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Any well-mannered wedding guest takes special note of the wedding day's dress code and arrives outfitted appropriately. A prerequisite to adhering to the dress code is understanding the dress code. From black tie to casual, we're here with an easy-to-follow guide to the wedding guest dress codes that you'll most commonly see on the lace-adorned invitations, plus what to do when a dress code isn't specified at all. There's no time to stress during this celebration of love. Here's how to dress confidently for your next wedding.

Most Common Wedding Guest Dress Codes
Credit: Paul Bradbury / Getty Images

Most Formal Occasions

White Tie

There aren't many times in life when this dress code will be required unless you're attending a royal wedding. White tie attire is the most formal dress code and typically calls for floor-length gowns for the ladies, a black dress coat with tails and matching pants for men, and a white bow tie and gloves. White tie attire has been around for a long time but is relatively uncommon for modern weddings.

Black Tie

This dress code is the most familiar formal attire. Gents should dress in full tuxedos (possibly substituting a white dinner jacket in the warmer months), and the ladies should wear either elegant floor-length gowns or their most formal cocktail dresses. Since many of us don't have closets full of evening gowns at our disposal, this is the perfect time to consider using Rent the Runway to find hundreds of dresses for rent. Pull out your best jewelry, and don't be afraid to pop a red lip!

Formal Wedding

Formal or Black Tie Optional

As the name suggests, it allows more flexibility than a black-tie dress code. Men can wear tuxedos or formal dark suits, and women can wear anything from evening gowns to dressy cocktail attire. Want to straddle the line? Choose a long dress with less structure and more color than a black-tie wedding would require. You can get a little more fun with it.

Semi-Formal or Cocktail

This attire is one of the most popular dress codes, and for a good reason. It fits in with almost any wedding venue and is relatively easy for guests to follow. A semi-formal dress code calls for suits for the men and cocktail dresses for the ladies. Since many women have a favorite go-to cocktail dress—a little black dress, anyone? It's a fabulous idea to wear the same dress for multiple events, paired with completely different accessories. You can also employ sneaky beauty tweaks, such as changing up from hair down to an updo or a smoky eye to bright lip color!

Casual Wedding

Casual or Daytime

There's a good chance the invitation will say, "dressy casual." Going to a beach, farm, or very intimate wedding? The dress code will often be casual, but that doesn't mean jeans and tank tops are acceptable unless otherwise specified. We suggest at least a dress shirt and dress pants or khakis for the gentlemen (a light coat, no tie, is nice too), and a pretty sundress and wedges or sandals for the ladies.

Festive

This dress code will most likely come into play for a wedding that falls around the holidays or New Year's Eve. Dress appropriately for the time and venue, then add sparkling accessories (like statement earrings) and unique textures (like a feathered handbag) to dazzle up your look. For men, dress up a suit with a silk ikat bow tie or velvet smoking slippers. "Festive" may also appear on an invitation for a destination wedding. Let the locale be your guide in those cases: An outfit that hits the mark in Aspen, Colorado, will be entirely different than one that shines in Palm Beach.

Garden Party

Generally held outdoors and in the afternoon, these weddings encourage appropriate attire for a daytime dress code. That said, the specificity of garden party attire invites more color and pattern than your typical casual wedding might. Linen dresses with fluttery sleeves or midi dresses in floral prints fit the bill here, as would an elegant pastel pantsuit or tiered skirt. A light-colored suit (or seersucker in spring and summer) paired with a colorful pocket square or tie is incredibly dapper for the guys.

Themed

Our best advice here is this: Commit to the requested theme, but not so loudly that you detract from the happy couple. There's a fine line between enthusiasm and attention-seeking. Think President George W. Bush's second inaugural ball called "Black Tie and Boots." Guests showed up wearing their best gowns and cummerbunds with, you guessed it, cowboy boots. A classic Texas move, if we've ever heard one.

No Specified Attire

Do Some Research

If an invitation or the wedding website does not explicitly state a dress code, look to the invitation and wedding details for clues. The time of a wedding, for instance, can be hugely helpful in determining what to wear. A morning wedding typically calls for casual dress, while a ceremony after 5 p.m. generally calls for formal attire. The location can also help decode the dress code. A 4 p.m. reception at a swanky hotel or private club may require a dressier outfit, while a rustic locale, like a converted barn or stables, at the same time would allow for a slightly more casual look.

General Attire Rules

A few rules of thumb apply regardless of the dress code, specified or not. First, avoid wearing anything that is more than 50 percent white. Second, keep attire guidelines for ceremonies at houses of worship in mind. This dress code might include wearing a shawl to cover your shoulders or donning a dress that hits below the knee. Respect for others' cultures and beliefs is essential during these special family events. Finally, when in doubt, err on the side of overdressed. Who doesn't love an extra fancy night out, anyway?