Cracking the wedding guest dress code

Your guide to cracking the wedding guest dress code

Tips + Advice // by QB

Ah, the infamous wedding dress code dilemma! It’s like stepping into a fashion minefield sometimes, isn’t it? But fret not because we’re here to crack the wedding fashion codes for you.

Let’s start with the idyllic garden wedding. Picture lush greenery, blooming flowers, and the gentle sway of trees. For this setting, think light, airy, and elegant. A garden wedding typically calls for semi-formal attire. Opt for a stylish cocktail dress or a flowy maxi dress in soft, breathable fabrics. Pastel colours or floral prints are always a safe bet to complement the natural surroundings.

Now, onto the grandeur of “Black Tie.” This is the crème de la crème of dress codes, indicating a formal affair. For men, it means a tuxedo with all the trimmings – bow tie, cummerbund, the works. And for the ladies, it’s all about floor-length gowns or chic evening dresses. Think sophisticated and glamorous.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have “Smart Casual.” This dress code strikes a balance between casual and formal. For gentlemen, it could mean dress trousers paired with a collared shirt (sans tie), and for ladies, a stylish blouse with tailored pants or a skirt. The key here is to look polished and put together without being too stuffy.

And finally, the elusive “Lounge” attire. If you’ve found yourself pondering this one, you’re not alone. Lounge attire is a step above casual but not quite formal. It’s about dressing comfortably yet stylishly. For men, this could mean a blazer paired with chinos or dressy jeans, while ladies can opt for a chic dress or separates with a relaxed vibe.

Check out our images for each style below and you’ll be RSVP-ing with confidence in no time!

Feature photo by Graeme Passmore Photography, from the wedding of Hannah and Lachlan at Hideaway Weddings, as featured in our ISSUE 122.

Related article: Wedding wishes: 20 ways to write in a wedding card

White Tie or Ultra Formal

This is a great chance to go completely over-the-top with classic full-length gowns, a sleek up-do or styled curls, sky-high heels and a little sparkle – in other words, channel your inner Hollywood A-lister. Men, up the glamour with a long black jacket or coat with white tie, white wing collar dress shirt and (if it takes your fancy) a vest. Usually suited to celebrations after 6pm, this dress code is all about keeping things elegant.

Black Tie

Essentially, a Black Tie invitation calls for formal attire. Cocktail-style dresses (but nothing too flashy or revealing) are appropriate, as are long evening gowns or chic evening separates. For the men, tuxedos are the way to go, complete with cufflinks, black socks and shoes. But don’t be fooled – it may be called ‘Black Tie’ but you can also splash out with a colourful pocket-square or bow tie for something a little different.


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Black Tie Optional

A tuxedo is still a classic go-to for this dress code, but a dark suit and tie will also work. Classic cocktail-style or long dresses and evening separates are also fabulous – just think more ‘special occasion’ than ‘off to the club’.


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Creative Black Tie

Creative Black Tie leaves room for contemporary interpretations of formal wear. Think fashionable cocktail styles, long dresses, evening separates, or a smart tailored pant- or skirt-suit. For men, mix old-world style with a modern touch and go with something like a tux paired with a black or coloured shirt.


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Daytime/Evening Formal

This dress code is similar to Black Tie but a little more relaxed. Feel free to get a little dressy with a cocktail dress, smart skirt-suit, beautiful separates or a tailored pant-suit. And show some personality by throwing on a cool leather or suit jacket over the top when the sun goes down. Men, get creative with coloured shirts under suits or even something with a very faint pattern or a tux with no tie.


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Semi-Formal or After Five

Semi-formal or After Five means that tuxes are not required, nor are long dresses. An evening wedding (after 6 pm) would still suggest dark suits for him and a cocktail or mid-length dress for her. Daytime semi-formal events can mean a suit for him and a (still respectable) short dress or a tailored suit for her. A word to the wise: save the sequins and satin for an evening Cocktail or Formal event.

