Wedding Dress Codes: Dress to Impress

Man in custom vest donning a custom jacket with paisley lining.

Weddings are fabulous affairs, but dressing for them can be a bit tricky. The good thing is, the happy couple will almost always give you a dress code in their invitation to work with. So there’s no need to worry about showing up to their big day sticking out like a sore thumb. But what does “Dress to Impress” mean for a wedding? What about a “Black Tie Optional” or “Casual” dress code? We’re going to look at the most common wedding dress codes and tell you a bit about what they mean for you as a guest.

The wedding dress codes we will cover are white tie, black tie, black tie optional, semi-formal, dress to impress (festive), casual, and destination. Clearly, there are a lot of options that the couple can pick from when organizing their big day, and it’s important that you as a guest dress appropriately for the occasion.

White tuxedo for formal wedding dress code

The Most Formal Wedding Dress Codes

White Tie

A white tie affair is what you can expect for the Met Gala. It is the highest level of formality there is for events and wedding dress codes. For the men, there isn’t too much opportunity to express yourself or have fun picking out your look. That’s because the goal is for everyone to look extremely similar and, of course, extremely formal. A white tie dress code requires a tuxedo with tails – no exceptions – and a formal white shirt and white vest. The expectation is that you will also wear a bow tie, white gloves, and formal shoes like a pair of clean, inconspicuous Oxfords.

Black Tie

The next most formal dress code is black tie. Imagine a party you’d see James Bond himself at. Most people associate this event dress code with evening events. Black tie is similar to the white tie, where hosts expect you to wear a tuxedo. However, there are some slight differences. The main difference is that your vest is typically black as opposed to white. Another option is to opt for a cummerbund. For footwear, you’ll want to wear, for example, black patent leather shoes. While black tie attire is slightly less formal than white tie, the goal is still for the men to look as similar and polished as possible.

Black Tuxedo for Formal Wedding Dress Code

The Formal Wedding Dress Codes

Black Tie Optional

Black tie optional can be a bit confusing, considering the existence of regular black tie. The general rule is that a tuxedo is recommended, but not required. If you don’t want to wear a tuxedo, you have options! For instance, you can still maintain a high level of formality by wearing a clean, dark suit, a white dress shirt, and a dark tie. Typically your tie should be in a solid color as opposed to a pattern. This wedding dress code does leave a little more room for creativity, but is still quite formal and is typically used for evening weddings.

Semi Formal/Dressy Casual

The semi-formal style leaves a decent amount of room for options. You’re not required to wear any one particular thing, and when you’re deciding what to wear, you’ll want to consider the time of day and the season of the wedding. Semi-formal attire has a wide range of options that are appropriate, but there are a few guidelines to keep in mind. You will want to wear a suit and tie, but you can go light if the wedding is taking place during the day or in the summer, and dark if it’s an evening affair, or takes place in the winter.
HM GPG suit, an excellent choice for a "dress to impress" or "Semi formal" wedding dress code.

The Less Formal Wedding Dress Codes

Dress to Impress Wedding Dress Code

Festive light blue suit with thin black tie, an excellent option for a dress to impress wedding dress code

Dress to impress, also known as festive dress code is a relatively recent phenomenon, and can be a lot of fun to dress for. The key tenet is that the happy couple wants their guests to have fun with their looks. You’ll still want to wear a suit, but you can play with the look by wearing a fun accessories. Try a bow-tie, suspenders, a patterned tie, or a bright pocket square. Basically, have fun with this one! You have a good amount of freedom here!

Casual Wedding Dress Code

Couple at beachfront destination wedding
Casual weddings typically take place outdoors, sometimes even on the beach. You can be pretty relaxed in this wedding dress code: dress pants or khakis are all good, with a collared shirt. If you want to dress it up a bit, you can wear a tie or a jacket, but it’s not required. Bring a nice looking sweater if it’s going to be cold or windy!

Destination Wedding Dress Code

Destination wedding attire for beach wedding

You’ve been invited to a destination wedding! Awesome, let’s party! Destination weddings are every wedding guest’s dream invitation, as they usually mean somewhere tropical. If so, the weather will likely be humid and hot, and you’ll want to dress in something nice but also comfortable for the environment. Guayabera shirts are commonplace at tropical weddings. Also known as Cuban summer shirts, they are short sleeved, linen button-downs. You can identify these shirts by the two vertical pleats on either side of the front of the shirt, and the decorative pocket. Wear with linen pants or khakis for a perfect beach wedding look.

A Dress Code for Every Occasion

As we mentioned at the start of this article, the happy couple will definitely let you know what the dress code is for their wedding. Themes and styles are an integral part of wedding planning. It is important for guests to fit in with the look they are going for as well. We’ve covered seven different wedding dress codes. Take a look at suits, shirts, pants, and shoes designed by HARTTER MANLY. 

Wedding portrait. The groom is wearing a custom purple colored tuxedo jacket

With the tens of thousands of customization options, you can create the perfect look for the next wedding you find yourself attending!

Additionally, two of our top selling suits are available for rent: our royal-blue peak lapel suit, The Charlotte Spirit, and our stunning black tuxedo, The Hawkeye. Both are great wedding options for every dress code, from dress-to-impress to black tie. No matter the wedding dress code, HARTTER | MANLY has something to suit you exquisitely.

Want more pointers/tips for your wedding day? Book a free appointment with our style experts.

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Ezra Lambert

Ezra Lambert is a barber and freelance writer. In addition to his work in men’s grooming and lifestyle, he has also written numerous fiction pieces: two screenplays and a YA novel. He lives in San Diego, CA, with his dog, Toni. 

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