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Wedding Dress-Codes: How to Dress for Any Wedding

So this one time, I attended a friend’s 21st birthday party. He had stipulated a dress-code and which read “an informal formal occasion” I understood it to be a semi-casual event. In my pursuit to be warm and comfortable (it was winter-time), I wore jeans with layered jumpers and a scarf. I looked nice but pretty casual. Imagine my horror (legit horror) at arriving to see other guests and friends dressed in formal gowns and suits. Now, I wasn’t the only one who was confused as a number of other guests arrived similarly dressed. Overall, maybe 40% of guests came formally dressed and the others came in comfortable casual.


When it comes to getting wedding-ready, it can be difficult to fully understand what a couple might mean by their dress-code terminology and I always advocate for easy, clear communication on this point. Whether it’s the engagement party or the big day, no one wants to be caught out being inappropriately dressed. To make things easy, I have broken down the most common dress-codes (with visual aids!) so you can pick the perfect outfit to rock out in.


Overall tips

Don’t wear white

It may sound silly, but if the bride is intending to wear white and it hasn’t been stipulated as the guest’s dress-code, don’t do it. By wearing white, the bride will stand out in the crowd of colours and patterns; if you choose to wear white, you draw attention away from her when it should be focused on the bride and her new spouse.


Keep it PG

If you wouldn’t wear it to dinner with your grandparents or boss, don’t wear it to a wedding.


Respect the code

Whether you like the dress-code or not, it comes down to making sure the couple have the day they have dreamed of. Respect their wishes and follow the guidelines, and if you’re super unsure, just ask them!


Google is your friend

When in doubt, Google the venue. This is an excellent gauge for how to dress. Look at photos of guests or even staff to indicate how formal or casual the venue is.


Now, onto the more common dress-codes!


Concept / Theme

Some couples choose to have a theme or concept wedding; this can be as simple as a colour (like wearing white or blue) or can be more complex (think masquerade or Gatsby) and is chosen to compliment a desired aesthetic. When faced with this kind of dress-code, I suggest chatting to the couple or other friends to gain further clarity, if you feel it’s needed.


Destination

9/10 a destination wedding is usually in a warm, tropical location. When this is the case, be prepared to walk across uneven surfaces and potentially stand in the sun or encounter bugs. In some such cases, dress accordingly. Similar to casual events, cotton or linen is the way to go for light and breathable fabrics. If you’re wearing a dress, bright colours and patterns on a sundress can’t go wrong. Pair with a comfortable pair of sandals or wedges, and consider a wide-brimmed hat if you are confident sunshine will be blazing.

For the gentleman, a short-sleeved button-up or collared shirt paired with a pair of light-coloured pants (not jeans) and loafers or any other comfortable shoe is a great choice.


Casual

Your version of casual might look like a singlet, thongs and boardies, but wedding-casual is different. As a gentleman, steer towards collard shirts, light-coloured pants (not jeans) and a comfortable pair of shoes. You can dress it up further with a sports jacket or tie, but you don’t need to. For the ladies, a summer sundress or similar is appropriate - think Sunday Best - with dressy sandals or wedges. The popular peasant dress could be suitable when paired with the correct accessories, but when going with casual, knee-length is ideal but don’t go longer in dress or skirt than mid-calf/tea-length.


Smart casual / Dressy casual

Here we begin to step things up a little. Jeans are an absolute no-go. Here, we’re looking at slacks with a button-up shirt, matching shoes and a belt. Ladies should be upping their style with their choice in fabric and dress-cut, as well as accessories. Think heels or formal flats paired with a nice clutch and some simple jewellery. One key element is colour; darker colours and heavier fabrics are suited to an evening wedding, whereas lighter colours and fabrics should be reserved for day-time events.


Cocktail

This is the most common and popular dress-code for weddings, as it’s an easy balance between casual and formal. For these events, head to knee-length, midi or tea-length dresses and skirts paired with low or high heels. Men should wear a suit and tie, though it is not restricted to black or grey and can include some colour or a patterned shirt. We’re aiming for elegant and polished, but not distracting.


Formal or Black-tie optional

Remember your high-school formal? Not quite that. This dress-code indicates that black tie is optional but wouldn’t be amiss here. For simplicity sake, men can wear a tuxedo or black suit. You can choose to pair this with a black tie or something a little more festive. Ladies should choose an elegant cocktail dress; length is still shorter than full-length - tea-length or knee-length - and should be paired with a glamorous heel and elegant jewellery.


Black tie

This is the second-most formal dress-code and usually indicates an evening affair. Ladies, it’s time for a gown. Think floor-length with fabulous heels and accessories, but remember to keep it classy and elegant. Gentlemen, you’re headed to the James Bond aisle for a black tuxedo. Bowties are the standard, but a black tie is also acceptable. Polish your dress shoes and don’t forget to shave!


White tie

When this dress-code lands on your invitation, there’s a 99% chance you’re headed to the shops. This is the most formal dress-code there is (think Royal Wedding); men are required to wear a black tailcoat, white shirt white bow-tie and formal black shoes. For ladies, the moment we all dream of; ball gowns! Choose something full-length and fabulous but not overpowering (remember, it’s their day, not yours). Pair it with a stunning hairpiece and you could even get away with gloves if you like.



Remember, when in doubt, ask the couple for further clarification and don’t underdress!


Until next time, keep making your special moment unforgettable x


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