Invites Decoded: What to Wear to a Wedding

A wedding is an important occasion for the bride and groom, and as their guest, it's important to show up dressed appropriately. People keep wedding photos for years, and the advent of social media all but guarantees that any photo you appear in is up for good (darn you Facebook!). Suffice it to say, what you wear to a wedding is important. But how do you know exactly what to wear? Every wedding is different, and every bride and groom will want to put their own stamp on their ceremony. Don't panic just yet. We’ve got the wedding invite details to help you thanks to celebrity wedding planner Mindy Weiss, who has worked with La La Anthony, Nicole Richie and Fergie on their special days.

Black tie vs. black tie optional

While both indicate that the wedding is formal, Weiss says that black tie optional is letting people know that a tux and gown is not required. "Black tie indicates that men should wear a tux and women should dress in long evening gowns," Weiss says. "If the wedding is black tie optional, men can opt for a suit instead of a tie and women can wear a long gown, but they don't have to; they can also opt for a knee-length dress." 

If the wedding's at night and doesn't specify either black tie or black tie optional, you can dress as you would for a cocktail party. Dark, rich colors are always good (it used to considered a fashion faux paus to wear black to a wedding, but nowadays, that's mostly fallen by the wayside), and your jewelry and accessories can be more elaborate than you would normally wear, say, for a daytime wedding. Whatever you wear, make sure you don't wear white unless the bride specifies that it's okay. "There's a new trend with brides asking their guests to wear white," Wiess says. "But only in this circumstance is it okay. Otherwise, it's not appropriate. Let the bride be the only one wearing white!"


No matter how casual the wedding, it is better to be overdressed than underdressed. You may think this sounds obvious, but you'd be surprised at what people think is appropriate to wear. (We can verify that a red sweater with a reindeer was worn at a formal Catholic wedding. Yes, seriously.) Weiss says jeans are always a no-no, but if the dress code specifies casual, you do have some freedom.

"Men should wear nice khakis or cotton pants with a nice shirt – either a polo or a dress shirt with no tie, but one up from a T-shirt," Weiss says. "A sundress is always a nice option for ladies." 

If the wedding is outdoors in a garden-type setting or on a beach, don't be afraid to experiment with bright, summery colors. Those weddings tend to be more on the casual side, so you can't go wrong with a nice sundress, a pair of wedges (or any other shoes that are easy to slip on and off) and an easy hairstyle (like a sleek pony or curls).

White tie 

"Think Queen Elizabeth," Weiss says. "White tie is as formal as formal gets in Western society." Tuxes and long gowns are not optional at white ties and should be paired with long gloves for ladies and top hats and tails for men.

Semi-formal daytime wedding

These can be kind of tricky – if the wedding is a daytime affair but the invite doesn't specify casual, you may want to leave the sundress at home, but you probably shouldn't wear a cocktail dress or gown. You don't have to wear a suit, but you generally can't go wrong with separates, according to Weiss. "This is a social event, so don't be stuffy!" she says. "Wear a skirt with a blouse, and make sure the skirt is not too short." A dress is another option, but if you opt for a dress, make sure it's not too short – go for knee-length.