Wedding dress code etiquette: what to wear to your friend's wedding
by Lauren Sinton

Photo by  Rog Walker

Photo by Rog Walker

Weddings are so much fun and if you aren't the one planning it, there isn't much to stress about. Although with today's wedding trends changing so rapidly it can be hard to know what to wear to your friend's wedding. With Celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Solange Knowles instructing their entire bridal party and even their guests to wear white, it can be anxiety inducing to know what is and isn't appropriate to wear to a wedding.

Is white still off the table? What about red, or black? What does black tie optional mean? And the most frightening of all, what if there is not dress code attire specified on the invite? We have created a dress code etiquette guide that will reduce anxiety and keep a smile on your face all the way until the last song is played at your friends wedding!


Generally the answer is still no. White is pretty much off the table, unless you have been directly instructed by the bride to wear white. If you are a bridesmaid (or even a family member) there is a chance you will be asked to wear white, as it is a very stylish trend! Even if you know that the bride is wearing a wedding dress that isn't white, you should still steer clear of the color (because maybe her bridal party is donning the color).

Photo by  Sara Lazaro

Photo by Sara Lazaro

Some White:

Wearing some white is generally okay, especial if it is mixed in with your dress (or skirt). What you want to avoid is looking bridal, so if the white is overshadowed by other colors, then you have nothing to worry about! Although if you are worried about it, you can avoid white altogether, so you have less stress and enjoy your friends big day!

Photo by  Pink Peonies

Photo by Pink Peonies

Red and Black:

The answer is yes red and black are both okay (together and separately). Generally wedding guests have been instructed to avoid red because it is too sexy and to avoid black because it is reminiscent of a funeral. Though both colors can be worn in ways that avoid these faux pas's. If you are attending a wedding in a church it would be best to avoid a tight red dress with a plunging neckline. When wearing black dress it up in fun ways with pops of color, in order to dispel any notion that you may be in mourning.

Photo by  Viva Luxury

Photo by Viva Luxury

Photo by  Pink Peonies

Photo by Pink Peonies

Black Tie Required:

Black tie required (specified on the wedding invites) generally means very formal. This means long evening gowns for women and tuxes for men. If you must wear a shorter dress (no shorter than knee length) wear darker colors for a fancier look. Generally though with a wedding this fancy it's just better to stick to floor length.

Photo by  Lilian Haidar

Photo by Lilian Haidar

Black Tie Optional:

Black tie optional is a bit more flexible and casual than black tie required. It generally means that the bridal party is wearing evening gowns and tuxes, but as guests you can get away with more formal shorter dress and nice (darker) suits. Although it does mean that if you have a long evening gown you have been dying to dust off, you should feel totally free to wear it!

Cocktail Attire:

Cocktail attire is much more casual than black tie, and generally specified for outdoor summer (and afternoon) weddings. For weddings with this type of attire women can wear short fun dresses and men can wear light colored suits without ties if they please.

Beach Formal:

Beach formal means dressy but also prepared for sun, sand and the ocean! Think fun but formal short dresses for women, and linen dress shirts and pants for men. Also for footwear go with dressy sandals, or shoes that are easy to take on and off! You will most likely be going shoe-less at some point, so keep that in mind.

Attending a beach formal wedding? Read our guide on what to wear!
Attending a beach formal wedding? Read our guide on what to wear!

Casual Attire: 

When the bride and groom specify casual attire on the wedding invitation it generally means anything goes. That being said I wouldn't show up in sweatpants and a t-shirt. Generally a comfy casual dress, or a dressier pant and top combo would work. If you have a nicer pair of jeans, you could wear that with a dressy top (because who knows the groom may even be in jeans)!

Photo by  MILOU + OLIN

Photo by MILOU + OLIN

No dress code specified: 

Honestly for me this is the hardest type of dress code to manoeuvre. When I have no dress code direction I start to get worried and confused that I will either be underdressed or overdressed. Although remember it is always better to be over dressed! The other thing you can do in this situation is either contact someone you know that is close to the bride or groom, or contact the bride or groom and ask. Normally you want to avoid pestering the bride and groom before their wedding, but in this case I would say a quick call or text message is okay.

We definitely hope this clears up all of your wedding dress code questions, and if you still have more questions feel free to ask away! We would love to hear what other wedding attire faux pas you think people should avoid, or what new trendy style you want to wear to weddings! Let us know.


Lauren Sinton is a recent graduate from UC Davis with a degree in English and an emphasis in Creative Writing. She is a prolific poet and loves absolutely everything about writing and reading poetry. She has also been planning her own wedding since she was in the 2nd grade, which is now finally coming in handy since she is recently engaged.