Formal Attire 101: What to Wear to a Formal Wedding
So, you received an invitation to a wedding and it requires "formal wedding attire." While this is one of the most popular wedding attires on the dress code spectrum, you might still be stumped on what to wear to a formal wedding and how it differs from other formalwear, like black tie or cocktail. To give you a helping hand, we've tapped experts to break down formal attire for weddings, including what it means, what to wear (and what to avoid) and how to accessorize. Plus, we've rounded up outfit examples—including dresses, jumpsuits, suits and tuxedos—that you can shop on the spot. Read on for our expert advice.
In this article:
What Is Formal Attire for a Wedding?
"Formal wedding attire sits between cocktail and black tie on the wedding dress code scale. It's slightly more elevated than cocktail attire and a touch less dressy than a black-tie nuptial," says Alex Rivera, a stylist at Stitch Fix, a personal styling service. Formal wedding attire (synonymous with black-tie optional attire) offers more flexibility than black tie, so dressy separates and dresses that hit above the ankle are acceptable, as well as fitted, darker-hued suits paired with a crisp white button-down and tie, adds Rivera.
While shopping for formal wedding outfits, start by considering the venue and season. "These two important details will help provide an idea for the ambiance, the couple's personal taste, and ensure you've dressed appropriately for the occasion," explains Rivera. For example, for summer events, lighter fabrics, brighter colors and shorter hems are common for formal attire. On the flipside—if you're attending a winter wedding—darker shades, thicker fabrics and longer sleeves and hems are the way to go. In summary, prioritize seasonally appropriate pieces that are elevated and fancy, but still feel like you.
Unlike black-tie attire, you have much more flexibility when it comes to colors, embellishments and hem lengths. "Don't be afraid to have a little fun with your fashion either through a fun color or playful print," says Bridal Stylist Gabrielle Hurwitz. "A knee-length dress, midi dress, or even a flowy maxi dress are all appropriate; I also love the idea of a jumpsuit, suit or a patterned suit or a tuxedo with a standard necktie rather than a bow tie." As for accessories, a "colorful shoe, patterned tie, statement piece of jewelry or a fun pair of sunglasses (if the wedding is outdoors)" are all ways to add personality to your ensemble, according to Hurwitz.
Overall, pick an outfit that you truly love and feel your best in, while still being respectful of the couple's attire request. As for colors to avoid for formal weddings, steer clear of "white, ivory, cream, or champagne-colored dresses and light-colored suits," continues Rivera. You should also avoid pieces that may read as too casual, such as a "cotton sundress or sports coat with chino pants," advises Hurwitz.
Now that you're familiar with formal wedding attire and what it means, it's time to dive into our top outfit picks! With the guidance of our experts, we've searched high and low for the best formal wedding outfits for every style, from chic black jumpsuits to sleek patterned suits.
Formal Wedding Attire for Women
Formal wedding guest dresses include both evening gowns and elegant cocktail frocks, so pick the hemline you feel best in. That being said, you don't have to wear a dress at all. "A jumpsuit is the perfect alternative to a dress and will provide ultimate comfort for a busy day of wedding festivities," says Rivera. We're also big fans of suits and other dressy separates. Check out our favorite styles, below.
BHLDN Ruby Twist Halter Satin Gown
Here's a classic formal wedding outfit that'll help you channel your inner Sofia Richie Grainge. Crafted from sleek satin charmeuse, this BHLDN dress available in sizes 0-26W and boasts a classy twist halter neckline that skims the hips and hugs the waist. It comes in ten different colors, making it a foolproof wedding guest dress for any sophisticated soirée.
Lulus Eternal Bond Blush Satin Ruffled Flutter Sleeve Maxi Dress
This formal satin wedding guest dress is a stunning choice for spring or summer nuptials. The highlight of this piece is the dramatic ruffled bodice that flows to an asymmetrical, high-low skirt. The modest boat neckline will look beautiful paired with sparkly statement earrings. Choose from two dreamy hues: blush pink or light blue.
Ulla Johnson Fiona Gown
For your next formal beach wedding, this breezy, crinkled silk chiffon dress is a worthwhile pick for any summer celebration. Try accessorizing with dainty earrings, a small handbag and kitten heels, and you're good to go!
Sachin & Babi Brittany 4-Way Stretch Crepe Gown
This Sachin & Babi gown is the definition of formal wedding attire. The dress is ultra-flattering and gives the body a beautiful shape, all thanks to the 4-way stretch crepe fabric. The tall-friendly frock has elegant off-the-shoulder sleeves, a feminine sweetheart neckline and a floor-length skirt with a side slit for the perfect dose of sophistication.
ELOQUII Metallic Halter Jumpsuit
You'll make the whole place shimmer in this silver metallic jumpsuit from ELOQUII. Available in sizes 14 to 28, this plus size jumpsuit is accented with a halter neckline and high-rise, wide-leg pants. The hidden pockets and the glimmering hue make this an ideal outfit for fall or winter functions.
