Whatever Shall I Wear?

March 2, 2018


So...you have an invitation to a wedding, party, event...  Now comes the big question! Whatever shall you wear?


A few basic rules to remember first: never dress to upstage the wedding couple or the party host; avoid dressing more formal than you believe the couple/host will be dressed; don't wear anything that will call excessive attention to yourself; and the ultimate no-no - never wear white to a wedding unless its an 'all-white' wedding! Don't even wear white to the engagement party, rehearsal dinner or wedding reception!


The second thing is to take a look at the wording on your invitation! Your hosts have most likely provided the desired attire on their invitation. If not, let the season and hour of the event be your guide!


If there is no indication of the proper attire, then dress according to the time of day of the event.  An afternoon wedding generally means a coat and tie (light-colored slacks are acceptable) and flowing dresses. An evening wedding calls for a suit or coat and tie with dark slacks and that 'little black dress' or cocktail dress. Never wear blue jeans. Even if you believe the attire is casual, make it your best casual and not your weekend-at-home casual.


If you are the couple or host, the best ways to disclose the dress code to your guests is to include wording within your invitation or on your event website.


Some wording on invitations describing the attire may still leave you wondering. So we are going to attempt to help you understand event dress coding or at least look for signs of the appropriate wear for your event from the invitation. 


What does your invitation say? White tie, Black tie, Formal/Black tie optional, Creative black tie, Warm Weather black tie, Business Formal, Cocktail attire, Lounge, Beach formal, Semi-formal/Dressy Casual or Sunday's Best, Festive Attire, Casual/Daytime, Smart Casual, Country Club...the choices are endless!  Well, here are some loose guides for you!


White Tie:

This is the most formal of all wedding dress codes--think state dinners, charity fundraisers, government ceremonies, weddings, opera, award dinners, etc.

For him -

A tuxedo is best--a short or waist-length black jacket with tails (tails should reach to the back of your knees), matching high-quality black pants, a starched white pique wing-collared shirt with stiff front, white vest or cummerbund, and a white bow tie. Shirt studs and cuff links. Formal black shoes, black dress socks, and even white or gray gloves for dancing are appropriate.

For her -
A formal, full-length ball gown is a must! Accessorize with optional opera length gloves (optional) and dramatic jewelry. Glamorous makeup and up-do hair are appropriate.


Black Tie:

This is the next most formal wedding dress code and usually means the wedding is an evening affair. It also is appropriate for charity fundraisers, or political dinner parties. 

For him -
A tuxedo without tails or dark suit with matching trousers. Formal white shirt (pique or pleated front) and a black bow tie or necktie. With or without black vest or cummerbund  to match tie. Shirt studs and cuff links. Black patent leather shoes and black dress socks are also suggested.

For her -
Your dressiest, chic cocktail dress or a floor-length evening gown. The bride, wedding party or close friends can help answer questions about the appropriate dress length.


Formal/Black Tie Optional:

The wording here suggests something slightly less formal than black tie. This means that a tuxedo isn't required, but the event is still formal enough for one to be appropriate. This includes elegant galas, silent auctions, weddings, and formal dinners.

For him - 
A tuxedo or formal dark suit (black or charcoal), white dress shirt, and conservative, solid-colored tie. Patterns are minimized, leather dress shoes are shined, dark dress socks, pocket square and cuff links.

For her -
A formal, floor length evening dress, dressy suit or formal cocktail-length dress, or a little black cocktail dress. Accessorize with long gloves, clutches, jewelry.


Creative Black Tie:

This wording is sometimes seen for galas, silent auctions, weddings, or formal dinners.

For him - 

Tie with trendy prints, dressy shirt, contemporary blazer with dress slacks. Dress shoes and socks.

For her -

Formal, floor-length gown, dressy cocktail dress, or trendy separates. Accessorize with fun or unique accessories, such as trendy feathers, sequins, sheer fabrics, or capes.


Warm Weather Black Tie:

This wording refers to formal events held outdoors, such as cruise line, country club dinners, weddings, and galas.

For him -

White dinner jacket (wool, garbardine, linen, or cotton) with black trousers, white dress shirt, bow tie, cummerbund, black leather shoes.

