’m thirsty AF I value my journalistic integrity I’ve decided to outline all the ways in which you can get away with looking low-key slutty at a wedding. You’re welcome.
But before we even get started, a word of advice: Do NOT take your inspiration from Forever21’s bridal section. Forever21 has been a staple in my wardrobe for the better part of a decade because that brand has a deep understanding of both my appreciation for the freshman college scene and also my desire to never pay more than $30 for an outfit. That being said, the “wedding guest” section of their website is literal garbage. For example:
This is an actual item in their “wedding guest” line and it looks like something out of one of my revenge fantasies where I show up to my ex-boyfriend’s wedding and blow up his shit one final time. The bride-to-be won’t appreciate this look, and neither will her grandmother. But thankfully, there are other ways to be less blatantly slutty. PRAISE.
1. Go For A Different Silhouette
If you’re trying to be slutty on the DL you can’t always go for what feels right, i.e. anything that shows your cleavage. The only attention that’s going to give you is from the church ladies and the one creepy groomsman who keeps watching you from the open bar. Pass. Instead go for a slightly different silhouette, like a low-cut, backless number. Maxi dresses and jumpsuits in particular are perfect for getting away with showing a little extra skin because technically you’re covering most of your body up. Plus no one can say shit about it because your boobs are 100 percent secured. Got ‘em.
2. Show Some Leg
Bella Hadid stole the show a few years back in that red dress, high-slit number and I learned a v important fashion lesson in that moment: side vagina is the new side boob. Amazing. And while maybe you don’t want to showcase your entire labia like Bella did (I, mean, save that for later when you’re three glasses of champagne deep and wondering when you’ll meet your husband on Bumble duh), showing a little leg can go a long way. If the wedding vibe is more casual and you’re afraid the slit will make you look extra AF, choose a floral print. It makes you look more fun and flirty and little less thirsty. Only a little though.
3. Embrace The Two Piece
If there’s one thing I understand in this world, it’s how to get away with wearing a crop top in “inappropriate” environments. My mother is super proud. There’s a lot of different ways to play around with the crop top look. I recommend wearing either a longer or a fuller skirt to balance out the fact that you’re showing skin up top.
4. Pick The Right Fabric
The right fabric goes a looong way toward the type of vibe you’re going for. I’m all for velvets and silks but I have to be super careful about how they fit on my body, lest someone mistake me for an extra during the precinct scene on Law & Order SVU. If you’re going to choose a daring fabric like silk then stick to looser silhouettes, which will still give off plenty of sex appeal without you looking like a cry for help.
5. Wear A Bold Color
Finally, color choice is going to be key here. If I can’t make a statement by showing skin, then my backup plan is always to visually assault wow you with the color of my dress. If you want to go for more classic hoe vibes then you should embrace the color red. It’s tried and true and what’s expected from the girl that hazed the bride in college on her 21st birthday (Hi). Yellow is another color I highly recommend.
It’s bold enough that you’ll make all your married sorority sisters jealous AF at the wedding, but cute enough that your friend’s grandma will actually think that mark on your neck is from a curling iron and not the best man five minutes ago in the bathroom. Or, you know, you could always go with white and be that girl at the wedding.
If all else fails and you’re forced to confine to society’s social standards (ew) then just let your personality do all the work for you. There’s no way they can hide that shit show in layers of chiffon and length appropriate attire.