BHLDN Stargazer Valetta Empire-Waist Backless Gown
So maybe you don't want to buy formal wedding attire that you'll only wear once. Enter: Nuuly, where you can rent the cutest pieces from brands you love like BHLDN and Anthropologie. The rental subscription is $98/month for its service, which ships six clothing items, like this stunning celestial gown pictured above, for only $98/month (with laundry and repairs included). Psst: Get $20 off your first order at Nuuly using the code THEKNOT20 at the link below.
Reformation Veria Silk Dress
This Reformation number is the "it" girl of formal wedding dresses. From the halter neckline to the wrap front that ties at the back neck, you'll look undeniably elegant in this maxi-length number. Plus, the open back adds a flirty element to this floral wedding guest dress. As for colors, you can opt for a sage green or a blue floral pattern for formal wedding attire.
BHLDN Leila Satin Charmeuse Maxi Dress in Sand Dune
Effortlessly elegant, this wedding dress for a formal wedding is simply gorgeous. The plunge neckline, three-quarter length sleeves and gracefully draped bodice define this refined number. Style it with dangly earrings and chic mules for a standout wedding guest ensemble.
For Love & Lemons X Revolve Bustier Gown
Who says formal dresses can't be fun? This bestseller from For Love & Lemons, which is available in six gorgeous colors, is incredibly sexy and will definitely make a statement. Highlights included a lacey bustier bodice with underwire cups that's attached to snap-closure bodysuit. The real showstopper? The tiered ruffled tulle hemboned bodice that was made for the dance floor.
Indochino Hampton Black Tuxedo
We can't get over how stylish this women's tuxedo from Indochino is. The tailored tux is made from luxurious cashmere and silk-blend Super 140s wool. Plus, it has a satin trim that highlights the buttons, lapels and pockets. It takes about three weeks to ship, but that is because it is custom made based on your measurement profile for that perfect, high-quality fit.
Formal Wedding Attire for Men
Formal weddings are great because the dress code is fancy (it's fun to get dressed up!) but also flexible. Men can wear a tuxedo, but they don't have to—a dark suit and tie are also appropriate. Dress shoes fit the bill when it comes to footwear. Consider patent leather loafers for a tux or laced oxfords for a suit. A formal wedding is also the perfect time to break out the cufflinks. "Pair them with a french cuff (a shirt with a double cuff), and make sure your sleeve extends slightly past the length of your jacket so the cufflinks are visible," says Rivera.
Ted Baker London Josh Trim Fit Shawl Lapel Tuxedo in Navy
This timeless navy blue tuxedo with contrast shawl lapels is a fresh take on formal wedding attire for men. Although the price tag is hefty, you can rewear this outfit to future weddings and other upscale events. Note: This tux runs small, so order one size up to achieve your best fit.
SuitSupply Black Roma Suit
Name a cooler formal wedding outfit. We'll wait. This suit features a relaxed fit and concave notch lapels for a put-together look that gives nonchalant refinement. Complete your wedding-ready outfit with a pocket square, necktie and dress shoes.
The Black Tux Light Grey Suit
Grey is another foolproof color choice for formal weddings in the summer. Crafted from 100% super-fine Italian merino wool, this suit has pants available in both regular and slim fits. The best part? The Black Tux makes shopping for formal attire easy with the option to rent or buy, depending on your preference.
SuitSupply Navy Herringbone Havana Suit
For men's formal wedding attire, you can't go wrong with a dark suit with a subtle pattern, like this stylish herringbone ensemble. Simply select your size, then spruce up your look with a silk pocket square, sleek necktie and loafers.
Proper Cloth The Allen Tuxedo
You can't go wrong with a timeless black tuxedo for men's formal wedding attire. From the one button shawl lapel to the black silk buttons, you'll be the best-dressed guest at the party. Elevate your outfit with a printed bow tie and a pair of dressy oxfords or loafers.
Indochino Highworth Suit in Burgundy
Deep burgundy is one of our favorite alternative color options for formal attire. This dapper suit from Indochino was made for upscale occasions. The fabric contains a unique geometric diamond weave and has other high-quality components, including fully canvassed lapels, bullhorn buttons and shoulder pads.
Banana Republic Signature Italian Hopsack Suit Jacket and Pants
You heard it here first: Banana Republic is back, and they've brought their A-game. Available in short, regular and long lengths, this suit is crafted from a beautiful wool hopsack fabric and finished with signature pickstitch details. If that's not impressive enough, it's also wrinkle-resistant, breathable and has stretch for freedom of movement. Oh, and you can choose from three stylish colors: khaki, navy and black.
Paul Smith Men's Velvet Two-Piece Tuxedo
This velvet blue shade is another excellent color for formal wedding attire. The single-breasted suit jacket has peal lapels, padded shoulders and single-button fastening with a graphic floral-printed lining. Meanwhile, the regular-rise pants offer a slim, skinny fit in the same captivating shade.
Indochino Highbridge Nailhead Suit in Navy
This formal navy suit for wedding guests should definitely be on your radar. You can customize the suit or turn it into a tuxedo to make it even more upscale. And you can even add a vest to complete your ensemble. Simply follow the directions for your customizations, then make your picks. (Yes, it's really that easy.)