For her -

Long gown with white gloves and minimal jewelry.


Business Formal:

For him - 

Dark business suit, optional matching vest, dress shirt, conservative tie, leather dress shoes and dark dress socks.

For her -  

Suit, business-style dress, dress with a jacket, heels.

Cocktail Attire:

This is slightly less formal than black tie and black tie optional, which means no tux required for men and no floor-length gown required for women (unless you'd like to wear a long dress). It can also applies to events such as adult birthday parties and evening social events.

For him -

A suit and tie. Lean toward darker hues in chillier months, and feel free to opt for lighter grays or blues in warmer weather.

For her - 

A cocktail dress, dressy suit or jumpsuit, shorter dress with some frill, classic "little black dress".



This coding would apply to daytime engagement parties, business breakfasts, and afternoon tea.

For him:

Dark suit with french-cuffed, crisp white shirt. With or without a tie. Can wear a vest instead of a tie.

For her -

Nothing too sparkly or low cut. Dress above or at the knee; couple with a jacket.


Beach Formal:

This suggests an elegant beach wedding—so dress to impress, but also dress for the elements (sun, sand and water). Anything you'd wear to a nice restaurant on a summer night is appropriate.

For him -
A summer suit with a linen shirt (no ties required), linen pants (or khakis) and sandals.

For her -
A formal summer sundress at tea or knee-length with flat sandals. Makeup and hair should be natural.


Semi-Formal or Dressy Casual:

Depending on the time of the event, you'll want to dress somewhere between formal and casual. Wear darker, more formal hues for an evening fete; opt for light colors and fabrics for a daytime wedding. Also applies to church and dinner events.

For him -
A business suit and tie (dark or light depending on the season and time of day), trousers and dress shirt with blazer or seasonal sport coat and slacks and tie. Matching vest optional. Casual button-down shirt, open-collar, or polo shirt. Slip on shoes, leather dress shoes and dark dress socks. 

For her -
Short afternoon or cocktail dress, little black dress, dressy skirt and top, silk pants, dress pants.

Avoid: denim, tennis shoes, cotton tee shirts.


Festive Attire:

This coding is used for the holidays.

For him -

Seasonal sport coat or blazer and slacks, open-collar shirt, or dress shirt, festive tie.

For her -

Cocktail dress, long dressy skirt and top, little black dress, dressy pants outfit or separates in holiday colors.


Casual, Daytime, or Business Casual:

Generally, casual means anything goes—but jeans, shorts and tank tops are probably not appropriate unless they're specifically noted as acceptable. For the purposes of wedding wear, assume business casual to be on the safe side. This coding also applies to company parties, daily work attire, and business lunch meetings.

For him-
Dress shirt, turtleneck, casual button-down shirt, open collar or polo shirt. Dress or khaki pants, Cargo or Bermuda shorts--depending on occasion and climate. Optional to layer with a v-neck sweater, blazer, or sport coat. Tie is optional. Loafers, sneakers, sandals acceptable.

For her -
A summer sundress, casual dress, skirt, khakis, pants or nice jeans with a nice blouse, open collar shirt, knit shirt or sweater (no spaghetti straps); Makeup and hair can be natural.


Smart Casual:

This coding is usually associated with office parties, happy hours, and business luncheons.

For him -

Collared shirt, dressy trousers and loafers.

For her -

Silk or button-down top, pencil skirt or dress pants and high heels.


Country Club Casual:

Events with this coding would include cruise lines, country club, friend's home for dinner, and nice restaurant.

For him - 

Open-necked or polo shirt, paired with khakis. Wear leather shoes and belt.

For her - 

Open-necked or polo shirt. Either dress or skirt with minimal accessories.


There are a lot of other titles that are very creative that you may find on your invites. And your dress wear can get creative along with it! Some examples of that wording would be: Garden Attire, Swanky Chic, Summer Chic, Cowboy Casual, Creative Casual, Black Tie Fun, Black Tie and Boots, and Masquerade/Costume, among others. Now that you have broken the event dress coding, get fashion-savvy and look great at your event!







Please reload

Recent Posts

Please reload


Please reload






  • Facebook - Grey Circle