15 Do’s and & Don’ts of Wedding Guest Attire

Wedding Guests Posing with the Bride

The phrase “I have nothing to wear” is common enough, but wedding season makes people shout it from the rooftops. If you’re in your twenties or thirties, you may have at least one ceremony per weekend during the wedding season. Some will be casual, others will be semi-formal, and dress codes are always a possibility. What are the rules of wedding guest attire? How can we make it through without maxing out every credit card? Here are our top do’s and don’ts when considering what to wear.

The 15 Do’s and Don’ts of Wedding Guest Attire:

Here's a quick rundown of elements to think of when choosing the perfect outfit as a wedding guest! Everything from traditional attire etiquette to weather should be considered.

1) Do Consider the Wedding Dress Code

Is this celebration black tie, semi-formal, casual, or even a costume party? What the couple wants should always be considered before making any fashion decision. 

Here’s a quick rundown of the most common wedding dress codes:

    • Black Tie: floor length gowns, black ties, tuxedos.
    • Formal: floor length gowns, tuxedos optional, black suits acceptable 
    • Semi-Formal: below the knee dresses, dress shirts, slacks
    • Casual: sundresses, collared shirts, khakis

2) Do Consider Location

The attire you wear to a beach will (obviously) be much different than the outfit you rock at a ritzy hotel. Consult the dress code provided, but use common sense when it’s time to decide between sandals and heels.

Wedding Guests Posing with the Couple

Photo: Brittney Lucy Rivera | Fog Bridesmaid Dresses

3) Do Check the Weather

Know the forecast before you leave the house. Be prepared for rain, snow, or whatever else Mother Nature decides to throw at you. Ladies, the most important thing to consider is wind! Do not wear a shorty, flowy gown that you’ll have to hold down all evening. The last thing you want is a Marilyn Monroe moment in front of 200 people.

4) Don’t Match the Wedding Party Colors

Make sure you know the couple’s color palette. The invitation should give you some insight, but it doesn’t hurt to ask a member of the wedding party. You don’t want to be mistaken for a bridesmaid or groomsman, right?

Wedding Shoppe Bride and her Bridesmaids

5) Do Wear Layers

Layers are something everybody should live by. AC can be a life saver, but it can also be a woman’s worst nightmare. Bring a cute, cropped jacket, shawl, or cardigan no matter what. An outdoor party can quickly turn chilly as it reaches evening hours. Tights and leggings are layers to think about, too.

6) Do Consider Time of Day

This may seem obvious, but so many people forget that summer evenings can still be a bit nippy! Layers are a great go-to, but if the event is an evening affair, consider a maxi dress or long-sleeved cocktail look.

Bride and Groom Posing in Front of Wedding Guests

7) Don’t Wear White

This isn’t the first time you’ve heard this, but I can’t leave it out. White is an obvious faux pas, but be careful with champagne, cream, and even light shades of gold and tan. Brides are going for colored wedding dresses these days, so an awkward match can happen when you least expect it.

8) Do Think Twice Before Wearing Black

Obviously someone with a lack of love for the Little Black Dress came up with this rule years ago without thinking of its flattering and fashionable traits. At modern weddings, wearing black can be perfectly acceptable within reason. Just make sure you aren’t wearing something that you’d wear for a funeral. Since a wedding is a celebration and some people might misinterpret your choice to wear black, it might be safer to wear a brighter, cheerier color.

9) Don’t Dress Too Casual & Definitely Don’t Wear Jeans

Don’t mistake a casual dress code for jeans and a t-shirt; those are never acceptable unless you’re specifically told by the bride and groom that they’re having jean and t-shirt nuptials. Trade in your Levi’s for a pair of khakis or slacks. You’re still participating in an important ceremony even if it’s a casual affair.

Bride and Groom Walking the Aisle

10) Do Wear the Right Undergarments

Remember that concept of “wind” we discussed above? The dreaded Marilyn Monroe moment? An easy way to avoid potential slip of nudity is to make sure you’re wearing the proper undergarments for your outfit. You also don’t want the entire room seeing your underwear, bra, or shapewear. Make sure all your layers fit well and will stay put comfortably during hours of sitting, standing, eating, and dancing.

11) Don’t Go Too Bold

Sequins, animal prints, bright red, and other over-the-top designs are fun for a night out but not the right choice for a wedding. Of course you want to look good but you don’t want to be the center of attention at someone else’s wedding. The focus should always be on the bride, not your outfit.

12) Do Ask Friends What They’re Wearing

If you’re stuck, there’s nothing better than getting advice from a fellow attendee. That way you can exchange ideas and will be less likely to commit a fashion faux pas. You could also avoid the potential “one of us needs to change” moment by making sure you aren’t wearing the same thing as other guests.

Wedding Guest Outfit Ideas

Credit: Kost Productions

13) Do Lean Toward Modesty

Summer calls for showing a little skin, but don’t go over the top. This is similar to the rule about going too bold. You don’t want to be a distraction from the bride on her big day. If you find yourself in between a few dress options, it’s safer to err on the side of modesty when it comes to wedding attire.

14) Do Wear Comfortable Shoes

If you know you’re a dancing fool and will be on the dance floor for hours, comfortable shoes are a must-have. Flats or wedges are always good options. If you want to wear heels, consider a shorter heel or a chunky style. If you think your heels will get uncomfortable, you can always pack a pair of flats or sandals for later on in the night. 

