As you visualize your perfect wedding, you are also gazing at your glorious guests all decked out in classy or comfy clothes that exactly match the occasion. Now come back to reality so that you can gently and properly convey the dress code to them.

First of all, there are a few things that you cannot request of your guests without falling into the Bridezilla category. You should not request that your guests dress in colors or tones that will match your selected color scheme. Not everyone will look good wearing teal/lime green/russet or happen to have it hanging in their closet. It will also make it difficult to determine who is in your wedding party if you’ve decided that all your bridesmaids will be wearing your color of choice.

Secondly, while you can have a themed wedding (pirates, 1920’s, Halloween, whatever…) you can’t actually demand that they show up in a get-up. Some may be willing and able to play along, but others will have their own reasons for not arriving in costume.

Your goal, as the gracious hostess of this best-party-ever is to ensure that your guests are comfortable. That means appropriately attired for the time of day and the type of event.

If your wedding is a high-noon formal affair at a house of worship with a dinner reception to follow, your dress code will be completely different from the afternoon tea for more than two in the park. And letting them know the dress code is relatively simple, it goes on the invitation.

There are truly only three categories of dress for events: Formal, Semi-Formal, and Casual. Then each category is broken down into Daytime and Evening. According to the Emily Post Institute this is the simple break out:




Women: Cocktail or dressy afternoon dress.

Men: Dark suit; conservative shirt and tie.


Women: Depending on local customs, long evening dress or dressy cocktail dress; gloves optional.

Men: Tuxedo (required if invitation states “Black tie”) or dark suit.




Women: Dressy afternoon dress, suit, or pantsuit.

Men: Dark suit or blazer and grey flannels, tie.


Women: Cocktail dress, dressy pantsuit.

Men: Dark suit and tie




Women: Afternoon dress; dressy skirt or pants and blouse.

Men: Sports jacket or blazer with slacks, tie optional.


Women: Afternoon or cocktail dress.

Men: Blazer, grey flannel or slacks, tie optional.


Your guests will get a hint of how to dress for your bash from the style of your wedding invitation, the time of day, and the venue. Plus in the lower right hand corner of your invitation you will provide a subtle direction:  Formal, Semi-formal, or Casual.  The formality of the invitation will reflect the type of event you are hosting so be consistent.

You don’t send out an email invitation to your beach barbecue and then tell people it is a formal occasion. And as a guest you don’t show up in your cargo shorts to the cathedral when you have received an engraved invitation requesting the honor or your presence.

There are no-no’s that will happen, but you can certainly hope that your guests are smarter than that. For instance the only one allowed to wear a white dress is the BRIDE. And wedding guests should not confuse a cocktail dress (which is considered tasteful) with a club dress that contains not much more than your essentials. Also, a smart guest will know that a strapless dress needs to be covered in church, and all dresses should allow you to sit and stand without risk of overexposure.

Good guests will keep the focus on the newlyweds by dressing with style and class. Good brides will be clear about wedding details. And all will live happily ever after.


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