Understanding the Dress Code and Wedding Etiquette for 2023 Weddings

Many brides need to pay more attention to the dress code when inviting guests. We understand you want to keep the vague “Festive Attire”, but you may be interested in being more specific. Here are some tips and tricks you can use to help alleviate confusion when it comes to the dress code and wedding etiquette for your big day.

Providing clear and detailed instructions about the dress code for your wedding can help guests feel more confident and comfortable in their attire choices. Consider including examples or visuals of appropriate outfits for each dress code category to ensure everyone understands the expectations.

Tell me the dress code

Invites are one of the first things a person receives for the wedding. This is a good chance to introduce the style of your wedding. Use the invitations to explain the wedding dress codes and the feeling of the wedding you want for your visitors.

Common Wedding Dress Codes

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Formal Attire

Formal clothes are typically worn at weddings. Although you can find this wording for wedding attire on most invitations you’ve received from the mail, this does not make the dress code completely clear. Generally, a formal wedding dress code has fewer formalities than black-tie weddings. For example, women can enjoy a more comfortable cocktail dress. 

White-tie Attire

White-tie attire is the most formal of any dress code. White-tie clothing or full dress is commonly suited to elegant events, including a state dinner party, royal banquet party and formal wedding ceremony. Although white-tie weddings haven’t been common for a long time, dress accordingly when invited. 

White-tie weddings require a tuxedo for men. Guests can wear a white piqué shirt under a white vest with a bow tie and cummerbund. Pants should match the colors and material on jackets. White- tie trousers often contain satin or grosgrain stripes at the edges. Full-length ball gowns, low heels and elegant accessories are the norm with a white-tie dress. 

Black-Tie Attire

Imagine your black-tie wedding dress code at an Oscars or other red-carpet event. This wedding dress code needs to be formal. Women can wear long gowns made of silk, satin, crepe, chiffon or beads. Avoid high heels and sandals at a black-tie wedding, but ballet-like flat shoes or wedges are appropriate. The men should wear suits with matching pants, black bowties or ties. You can also go with a tuxedo.

Formal or Black-Tie Optional Attire

Black-tie optional means a less formal approach to black-tie is acceptable. The tuxedo is optional, but it can be a plus if you still wear one. If not, a suit will suffice. Make sure to wear formal dress shoes with your formal wedding attire. Women can choose a floor-length gown or go with a cocktail dress. Remember, evening weddings are typically more formal than daytime weddings. 

Learn more: Top Tips for Black-Tie Optional Wedding Guest Attire in 2023

Cocktail Receptions

Cocktail attire is the most common choice in dress code. It is a perfect mix between elegance and comfort. Instead of full-length gowns, women can choose between short, knee-length or midi dresses. Men can opt for a dark suit. Keep looking stylish and polished, but never dress in anything too extravagant so you don’t distract from the newlyweds.

Semi-formal or Dressy Casual

Part of dressing in semi-formal or formal casual ceremonies includes considering the ceremony’s time of day. Wear darker colors in the evenings and choose lighter colors and fabrics for daytime activities. Choose from a dress or dressy skirt and top. A fashionable pantsuit also makes sense. Pair it elegant wedges or formal sandals.

If the ceremony happens outside and you are walking over the lawn, you should avoid traditional heels that might stick to the grass. Men should go with a dress shirt and slacks, dark or light, depending on the time of day. They can also wear ties. 

This dress code for weddings is slightly softer than a casual dress but not as bold as cocktail attire (or as fancy as formal attire). Dress for semi-formal ceremonies with elegant but simple attire. Classic color combinations, such as navy blue and black, have become popular in semi-formal wear.

Casual Wedding Guest Dress Code

The ceremony at a casual wedding will usually occur outside the hotel or by the sea and therefore is likely to be a much more relaxed celebration, specifically regarding dress. Jeans, shorts and tank tops are inappropriate if they note unless the couple specifically notes them as suitable. Summer sundresses will make sense, but keep them from being too formal.

Wedges and dressy shoes are perfect for casual weddings. Avoid sneakers or flip-flops. Men can wear dress pants or khaki pants paired with collared shirts. You could add ties and jackets to your wardrobe, but that is optional. Depending on the climate, the weather could be warmer. Keep an eye on the sleeves and avoid heavy fabrics.

