What To Wear To Each Type Of Wedding Based On Dress Code

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!

1. Casual

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

2. Cocktail

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;

Shannon McCormick
Shannon McCormick
Shannon McCormick (previously under the alias of 'Betch Dressed') is a self-proclaimed fashion expert with a sick obsession for all things Bravo. She primarily writes about everything fashion, but also dabbles in other areas because she's a talented overachieving Virgo. Follow her on Insta (@shanmccormick) and comment/DM topics you want to hear her incredible take on next!