Dress Code on Wedding Invitations


Nowadays there are so many different kinds of weddings, you may not know what kind of attire to wear. It could be anything from casual to black tie. So when your invitation says something like “black tie optional”, what exactly does that mean? And should you be expected to wear a tux or a ballgown? That kind of language may not mean much to the average wedding guest. So we've broken down some of the dress code terms commonly found on an invitation, and what they really mean.

Explanation of Dress Code on Wedding Invitations

"White Tie"

You can't get any more formal than "white tie" (Think award ceremonies or state dinners). There's not a lot of room for interpretation with this dress code, but most weddings don't fall into this category.

  • For women: A long ball gown. Generally this will be in a more neutral color. Women should be dressed from head to toe, from their hair style to their high heels.

  • For men: The only appropriate attire is a tuxedo. But not just any tuxedo, one with tails on the jacket, a vest, bow tie and white gloves.

"Black Tie"

This is also extremely formal, but just slightly less formal than “white tie.” Most of the time, this will indicate an evening wedding.

  • For women: A nice cocktail dress or floor-length gown. Don't feel as though you need to wear a long gown, a shorter dress, as long as it's nice, will do just fine. If you feel self-conscious about what to wear, ask the bride or a bridesmaid what most people are expected to wear.

  • For men: A tuxedo is suggested. However, most of the time men can get away with a nice conservative black suit. You can get away with wearing a white jacket in the summer.

"Formal" or "Black Tie Optional"

This is a complicated dress code on a wedding invitation. How optional is the “black tie” attire? Exactly how formal should you dress? Well, read on.

  • For women: A nice cocktail dress, a floor-length dress or dressy separates.

  • For men: A nice, conservative suit and tie

"Beach Formal"

What if it is "beach formal" dress code on wedding invitation? When you hear it, your mind immediately goes to a casual engagement. However, “beach formal” does mean some formality, but also dress for the elements.

  • For women: A formal sundress, either tea or knee length. Flat sandals or wedges (obviously high heels are a bad idea and will just get stuck in the sand). Makeup and hair can be relaxed.

  • For men: A summer suit with a button-down shirt, khakis or linen pants. No ties are necessary. Sandals are acceptable.

"Semiformal" or "Dressy Casual"

This is another difficult dress code on a wedding invitation to figure out. Just how casual or dressy is it? The best way to figure out what to wear is to look at the time of the event. If it's earlier, then you can feel safe dressing a little more casual. If it's later, think about dressing it up a bit.

  • For women: A nice top and skirt or cocktail dress

  • For men: A suit with a tie is appropriate. You can get away with a lighter suit if the wedding takes place earlier in the day.

"Festive Attire"

This is a relatively uncommon dress code on a wedding invitation. So now many guests who see this on an invitation may be confused. For the most part, guests can feel free to wear whatever they want. Go for cocktail attire with more fun colors and patterns.

  • For women: A sundress or cocktail dress in a bright color

  • For men: A suit and a fun or colorful tie


This is basically means it's going to be an early, backyard or beach wedding. You can basically wear whatever you want. However, overly casual items like a tank top or denim shorts probably are not acceptable unless noted. Business casual is the best way to go.

  • For women: A sundress. Make sure it's fun and summery.

  • For men: A button-down or polo with dress pants of khaki trousers.

Writing Dress Code on Wedding Invitation

So now that we've defined what each of the dress code terms mean, what do you do if you're the one getting married? How to you write the dress code on wedding invitations so all your guests clearly understand what to wear?

Where to Include the Dress Code

Most people include the dress requirement on wedding invitations or on their reception cards, but if your dress code could be seen as unclear, you might want to include the instructions somewhere else. You can either add an extra dress code card in your invitations. If you have a website for the wedding, put it under the FAQ section.

Where to Put the Dress Code on the Wedding Invitation

When designing your wedding invitation, there is a specific space to put extra information. It's called the "corner copy." This is the best place to put a dress code. Most wedding invitations have the option of including one. Generally, the "corner copy" is found at the bottom of the wedding invitation. If what you need to say is too long to fit on the invitation, think about adding a separate card with the dress code and anything else guests might need to know.

How to Word Dress Codes

There are a list of acceptable terms for a dress code on wedding invitations. From most to least formal, here's a list of acceptable terms.

  • White tie

  • Black tie

  • Formal, formal attire or black tie optional

  • Semiformal or dressy casual

  • Beach formal

  • Cocktail or evening attire

  • Jacket required (This is for when the venue requires a jacket, not the wedding couple)

  • Casual

If the ceremony is outdoors, feel free to write “outdoor ceremony” on the invitation instead of the dress code. This alludes to more casual attire, but for guests, remember to check the weather for how to dress. In addition, women should opt for sandals or wedges, as high heels could get stuck in the grass.