Wedding dress codes can cause more consternation among guests than almost any other aspect of the big event. What, exactly, is the difference between “semi-formal” and “formal”? Am I required to wear a tie to a beach wedding? What color suit is appropriate? Here we break down four wedding dress codes and tell you exactly what you’ll need to wear for each one.
Don’t make the mistake of assuming that all outdoor weddings are “casual”. The bride and groom may very well decide to hold a semi-formal wedding on the beach, in which case you should absolutely comply with the dress code, no matter how uncomfortable (a gentleman would do no less). However, many outdoor weddings, particularly beach weddings, will have a casual dress code, so it’s important to understand exactly what this entails. Pressed chinos, khakis or linen pants should be paired with dress shoes in brown or black and a matching belt. You may wear a short or long-sleeved button-down shirt. A necktie is sometimes optional, but it’s better to wear one and risk being overdressed than to skip one and be the odd man out. You probably won’t wear a blazer or waistcoat.
In general, “business casual” calls for dress slacks, shoes and a belt; a long-sleeved button down shirt; and a blazer, which need not necessarily match your slacks. A necktie may be optional but again, it’s better to err on the side of being overdressed; you can always loosen it or take it off if you discover that the other guests are not wearing ties. In the summer, a waistcoat might be substituted for the blazer due to the heat. Fabrics such as linen and seersucker are acceptable for this type of dress code, and you might gently mix colors or patterns into the outfit so long as they are tasteful; it would be a breach of etiquette to distract other guests from the bride and groom.
Semi-formal and formal
There’s often confusion about the difference between these two dress codes. A semi-formal dress code is one step up from business casual, with a few details adjusted: the slacks and blazer or waistcoat should be replaced with a matching suit, and they should be a somber color, such as cream or grey for daytime weddings and black for evening weddings. Your shirt should be a complementary color, and not patterned. A necktie is not optional; you can learn more on choosing an appropriate necktie at necktie.net.
Formal dress codes call for a three piece suit (blazer, waistcoat and slacks) with a matching belt and dress shoes. Your blazer and waistcoat do not need to match, though they should be complementary (for example, a pinstriped vest with a black blazer and black pants). You’ll also need a necktie, though whether you choose a straight tie or a bow tie is up to you. Again, demure colors and patterns are okay for the necktie as long as they are tasteful.
Black tie/white tie
These are the most formal of wedding dress codes, and are typically reserved for evening affairs. A black tie wedding requires a tuxedo, a white dress shirt and a black bow tie. A white tie wedding requires a black tailcoat jacket with a white waistcoat, a white wing-tipped collared dress shirt, a white bow tie, and black dress shoes.