Weddings can be a lot of fun but also incredibly stressful – there are so just many questions when it comes to clothing. What should I wear as a wedding guest? What should I wear as a best man? Are weddings black tie?
With the various dress codes and traditions, a minefield of etiquette, plus the prerequisite of dancing for hours in stiff dress shoes – weddings take effort to prepare for.
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Although the preparation might seem like work more than anything, weddings are meant to be a celebration and also a load of fun. So deciding how to dress should reflect this aspect rather than being an event we have to attend. After all, a wedding is essentially a massive party.
This is the biggest day in a couple’s life together, and you’ve been invited to share that day with friends, family or both.
So to help lift your game for the occasion, we’ve put together a list of dress codes and styling options to help you decide what to wear to weddings.
Black tie dress is very formal and also common at weddings, so it’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with this style. The main elements of black tie are a white dress shirt with a black bow tie, a waistcoat and dinner jacket (tuxedo in the US). That’s essentially it.
Black tie doesn’t always have to include a black tie or suit, so you can experiment with shades of navy or grey if you feel the need. Other items to include are cufflinks, black leather shoes and even suspenders, but they’re not prerequisites.
As you’ll be needing to attend black tie events every so often, it’s a good idea to invest in some quality pieces so that you look sharp whenever the need arises.
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What does “black tie optional” mean?
Just as the name suggests, a black tie optional dress code allows invitees to decide whether to adopt black tie styling or not. It’s likely that a lot of guys will wear dinner jackets and ties, but you’re just as likely to see regular grey and navy suits at these weddings. If in doubt, go slightly overdressed rather than underdressed.
It’s not a bad idea to wear a dress shirt and tie, but you might opt against a bow tie. It’s really down to what you prefer. Perhaps think of black tie optional as a black tie theme, but the reality is that you’re better off just wearing whatever you feel comfortable in.
Cocktail is a less formal dress code than black tie so there’s some room to play around with styling options here.
It sits somewhere between high formal and a regular office suit, meaning you aren’t always locked into a specific set of conventions.
You could wear a tie as quickly as you decide not to. Try a navy suit with a solid colour shirt and brown shoes, for example. You might even ditch socks for an outdoor summer wedding to get some sun on your ankles. Adding cufflinks would also be a nice touch here, too.
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Casual wedding attire isn’t as casual as it sounds. While you don’t have to wear a waistcoat and black tie, how relaxed you can go is still somewhat limited. So a T-shirt won’t cut it unfortunately. Think of it as a casual take on formal wear.
Good options to go for include dress trousers with a blazer, or you could take the safe route and wear a suit. It’s probably better to wear a tie at casual dress weddings but it’s your personal choice in this case rather than a requirement. Brown or black leather shoes are good choices, and if you’re not feeling shy then wear a pair of suede shoes to amp it up.
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What to do if it's a relaxed dress code
While you might not often hear of weddings that have a relaxed – or nonexistent – dress code, they are more common than you think.
What’s great about little or no dress code is that you can style yourself boldly without worrying if you’re crossing lines of appropriateness. Now let’s take a look at some options for a relaxed wedding outfit.
Although you could technically go for a dinner jacket, there’s a risk that you might show up the newly-married couple if you’re dressed too sharply (you could even inquire about that if you’re unsure).
So you could try an outfit that sits somewhere between cocktail and casual to play it safe. Good options are a grey or navy suit, white dress shirt with or without a tie and black or brown leather shoes.
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Remember, always dress for the season
Getting the dress code right is one part of deciding what to wear at weddings, but seasonal attire is just as important. While you can’t predict what the weather will be like weeks or months in advance, there are some obvious seasonal choices that can help to get your styling right.
For an autumn wedding you should focus on your layering game. Whether for more or less formal weddings, a waistcoat can be removed if it’s too warm. You can also experiment with earthy colours to add some seasonal flavour. For winter weddings, meanwhile, you might prefer to focus on cosy fabrics – so wool, tweed and herringbone are solid choices here.
A spring wedding could be either warm or cool, so it’s a good idea to have layering options at this time of year. As with autumn, spring weddings are a good opportunity to play with colour – so a blue suit if it’s warm, or grey if it’s cool. In summer, go for a light-coloured suit and try including some breathable fabrics if possible. You also can’t go wrong with linen in summer.
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Don't forget about white tie
A white tie dress code will be selected at only the most formal of weddings. It’s not your everyday style of dress, but it’s still good to know what the differences are between this and the other dress codes.
Styling options here should include a black tailcoat, white bow tie and an optional white waistcoat. Don’t forget to add a wing tip shirt, button studs and black shoes to round out the look. While a wedding that utilises this dress code will be a seriously formal affair, it’s not so common.