Festive Wedding Guest Dress Code

These dress codes are pretty new, making many visitors scratch their heads. Essentially, it means guests have the right to have fun and experiment with their outfits. Embrace brighter colors and playful accessories. Women wear cocktail and party dresses in fun colors and accessories. They may wear heels or dressy flats. Men should wear suits topped off with bright ties or creative pockets with contrasting colors.

Tropical or Destination Wedding Guest Dress Code

Location determines how to put on your attire. Check the forecast before arriving to determine the appropriate weather for your location. 

A tropical wedding, for example, can be a very humid event, so dress appropriately. Keep an open mind and always be cautious in your approach. As in the informal wedding, wear cotton dresses and comfortable or wedge shoes unless the couple specifies otherwise. Guayaberas shirts are usually considered proper wedding attire for the tropics.

Wedding Etiquette

Weddings are fun affairs to attend. However, they are also often fraught with more than a couple of etiquette landmines. Here are a few reminders for when you receive your invite to the happy day itself.

Host Etiquette

Admit it: You have attended a wedding where something about the affair made you uncomfortable. The dinner may have been delayed while the couple was having formal pictures taken. You may have ordered a drink at the bar and were handed a bill. 

Not so lovely, was it? 

But now you are the hosts. Ultimately you want your wedding guests to go home happy. Since you are here, we will give you some rules:

Pick Your Wedding Date Carefully

Sure, a wedding night on a Friday, Sunday or weeknight will save you some money. However, this could create a problem for your guests’ attendance if they do not live nearby. Many will need to take a day off of work.

Immediate family may have to take even more time off to attend your rehearsal dinner. A clever compromise if you are set on a Friday or Sunday affair is to hold your wedding on a holiday weekend. These working individuals will automatically have an extra day off.

Do Not Make Guests Wait

Another wedding-day itinerary to avoid, mainly if most guests are out-of-towners, is a morning ceremony followed by an evening reception. It’s wrong to expect guests to kill so much time between events. It would help if you left at most a two-hour window between the ceremony and reception. 

If circumstances happen out of your control, find a backup plan for out-of-towners to do during that time. A good friend or family member will likely host a cocktail party in their home or you can arrange a locally guided tour of your area.

Think your Menu Through

Chances are some of your guests observe dietary rules. You may have a few friends you know who are vegetarians or keep kosher. Observe your guest list and see who might fall into this category. 

Most caterers will accommodate these guests for little or no extra charge. Ensure the catering manager understands where these folks are sitting and that your guests know that you’ve taken care of their needs ahead of time.

Another thing: While you and your fiancé may be adventurous eaters, remember many of your guests may not feel the same way about food as you. If you serve unique dishes, provide at least one alternative selection for less-adventurous guests.

Cover All the Weather Bases

Your childhood dream may have been to have an outdoor wedding. Think about the consequences if it rains or the temperature suddenly fluctuates. 

You and your guests will only be miserable unless you plan carefully. If the forecast looks bleak, ensure you have access to an indoor space. You want to ensure your guests are comfortable.

Pay All Reasonable Expenses for Your Guests

As a wedding guest, it isn’t fantastic when you put your purse down and walk to the bar to get a cocktail to find it’s a cash bar. It’s a cheap move. Understandably, a bride might want to keep alcohol costs down, but asking out-of-town guests to pay for drinks is never okay. Consider serving only beer, wine and a single signature drink.

Additionally, valet parking adds a layer of convenience for your guests. Hire valets only if you’re willing to pick up the tab. Better yet, take care of tips for guests, too.

Be Thoughtful about Single Seating Guests

It’s a tricky question to answer, seating all your single guests together or throughout the room. If you need more single guests to fill one table, ensure they know other people at the table. You can sit unattached colleagues with people they work with, or your high school or college buddies together.

Another excellent idea: If you are having a small wedding, ask your single pals. There might be certain people they would prefer to sit by at your wedding. Then you can make the table maps together to assign seats with whom they would like to sit.

In addition, while you are under no obligation to invite single guests to bring dates, it is a lovely gesture.

