Have you ever received a highly-anticipated wedding invitation in the mail, torn it open, and immediately started worrying about what you should wear? Don’t worry; you’re not alone.

Every wedding season, women all over the Western world often stand in front of their closets, hands on hips, staring gloomily into the collection of wedding-appropriate attire they’ve amassed over the decades. Yet, the question always stands: What exactly should I wear with that dress code?

That question is exactly why I decided to read up on the matter myself in order to give you a quick reference guide you can bookmark for upcoming wedding seasons. After gaining advice from trustworthy etiquette experts like Emily Post and Martha Stewart Weddings among others, and meshing it with my own knowledge and experience with events, here’s a simple guide to common wedding dress codes that you can use as a loose guideline for future wedding attire questions.

White tie women's attire for wedding by JOVANI and David's Bridal, featured on The Pink Bride www.thepinkbride.com.

1. White Tie

Typically only seen at the most formal of weddings after 6pm (or in some cases, after sunset), ladies are most definitely expected to wear the appropriate evening attire at a white tie event. This would include a very formal floor-length gown and may call for accessories such as a shawl to cover the shoulders depending on formality. Full-length white gloves (not removed until seated for dinner) may also be expected at such events, although their appearance seems restricted to state dinners and other political events.

You should never wear a gown above your ankles to a white tie event. Jewelry, makeup and hair should be classy and glamorous. As for gown color, sticking with darker or neutral colors is likely your best bet.

Black tie attire for women at wedding by John Paul Ataker, featured on The Pink Bride www.thepinkbride.com

2. Black Tie

As the more common dress code for formal evening weddings, most of us have a little more experience at finding outfits to wear for black tie events. You can opt for a formal evening gown that’s full-length or even wear a dressier cocktail gown. Naturally, a very classy little black dress would also be appropriate in this situation. Do be aware of the length, however! You wouldn’t want anything too sexy at a formal wedding. When in doubt, ask the bride herself what length she prefers at her wedding.

You can more safely choose from a wider variety of dress colors for black tie events in comparison to white tie events, although neutral colors will always be your safest bet – and whites are always assumed to be a no-go. Just make sure you don’t wear anything too flashy or attention-grabbing. Again, be mindful that you aren’t seen as attempting to take attention from the bride.

Cocktail and creative black tie attire for women at wedding by Hannah S, featured on The Pink Bride www.thepinkbride.com

3. Cocktail

The cocktail dress code is another code seen most often at evening events. It’s sometimes referred to as “creative black tie” by a few parties. You’d be safe to go with similar options from the black tie category above, but dresses are always shorter with cocktail attire, and all accessories and even your hair style can be substantially more distinctive and on-trend. The more “creative” translations of this code suggest that women opt for much shorter dresses (i.e. at or above the knee), which also is why this dress code isn’t normally seen for weddings as often as it’s seen for wedding after-parties or other parties hosted around the event. A little black dress with trendy, flashy jewelry and fabulous heels would be the perfect complement to this dress code.

Dressy-casual wedding attire for women by Alfred Angelo, featured on The Pink Bride www.thepinkbride.com

4. Dressy Casual

An informal dress on the shorter side, closed-toe shoes, and understated accessories would likely work best for this dress code. You can also opt for separates, such as a nice skirt and fabulous top.

Wedding invitations by David's Bridal, featured on The Pink Bride www.thepinkbride.com

5. No code

If the bride and groom didn’t list a dress code on the invitation, don’t worry. Plenty of clues may indicate what you should wear, and all of them can be determined from your invitation – which may have an implied dress code.

Was the invitation made DIY, or was it professionally printed? Is it a casual design, or does it boast calligraphy and a gold-leaf inner envelope? Also, look at the details. Will the wedding be hosted at a barn or celebrated in a ball room? Next, check out the time. Will it be an afternoon wedding or an evening soiree? Finally, if none of these details gives you enough information to comfortably decide what you should wear, call up the bride, one of her close relatives, or maid of honor to make sure.


If still in doubt after asking the bride or her close friends, ask your local bridal salon expert! He or she will be able to help you interpret the bride’s wishes into a stunning ensemble that’s perfect for the celebration’s dress code.

Wondering what your date should wear? Learn what different dress codes mean for him.



Image credits as follows:

White Tie: Memphis bridal salon Unique Boutique & Bridal, national bridal salon David’s Bridal, and Knoxville bridal salon Wedding Wonderland (Image by Waldorf Photographic Art)

Black Tie: Chattanooga bridal salon Boutique Couture

Cocktail: Memphis bridal salon Unique Boutique & Bridal, Johnson City bridal salon Princess Diaries

Dressy-Casual: Knoxville bridal salon Alfred Angelo