Cocktail Attire

Cocktail attire is usually for weddings held after 5 pm. Go for a shorter (but still elegant) dress and dark suits for him with a funky pocket square or shirt.


A popular choice for slightly less formal weddings, Lounge sits somewhere between Smart Casual and Formal. Shorter cocktail-style dresses or a tailored suit are acceptable, while a dark-coloured business suit is appropriate for him. Men, consider a dressier or more interesting shirt-and-tie combination than you might wear to the office.

Dressy Casual

Dressy Casual calls for dressed-up versions of casual looks (simple enough). Consider tailored pants, elegant separates or an easy-to-wear (but still classic) dress. And men, go with trousers and a sports coat. Sorry, ‘casual’ doesn’t mean jeans, shorts or t-shirts!

Smart Casual

Sorry, no jeans and singlets for this look either. Keep things simple with separates like tailored pants or a skirt with a pretty blouse, or frocks in natural fabrics – ditch the full-length gown. Jackets are still a good idea for him, but try a linen suit or a sports coat.


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Resort Casual

Picture the scene – you’re sitting under a swaying palm at a sleek venue, margarita in hand. Let this fantasy inspire you, and go for a breezy skirt, big hat or something with a nautical theme. For him, consider linen suits or navy jackets and light trousers.


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Urban Chic

Have a sophisticated outfit tucked away in your wardrobe that you might wear to an upmarket club, bar or restaurant? Dig it out and show it off with metallic accessories. And keep things relaxed for him and go with a light-coloured suit or pants-and-shirt combination without the tie.


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Garden Wedding

Let elfin goddesses like Florence Welch be your muse, and look for floral, feminine sundresses with flowy fabrics and even a touch of frill. Team with a big hat for a breezy, spring-ready look perfect for a garden wedding. Men, relax things a little with a polo shirt and dressy trousers or a lightweight suit.


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Beach Chic

Flowy sundresses and soft, flowing skirts are lovely for a beach wedding. Bring along a wrap or cute cardigan in case it’s chilly by the water and consider easy-to-take-off pretty flats or strappy sandals. For him, jackets and ties are not necessary but a smart-looking shirt and a pair of lightweight trousers are hard to go past.


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Festive Attire

No, not festival attire – put away that flower crown. Usually chosen for weddings held around the end-of-year holidays, Festive Attire typically means smart party wear with a hint of sparkle or a few metallic touches. Men, go with a stylish shirt-and-dress-pants combination in deep shades and add a jewel-toned accent.


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A themed dress code often means the whole wedding will be themed. Talk to the couple about what sort of celebration to expect if the invitation doesn’t make things clear – it can be anything from 1920s Art Deco to Medieval or Halloween! Embrace the excitement of it all and do your research into what to expect (Pinterest will be your friend here). Our advice? Avoid the tacky ready-to-wear, one-size-fits-all costume that comes in a pack from your local cheapy shop.


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Informal is often interpreted as the same as Casual, but it can actually be a lot more formal than that. Dressy separates for her are great, while blazers or sports jackets will work well for him. Two words – no jeans.


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Casual generally leave things up to the guest. What the best friend considers casual might differ massively from what the bride’s aunt does, but that’s half the fun of it! Guests, let the venue inspire you and think realistically about what will suit the setting. Attending an afternoon wedding in a garden? Think about something you can wear with block heels or even a flat shoe to avoid sinking into the grass. Invited to a beach celebration? Men, avoid fabrics that will make you sweat heavily and go with something that’s comfortable but still respectable (no board shorts and thongs).


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No Dress Code

In the words of Col Porter, anything goes! Again, let the venue and time of year dictate what you wear. Brides and grooms, if you go with this option, prepare to receive a few texts from guests wondering exactly what to rock up in. Guests, be respectful of the couple but go with what you think works. Go forth and slay!

Looking for real-life inspiration for what to wear? Check out our real weddings gallery