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What started as a side hustle for two creative, driven sisters has now become one of the Midwest’s premier event planning and design firms. At Elevate, we find pure, unbridled joy in celebrating all aspects of life - big moments, small gatherings and anything in between.

Best Dressed Wedding Guest: Dress Codes & Attire, Explained

Real talk for a minute: the wedding planning game has changed in a big way over the past few years. While quaint, perfectly Pinterest-worthy moments were once the main goal, these days the focus has shifted to the creation and curation of a fully immersive experience, complete with delectable dishes, engaging decor, and high fashion features. And yes, gone are the days where guests simply blend into the moment – in today’s wedding world, the guests are the moment!

This shift, therefore, explains why you may have noticed an uptick in the number of wedding invitations you’ve received with clearly defined dress codes, or an increase in the texts from your girlfriends asking you… “what are you going to wear to ________’s wedding!?” With couples placing a stronger priority on what they will be wearing to their own celebration, it only makes sense that they also consider what their family, best pals, and guests might be wearing as well!

But wait! Before you get too annoyed by this shift in trends – let’s consider the positives:

  1. No more guessing on what to wear! With dress codes (and even moodboards!) on wedding websites becoming a bit more mainstream, now an element of the guesswork on what to wear has been eliminated – instead, you can focus on having FUN with your decision!
  2. Now is the chance to take advantage of the amazing clothing subscriptions out there! Rather than spending hundreds of dollars on a new, very specific dress for a wedding that you might struggle to wear again, this is your chance to capitalize on a monthly subscription like Rent the Runway, Nuuly or StitchFix and rent an item that is the perfect fit! Subscribing for even a few months to get you through wedding season may ultimately be more cost effective than purchasing a few specific ‘fits anyway!
  3. Major perk for the happy couple – when they look back on their photo gallery, they will not only notice the culmination of the many details they spent months choosing and curating – they will be able to focus their attention on their beautifully dress-coded guests, who so elegantly amplify the event and its surroundings – how cool is that?!

Alright, now that we’ve fully convinced you on the benefits of dressing the part (right!?) let’s dive into these elusive dress codes, and answer your burning questions about how you’re supposed to decipher what to wear with each! To start, we’ve listed the order of universal dress codes, from most to least formal:

  • White Tie
  • Black Tie
  • Formal/Black Tie Optional
  • Cocktail
  • Semi-formal
  • Festive
  • Business Casual
  • Casual

Descriptions of all of the above will absolutely vary by stylist, wedding expert, and individual (we like this, this and this resource) but honestly – we think that’s okay! Dress codes are inherently meant to be suggestive – not a literal command. And again, with invitation descriptions and dress code moodboards becoming just as unique as the many wedding designs we are seeing these days – many couples are opting for language all their own to describe their ideal wedding guest attire!

So, with quirky dress codes on the rise and guest attire moodboards becoming the norm for many of our clients, we thought we’d get in on some of the fun and share a few “sample” dress code boards we put together to outline just how much fun you can have with your guests and fashion!

Black Tie

Right out of the gate, we will clarify – black tie doesn’t necessarily mean black everything. (To put it plainly, the greater the formality, the longer the dress hem should be!) SO, when in doubt, black is always a great color choice, but the real imperative for this dress code is dress length – hems should be to the floor, and men should opt for a tuxedo (complete with bowtie and cumberbund), or if in a pinch, a very elegant black suit. Whenever we have a city or ballroom wedding, our first inclination is to suggest Black Tie attire, since the surroundings so highly suggest it.

Best Dressed Wedding Guest

Formal/Black Tie Optional

Based on semantics alone, the lingo here implies that something slightly less formal than black tie is recommended. For ladies, floor length gowns are still suggested, but depending on the surroundings, you could add in a bit more color, pattern or detail (see our examples below)! For gentlemen, the option of a tux is always on the table, otherwise you could opt for a formal suit, crisp white shirt and conservative tie.

Best Dressed Wedding Guest

Colorful Cocktail

“Cocktail attire” is a popular choice for many kinds of weddings, and for good reason! It’s a wonderful balance between style and comfort. Rather than a floor-length dress, ladies can opt for midi or tea length, and can really have some fun with their choices (we suggest looking to the wedding invitations or venue for inspiration). Men should still opt for a suit and tie. We absolutely love when guests contribute to the overall vibrancy of the event – see a fun “greenhouse wedding” example below!


Now HERE is where the fun kicks in! Once we enter into “festive” territory, guests are given the freedom to play with their look, and can really have a good time choosing their wedding fashion. Again, we suggest using the venue and surroundings as the guiding light when making decisions, but in circumstances like this “festive western” prompt – a moodboard outlining examples and a color palette is a GREAT way to start!

Best Dressed Wedding Guest

The same concept applies to culturally-infused weddings – providing a dress code, palette and moodboard is a great way to communicate your desires to your guests, especially if some may be confused about what they are expected to wear. (And if you’ve ever been lucky enough to be invited to an Indian wedding, be sure to double check with the couple, but almost always, the answer of “can I wear Indian clothing if I’m not Indian?” is YES!)

Whether you’re a couple planning your own wedding or a guest who might be scratching their head before one this season, we hope this post and these example dress code moodboards have been helpful and enjoyable to you! The bottom line with dress codes in general? When in doubt, double check the wedding website and with the couple first, and always try to have FUN with your choices!

Happy styling!

All images in this blog post were found on Pinterest