The perennial standard of wedding guest fashion is cocktail attire—though certain weddings do call for something a little different. While receiving a black tie invitation can sometimes induce anxiety about what to wear, dressing for the occasion doesn't need to be a stressful decision.
Here's our guide to decoding the dress code for every type of wedding this season.
You're invited to: black tie
Black tie weddings—which technically begin after 6 p.m.—are the Grand Prix of nuptial celebrations. If you have been invited to a black tie event, the expectation is that you will show up donning a tuxedo or a formal gown. But this isn't something to be afraid of. Just as there are tuxedo rentals, there are formal gown rentals as well. And if you decide to buy your gown it can be a fun excuse to hire a personal shopper for the day to make sure this extra investment is going to be the right one.
It's important to note the difference between black tie and black tie optional. While the first may come with expectations of tuxedos and floor length gowns, the second allows for more flexibility and slightly shorter hemlines.
With myriad styles to choose from, don't feel that as a female guest, you're limited to dresses. For example, a well-crafted silk jumpsuit in a sophisticated silhouette is a great alternative for some formal affairs, or pairing two chic pieces in dressier fabrics like satin or silk works, too.
For the gents, if a bespoke tux is too much of an investment, consider taking a ready-to-wear black suit to the tailor's for a customized fit. Remember that if you're opting out of the tuxedo, a formal suit is definitely the expectation and you should make sure it's as polished as possible. Also, you can add another layer, such as a vest, which can elevate a basic two-piece suit into a black tie–appropriate outfit.
Care tip: Remember that silk and water don't mix. Keep it clean by absorbing as much of the stain as possible if you encounter a little spill on your silk dress or tie. Also, gentlemen should keep in mind the following tuxedo tips: unbutton your jacket when you sit down to avoid strain on the buttons (also pull it up at the knees to avoid stretching), and be careful what you keep in your pockets to help the tux maintain its shape.
The invitation reads: cocktail attire
Keep in mind that ivory or cream are off limits—that's the bride's color palette it is therefore not appropriate for any wedding dress code. Instead, consider branching out to jewel tones such as navy, emerald or even ruby hues, which can look stunning for the dinner reception and a night of dancing. You're also free to break out your favorite black dress. Though it used to be a taboo color choice for a wedding, it's now perfectly acceptable.
For the dapper gentlemen, switch up your 9 to 5 suit with a few choice accessories for a touch of personal style. Cuff links, pocket squares or a bow tie are simple ways to update a basic suit. Try switching from a black bow tie to a colorful one for a fun accent. (Note that for cocktail attire receptions, a jacket is still required.) Also remember: the navy suit is the "new tux".
Care tip: If your cocktail attire uses a bolder palette, keep in mind that these pieces require special care. Consider hand washing garments separately with a gentle detergent to prevent color transference. You can also go to a professional dry cleaner who's experienced in formal wear. For gents, consult our complete guide to caring for your suit.
What to wear: casual is the new cocktail
Whether the wedding takes place in the backyard, at the beach or in the park, some newlyweds prefer a more laid-back approach to their special day. This can make things easier for the guests, but don't forget there's a fine line between casual and sloppy. While a suit jacket may not be required, you'll want to sport something more sophisticated than a polo shirt. Make an effort to stay stylish even though the invite suggests a pared-down dress code.
For the ladies, don't rule out long hemlines even though the dress code is informal. Maxi dresses are a great way to play with length while keeping is casual. The key to making dressier silhouettes work for casual events is to choose lightweight fabrics or whimsical prints (and accessories go a long way). Alternatively, consider pairing a flowing skirt with a lighter top for a two piece that will look great when you're toasting the happy couple.
A note for the men: this is the only time you won't be expected to wear a suit jacket, so have fun with it. A tailored shirt can be key, or try playing around with a fun sport coat.
Care tip: To keep your casual pieces in tiptop shape, handle them with extra care. Place them in a laundry bag before washing them—on the gentle cycle—in the machine. Hang or flat dry to maintain the shape and fit.
Outfitting yourself for an upcoming wedding should be a rewarding experience. Whether black tie or casual, weddings are a time when you can justify buying that dress or suit that really makes you stand out from the crowd. So read up, get shopping and remember to have fun.
Made a slip with that red wine? Don't worry, no one saw that. Check out our guide to on-the-go stain removal for wedding guests..
Photos: Sweet Ice Cream Photography, Mélanie Villeneuve, Andreas Rønningen, Suhyeon Choi