Formal Attire 101: What to Wear to a Formal Wedding

Spoiler alert: It's not the same as black tie.
Three formal wedding guest outfits
Photos, left to right: Sachin & Babi, Anthropologie, Indochino
lauren whalley headshot
by
Lauren Whalley
lauren whalley headshot
Lauren Whalley
Fashion Editor, Beauty & Inclusivity
  • Lauren writes and edits articles for The Knot Worldwide, with a specialty in fashion, beauty and size inclusivity.
  • Prior to The Knot Worldwide, Lauren worked in wedding editorial for Brides, Style Me Pretty and Enaura Bridal.
  • Lauren studied public relations and advertising at the University of Central Florida.
Updated Nov 15, 2023
We have included third party products to help you navigate and enjoy life’s biggest moments. Purchases made through links on this page may earn us a commission.

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:

THE KNOT ORIGINAL VIDEO

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.

Lovers and Friends Willa Midi Dress

Lovers and Friends black velvet formal midi wedding guest dress
Photo: REVOLVE

Attending a formal winter wedding? This elegant black velvet midi dress is sure to fit the vibe. Its chic asymmetrical neckline and back slit make it a sophisticated and stylish choice.

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 Chloe One-Shoulder Side-Slit Georgette Gown in Pink Combo

BHLDN peach one shoulder formal wedding guest dress
Photo: Anthropologie

With its flattering wrapped waist, one-shoulder silhouette, and front slit, this peach gown from BHLDN is perfect formal wedding attire. It also comes in Black, Midnight, and Moss, so you can choose the color that best suits the season and your preference.

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

BHLDN wedding dress for a formal weddings

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.

ASOS DESIGN Pleated One Shoulder Scuba Midi Dress in Aubergine

ASOS DESIGN aubergine one shoulder formal wedding guest dress
Photo: ASOS

This stunning one-shoulder number from ASOS DESIGN is sure to impress at your next formal wedding. With its deep purple hue and chic side slit, it's a perfectly elegant choice.

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

Ted Baker London navy tuxedo for men's formal attire

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

Indochino burgundy suit for formal winter weddings

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

Relaxed tan suit for a formal wedding by Banana Republic.
Photo: Banana Republic

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.

ASOS DESIGN Skinny Velvet Tuxedo

ASOS DESIGN black velvet tuxedo formal wedding guest attire
Photo: Nordstrom

This stylish black velvet tuxedo is an excellent option for a formal wedding in winter. The soft velvet fabric contrasts with the smooth satin on the lapels and on the stripe running down the sides of the trousers.

Indochino Highbridge Nailhead Suit in Navy

Indochino formal navy suit for wedding guests

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.)

Up Next
  • A guest's guide to every type of wedding attire 2023.
    Wedding Guest Dress Codes, Decoded