15) Do Consider Bridesmaid Dresses

Bridesmaid dresses are obviously wedding-approved, so don’t shy away from wearing one. Here are some of our favorite simple bridesmaid gowns that can easily double as wedding guest attire:

Satin Midi Wedding Guest Dress in Dusty Sage

Satin Midi Wedding Guest Dress in Dusty Sage 

One Shoulder Satin Midi Dress in Taupe

One Shoulder Satin Midi Dress in Taupe

V-Neck Wedding Guest Dress in Dusty Blue

V-Neck Wedding Guest Dress in Dusty Blue

Black Satin Midi Dress

Black Satin Midi Dress

Strapless Long Navy Wedding Guest Dress

Strapless Long Navy Wedding Guest Dress

Wedding Guest Attire Examples by Dress Code

Wedding guest dress codes can be confusing. While each one of these dress codes has a set of suggested attire, it’s important to keep in mind the location, weather, and what you know about the bride and groom when you pick an outfit. When in doubt, it’s safer to choose an option that’s a little more formal. 

Below are some guidelines for each wedding dress code. While these suggestions are gendered, you can always opt for a more gender-neutral option if you’d like as long as it is formal enough for the wedding couple’s chosen dress code.

1) Black Tie Wedding

Black tie weddings require a full tuxedo for men, preferably with patent leather shoes, and of course a black tie. In summer men could wear a white jacket with tuxedo pants. Women are expected to wear a full length gown that is formal and covers their ankles. A formal pantsuit can also be a great option.

2) Formal Wedding Attire

Another name for a formal event is “black-tie optional” which gives a good idea of the dress code’s intentions. A formal wedding is fancy enough for men to wear a tuxedo but they could also opt for a nice black suit with a simple tie. Women should still opt for a full-length gown but could make due with a nice cocktail dress.

3) Cocktail

Cocktail attire for men is a suit and tie. For women, cocktail attire could be a knee length or longer dress. The intention is to still look very classy without being quite as strict in dress code as a formal wedding.

Formal Wedding Attire

Kennedy Blue Moss DressCR Photos

4) Semi-Formal Wedding

Semi-formal might be the most common wedding dress code. Think date night at the nicest restaurant in your town. Men should definitely wear slacks and a dress shirt but they can choose if they’d like to wear a tie and sport jacket or not. Women should wear a nice dress, skirt, or pants.

5) Beach/Destination

An important factor in dressing for a beach wedding is the weather. Men can wear a nice linen shirt or a breathable button down with khakis or slacks. Women can wear a nice sundress or flowy skirt. Don’t dress down too much just because you’re on the beach, it’s still a wedding. Just remember to wear something that can withstand an ocean breeze and will be comfortable in hot weather. You may want to consider something that won’t show sweat in case it’s an especially hot day.

6) Casual Wedding Attire

A casual wedding means you can wear something more comfortable and more similar to what you would wear on a normal day. Jeans, t-shirts, tank tops, flip flops, and sneakers should still be off-limits. Men can wear a nice pair of khakis and a collared shirt. Women could opt for a sundress, a nice skirt and blouse combo, or a jumpsuit. 

Do you agree or disagree with any of the 15 rules above? Have more to add? Let me know in a comment below!

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Leave a comment

MaryEllen Lamothe
April 18, 2024 09:23

We’re going to a wedding in the mountains. Invitation reads “formal attire: long dresses for women, etc…” Most formal dresses look like cruise-wear to me and doesn’t look good on an older women (82). So I’ve chosen a black long sleeved top, with white w/ black trim frilly long skirt, black boots, pearls. My daughter says too bride like! Yea or Nay?

April 18, 2024 09:22

Can I wear animal print coat for a semi formal wedding

December 04, 2023 10:14

Wearing a black dress is perfectly acceptable at a formal/semiformal wedding at night as a guest.
Family members/wedding party is decided by the bride or in line with wedding color scheme.
The length & fabric is more important pending on time of day and season.

Lynn stohr
December 01, 2023 09:43

I’m the grandmother of the groom going to a formal summer wedding. Is my deep purple 3 piece dressy pantsuit appropriate to wear?

December 04, 2023 10:12

I don’t wear dresses but i do wear black dress up pants and black dress up jackets what colour blouse does anyone suggest i wear to a wedding
Thank u

Anna Collins
June 16, 2022 08:32

My friend is holding her wedding at a beach next month, and I need an evening wear dress to wear to the party. It’s good that you mentioned how it’s best to consider the time of day since summer evenings can still get a bit chilly. I’ll be sure to remember this while I look for clothing stores that sell evening-wear women’s apparel. http://duchessa.us/

October 28, 2019 11:42

Well black dresses are really elegant. I love black dresses myself. But we should wear it in the right place. If you know what I mean. For me, wearing it on a wedding is a Big NO NO! Except if that’s OK with the couple getting married of course. Or for some reason that’s their wedding theme. But if not I suggest not too. My MIL was wearing FULL LONG BLACK dress on my wedding day. I was so upset obviously. She was so visible in our wedding pictures given she’s the only one wearing black. Like she’s not aware of our wedding theme.. .

May 16, 2019 07:46

This is truly useful, thanks.

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May 16, 2019 07:46

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May 16, 2019 07:46

I thought wearing black meant you looked unfavorably on the match.

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