The mail arrives. An envelope — addressed to you! Gingerly, you open it. It’s an invitation…to a wedding! Rejoice! 

Folks, weddings are back. While celebrations may look a little different these days, we’re all the more grateful to be gathering (safely) again. 

Now, once your excitement subsides to a manageable level, your eyes scan the bottom of the invite, where you see those loaded words: dress code. The instructions that follow can provide helpful guidance or cause serious confusion, depending on the language used. Worry not. We are here to help you decode the dress code so you can re-enter the world of special occasion dressing with confidence. 

Follow along as we break down different categories of wedding attire in our guide below, in order from most formal to least. 

White Tie 

As fancy as it gets. Ever had a Downton Abbey or Oscars-night fantasy? This is your time to live it out. This means floor-length gowns (no exceptions) in evening-appropriate fabrics like satin, lace or chiffon — plus glam accessories and a chic ‘do.  White-tie events don’t come along often, so feel free to get extra.

Black Tie 

Black-tie weddings are formal affairs, typically held in the evening (some time after 6pm). Long dresses are encouraged, but an elegant cocktail dress is also fair game. If you opt for a dress that’s not floor length, look for something with structure in a refined color like a jewel tone. 

Formal or Black Tie Optional 

Formal, also known as black tie optional, is a step down from Black Tie, but the message remains: dress to impress. To stay within the confines of “formal,” stick to the basic principles of black-tie dressing: elegant, long or mid-length dresses.

Cocktail

‘Cocktail Attire’ might be the most common of wedding dress codes. No need to wear a gown, but also steer clear of minis and sun dresses that might be okay for a casual, daytime wedding. To nail cocktail dressing, opt for knee-length, tea-length or midi dresses or a dressy jumpsuit for an appropriately polished look. Reminder: You can always turn to accessories to add extra personality.  

Dressy Casual or Semi-formal 

A semi-formal dress code sends a message to guests that this is still a special occasion and you should plan to look the part, but it also leaves the door open for a more relaxed approach, wardrobe-wise. For a semi-formal celebration, you can push the envelope with shorter hemlines, bold prints and a fun sandal. Pro tip: Do your research and check out the venue for more cues as to how to approach. A hotel ballroom might inspire a different look than a vineyard, for example.

Festive 

If you’re invited to a wedding with a dress code of festive attire, think of it as an invitation to dress with flair. It may be a day-time or destination wedding, so take inspiration from the season, the venue and the couple. The most important element in festive dressing? Having fun. If your outfit doesn’t say ‘I came to party’, think about upgrading.    

Casual 

We’ve gotten lots of practice at casual dress recently. However, it’s still a special occasion, so even if you’re meant to look relaxed, you shouldn’t look too relaxed (e.g. no jeans, shorts or flip flops). Throw on cute frock or playful separates, add some sunglasses, fun jewelry and a big smile, and you should be good to go. 

For more inspiration, head to our wedding guest dress edit.

Models in image wearing: Ulla Johnson “Aurore Dress,” Ronny Kobo “Floral Monica Dress” and AMUR “Killia Jumpsuit