Share this Story

What to wear to a wedding

Deciphering wedding dress codes

Wedding season used to be so easy: If it was a daytime wedding, you wore a nice floral dress. If it was an evening wedding, you wore a cocktail dress or a black-tie gown. Now, though, wedding invitations come with complicated codes such as "dressy casual," "smart casual" and "creative formal." Here's how to figure out what to wear to a wedding.

basic dress codes, defined

Black tie

This one is easy: Men should wear tuxedos if they have them, dark suits if they don't. Women should wear evening gowns or fancy cocktail dresses.

Black tie optional or black tie invited

The bride and groom know that not all of their friends own tuxedos, so they're letting you off the hook a little. Dark suits and fancy dresses are still suggested.


Wear whatever you want! Jeans, sundresses, even shorts are all on the table.

Cocktail attire

This means short, elegant dresses for her, dark suits for the guys.

Creative black tie or creative formal

You still wear an evening gown, but men can feel free to get a little creative with their ties or choice of shoes. For example, cowboy boots and a bolero tie, or a dashiki-inspired vest with a tuxedo.

Daytime semi-formal

This warrants suits for the guys, and short dresses or dressy suits for ladies.

Dressy casual

This is the one that stumps most people. The idea is to have a dressed-up version of a casual look. So, you might wear nice pants and a blouse with a little sparkle. Your date might wear khakis or other non-suit, non-jean pants and a sportcoat. No jeans or shorts.


This usually means the same thing as black tie, but a little looser.


This one trips up a lot of people. It is not the same as casual. Informal is actually the same as semi-formal (see below).


Dark suits for men and cocktail dresses for women.

Smart casual

This is code for "no jeans." Your date should wear khakis and a nice shirt, while you can wear a cotton dress with a little more bling than if you were just going out for lunch.

White tie

This is ultra formal. Women wear long dresses, and men wear tuxedos with white vests, shirts and ties.

If all else fails, call the bride and groom, or a member of the bridal party. This is perfectly acceptable and much better than feeling uncomfortable at a wedding.

more on weddings

Find the right wedding dress for you
Get great wedding advice

Find wedding vendors

2 of 2
New in Love

And you'll see personalized content just for you whenever you click the My Feed .

SheKnows is making some changes!

b h e a r d !

Welcome to the new SheKnows Community,

where you can share your stories, ideas

and CONNECT with millions of women.

Get Started