Anticipate the Needs of Older Guests

We know you love your grandparents, so take a few minutes and think through what your wedding will be like for them. Are the walks from the parking lot to the church and reception venues long? 

You should arrange for and direct them to reserved parking places marked with signs or orange cones at both locations. 

Will they have to stand for long periods? Arrange to set up tables and chairs at your cocktail hour and ask a friend or family member to ensure they’ve found seats.

Also, don’t seat elderly guests next to the band or its speakers. And before booking a prospective ceremony or reception venue with many stairs, find out whether there’s an elevator your guests can use to avoid the climb.

Greet Each Guest Personally

Of course, you talk to every guest when you throw a dinner or cocktail party. But do you need to speak to everyone at your wedding, which may very well be the biggest party you ever host? Absolutely. People who have taken time to celebrate your nuptials with you must be personally acknowledged.

While it’s easy to make the rounds if you have a small wedding, it can be trickier if you’ve invited several hundred people. One strategy is to divide and conquer. You visit your friends and family and let your groom pay his respects to him. Also, this is an excellent time to give special thanks to those who traveled long distances or were helpful to you during your wedding planning process.

Send Thank You Notes Promptly

Guests may have one year to buy you a present, but you should only take up to two to three weeks to acknowledge one. Consider pre-addressing and stamping the envelopes to make the process easier and faster. Then, you and your husband can write the notes on the plane. In each letter, mention the gift and how you might use it. And don’t think it has to be lengthy  — three sentences will do the trick.

Keep Your Guests’ Budgets in Mind When You Register

Registering for gifts is a beautiful concept. It removes the guesswork and ensures you will receive things you need and want for your new life. Remember, in addition to selecting your favorite pieces, choose items at different prices. You might need everything from hand towels, spatulas and cookbooks. However, you may desire more expensive items like crystal stemware and electronics. Incorporating a wide price range will help you find something within everyone’s budget.

Guest Etiquette

RSVP Promptly

Be sure to get back to the happy couple before the wedding. Late replies not only require them to change the headcount but also to shuffle around complicated seating arrangements.

Alleviate that stress a little by replying early. If there are other questions attached to the invitation — such as your preference for an entrée — answer those as well ASAP.

Bring a Plus One Only If Specified

Only bring a plus one if it specifically says on the invite that they have reserved the extra seat for you. Similarly, only bring your entire clan if the invite includes you and your partner.

Some weddings may also specify that they are adults-only events and that children are not to be in the reception. While this is rare, you must respect the couple’s wishes and leave the little tots at home with a babysitter.

Do Not Wear White

You are not the bride. Her wedding day is not the day to steal her thunder. The better option will be the formal black dress if you have nothing else besides black and white pieces in your closet. Why not go out and buy something new? Or borrow a dress from a friend? Take note of the motif and try to see if you can find something within that color wheel.

Also, dress appropriately. Light, flowy dresses and linen pants are acceptable if the wedding is on a beach. If, however, it is an indoor evening event, adjust accordingly. If the invitation states that formal dress is required, please comply.

Do Bring a Gift

It is only proper to show up with a gift for the couple. This is the intention of a wedding registry.

If you cannot afford any items on their wish list, consider pooling your resources with familiar friends and sharing the cost of one incredible gift. If this isn’t possible, find the time to get them a personal, well-thought-out gift. Your presence would count for the couple, but a nice gift wouldn’t hurt.

Show Up on Time

The only person allowed to be late is, you guessed it, the bride. Show up a little early. Therefore, this should give you time to greet other friends or members of the family you may know and find yourselves seats in the church or venue.

If you are part of the wedding entourage, you should be there before the ceremony starts. There is typically a time for official bridal party photos and other last-minute instructions.

The wedding planner should have given the bridal entourage a call time the day before, so set your alarm early and make sure you follow the schedule.

Do Not Inquire About the Wedding Expenses

Not only is this crude and tasteless, but it also puts the couple in an awkward position of having to discuss finances on a day that is to be celebratory. If you know how much those floral centerpieces cost, approach the planner and get her number for future reference and event costing details. In the meantime, admire the beautiful décor and enjoy the party. 

We hope this guide has helped clear up some of the etiquette mysteries surrounding weddings. Now, off to shop for wedding guest clothes!

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