How to Know What to Wear to a Wedding

From black tie to casual, our wedding guest cheat sheet has everything you need to know about wedding attire.
by The Knot
Wedding processional and guests
photo by Joshua Brown Photography

Has a wedding invite ever left you clueless about what to wear? Don't worry, the info you need is likely there—you just have to know how to interpret the dress code wording. Whether it's black tie, white tie or something in between, here's a basic cheat sheet for deciding what to wear.

If the invite says "white tie"

This is the most formal of all wedding dress codes (think state dinners and the Oscars).

He should wear:
A tuxedo, a long black jacket with tails, a white pique vest and a bow tie. Formal black shoes and even white gloves for dancing are appropriate.

She should wear:
A formal, full-length ball gown. Glamorous makeup and dramatic jewelry and hair are appropriate.

If the invite says "black tie"

This is the next most formal wedding dress code and usually means the wedding is an evening affair.

He should wear:
A tuxedo. A black bow tie, cummerbund and patent leather shoes are also suggested.

She should wear:
A chic cocktail dress or a long evening gown. The bride, wedding party or close friends can help answer questions about the appropriate dress length.

If the invite says "formal" or "black tie optional"

The wording here suggests something slightly less formal than black tie. This means that a tuxedo isn't required, but the event is still formal enough for one to be appropriate.

He should wear:
A tuxedo or formal dark suit and tie.

She should wear:
A long evening dress, dressy suit or formal cocktail-length dress.

The invite says "beach formal"

This suggests an elegant beach wedding—so dress to impress, but also dress for the elements (sun, sand and water). Anything you'd wear to a nice restaurant on a summer night is appropriate.

He should wear:
A summer suit with a linen shirt (no ties required), linen pants (or khakis) and sandals.

She should wear:
A formal summer sundress at tea or knee length with flat sandals. Makeup and hair can be natural.

The invite says "semiformal" or "dressy casual"

Depending on the time of the event, you'll want to dress somewhere between formal and casual. Wear darker, more formal hues for an evening fete; opt for light colors and fabrics for a daytime wedding.

He should wear:
A suit and tie, dark or light depending on the season and time of day.

She should wear:
A cocktail dress or a dressy skirt and top.

The invite says "casual" or "daytime"

Generally, casual means anything goes—but jeans, shorts and tank tops are probably not appropriate unless they're specifically noted as acceptable. For the purposes of wedding wear, assume business casual to be on the safe side.

He should wear:
Dress pants with a button-down shirt or polo.

She should wear:
A summer sundress or a skirt or pants with a nice blouse. Makeup and hair can be natural.

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