Wedding Dress Codes Explained

*Photo via Men’s Wearhouse 

It isn’t always easy to discern what you are supposed to wear to a wedding when you look at the dress code. There are so many terms for attire, and sometimes they can leave you stumped. Whether you are a couple trying to decide what dress code to choose for your own wedding, or a future wedding guest trying to figure out what exactly a certain dress code means, this will demystify the most common wedding dress codes. We’ll start from the most formal dress codes, and move towards the more laid-back options.



The most formal dress code is White-Tie. This isn’t a fairly common wedding dress code option, but it is most associated with more upscale venues.

What to Wear: Men will need to wear a tuxedo with tails, along with a white shirt, white vest, and a white bow tie. Women will wear full-length gowns with more high-end structures and fabrics. For both men and women, gloves may be required as well.



While it is less formal than White-Tie, Black-Tie is still very elegant. This dress code is also much more common than White-Tie – it is formal without being too restrictive.

What to Wear: Men will still need to wear a tuxedo, but tails aren’t necessary. It can be paired with a black vest and a black bow tie. Women can wear floor-length dresses or cocktail dresses, hitting around the knee or lower. If opting for a cocktail dress, make sure it still has a more formal feel with the cut and material.


Formal or Black-Tie Optional

This dress code gives the men more of a choice when it comes to their attire. It is sophisticated, but slightly more open-ended.

What to Wear: Men can choose between either a tuxedo or a formal suit. For women, “Formal” and “Black-Tie” are the same thing. Go for a floor-length or fancier cocktail dress.


Semi-Formal or Dressy Casual or Smart Casual or Cocktail

There are a lot of names in this category, but they all mean the same thing. While you’ll still feel dressed-up in this dress code, we are starting to move towards a more laid-back look.

What to Wear: Men can wear a suit with a tie, or can opt for a blazer and dress pant combo. Women can wear just about any length of dress – a cocktail dress is a great choice, and it doesn’t need to feel as fancy as with a Black-Tie look. If you opt for a floor-length dress, make sure it has more of a casual feel, rather than what you would wear to a Black-Tie or White-Tie wedding. For both the men and women, the color and fabric of the attire will depend on the season and the time of day.


Beach Formal

This dress code implies that you should be prepared for all of the elements associated with the beach, but still look sharp.

What to Wear: Men can wear a summer suit or a shirt (think lighter material, like linen) with slacks or khakis. The look can be paired with a blazer if necessary. Sandals are appropriate, since you’ll be in the sand. Women can wear a nicer sundress or maxi dress with flats or nicer sandals.


Garden Attire

This dress code essentially implies the same things as a beach wedding: you should be prepared to be outside, but still look nice. Of course, this is a different setting, so the attire options are a bit different.

What to Wear: Men can wear a shirt with slacks or khakis, and can pair it with a lighter blazer. Women can wear cocktail dresses in lighter materials to match the season (since a garden wedding will likely be in the spring or summer).


Festive Attire

The name “Festive Attire” can be a bit confusing, and it requires you to use your own judgement. Is the couple doing a themed wedding, or hosting it on a holiday? This will give you clues as to what to wear.

What to Wear: This will depend entirely on the style of the wedding – but you likely won’t need to wear anything more formal than cocktail attire. Once you’ve determined the style of the wedding, pick an outfit that uses materials and colors that fit the theme, venue, and season.



The name is pretty straightforward – opt for a more casual look! That being said, you should still look put-together for the occasion. This is a particularly popular dress code for weddings that are held in the daytime, especially if they are outdoors.

What to Wear: Men can wear khakis or dress pants, paired with a collared shirt. If it is cooler, you can add a sports jacket. Women can wear a sundress, or a nicer skirt and top combo. Keep the season in mind. Spring and summer weddings allow for lighter materials, while fall and winter weddings are perfectly paired with thicker materials.


If you are in the process of planning your wedding, come to the next Georgia Bridal Show near you. You will have the chance to meet with wedding professionals from Georgia and the Southeast who can help bring your vision to life!


Georgia wedding vendors, as well as other wedding professionals across the Southeast, can contact us about opportunities for exhibition and online marketing with Georgia Bridal Show.