Weddings are a time for merriment, but can also bring a hefty dose of anxiety, even for guests—especially when it comes to the dress code. If you’ve been invited to a wedding, you will usually find a dress code on the invitation card, but if you’re new on the wedding scene or more comfortable in hi-vis than a collared shirt, the shorthand will likely be a bit obscure. What on earth does “black tie optional” mean? Why is “cocktail” written under the dress code and not on the drinks menu? We’ve prepared a handy crash course in menswear dress codes and how to follow them.
Firstly, how important is the dress code, anyway? For weddings, it’s all about the happy couple! They’ve likely planned their day to the last detail, and that includes the dress code. It’s a show of respect to present yourself appropriately for a wedding, and the dress code is a way for the couple to let you know what that means for their big day! The idea is to look well-dressed and put together without drawing undue attention.
We suggest starting from the indicated dress code and considering things like the venue, season and time of the wedding for some general guidelines. For example, you can opt for lighter colours for day events and darker suits for evening events. Outfits with higher contrast between the shirt and jacket tend to be more formal. A custom suit is a better choice if you want the right fit. As for the dress codes themselves, read on! We’ve put together a handy list breaking down the five most common dress codes from most to least formal to help you plan your look as a wedding guest!
Be the Wedding Guest That’s Dressed to Impress
As the wedding date approaches, the last thing you want to do is panic about your attire for the big day. After all, it’s not every day that you get to step out to support two special people as they take their vows. We’ve kept things relatively simple and straightforward here, so make the right statement by following these tips:
The black tie wedding is the most formal dress code commonly seen (we won’t be covering White Tie in this guide). It requires an outfit that has a high level of poise and elegance. You should opt for the highest contrast possible with a black or very dark tuxedo and white shirt, at a minimum.
Suit: A classic black tuxedo is your go-to for a black tie. Tuxedo means satin lapels and detailing, and the contrast adds a little extra polish. The tuxedo jacket is almost always made with one button and either a peaked or shawl lapel style.
Despite separates (where your jacket and pants aren’t the same colour or fabric) being less formal as a rule, there is actually a special set that you can absolutely wear to a Black Tie affair. You can pair black dress pants with a custom shawl or peak-lapel dinner jacket, essentially a lone tuxedo jacket. You can opt for colour if you choose this route, usually in dark jewel tones such as burgundy, navy, or deep green. Ivory tuxedo jackets are also not uncommon, though be careful with this if you aren’t part of the wedding party or the immediate family of the couple. A dinner jacket can be plain or subtly patterned or made in a statement fabric such as velvet.
A vest can also be worn with either of these options if desired. Usually either in black or in similar options to the dinner jacket for contrast.
Shirt: White or ivory with French cuffs. For details that will not overpower your overall look, you can go for a subtly textured weave or add black stud buttons for that finishing touch.
Accessories: Black silk bow tie, with black patent shoes. If you really, really don’t like bow ties, you can get away with a black silk necktie. You can also choose a dark and sophisticated colour for a bow tie, such as a deep navy or burgundy. Your bow tie should either be plain or have a subtle pattern in the weave. Your pocket square, like your shirt, should be white or ivory. It’s all about the contrast! With French cuff sleeves, cufflinks are a must. Think of them as an opportunity to express a little individuality in this more restrictive dress code!
Formal (Black -Tie optional)
Formal and black tie dress codes have many similarities, such as being typically reserved for evening events in high-end venues. Both are at the more conservative and sophisticated end of the dress code spectrum, but Formal/Black Tie Optional has more flexibility compared to a black tie event.
Suit: As the other name for this dress code suggests, you have the option of going for a tuxedo, as described in the black tie dress code. However, this dress code also allows for suits (without those shiny satin lapels) and coloured tuxedos, most often navy.
Your suit can have either a peaked or notched lapel, so long as it is indeed a suit—matching jacket and trouser—and typically in a dark colour. You can never go wrong with navy or charcoal! The more uniform the fabric in colour and texture, the more formal it will look, as a general rule.
You can opt for a three-piece suit here, but if you do, you should either match your vest to the fabric of your suit or opt for a carefully chosen contrast vest, usually a couple of shades lighter or darker than your suit.
Shirt: We suggest sticking to white or off-white—reserve other colours for less formal dress codes. By being conservative in colour choices, you don’t run the risk of committing a faux pas on a special occasion. As an added bonus, white is very easy to accessorise! You can opt for either cufflinks or button cuffs.
Accessories: Shiny or matte black shoes; dress boots are also acceptable. Ties and bow ties are both a-okay but stick to silk. You can opt for a subtle pattern for your tie but if in doubt, go plain. Finally, don’t forget your pocket square! You can either match it with your shirt or your tie.
Cocktail fits neatly between semi-formal and formal dress codes and can be the most baffling of all. People generally adhere to a few key guidelines when it comes to dressing for a cocktail event. There are fewer restrictions to this dress code, but it’s still leaning more toward the formal end. If in doubt, dress up, not down!
Suit:For a cocktail affair, steer clear of tuxedos. Any matching jacket and trousers will do, and you can also wear a contrast vest to add a little extra to your outfit. Statement colours can really shine at cocktail events, but your trusty navy and charcoal will also serve you just as well.
This is also when you can opt for a patterned suit, such as a check, pinstripe, or a houndstooth. Stick to the finer fabrics, though, and keep it sophisticated!
You can also go for separates, but make sure they’re considered and stick to dress pants.
Shirt: White or a light colour to complement your suit. You can opt for a french-cuffed shirt to elevate the look, but button cuffs are perfectly acceptable.
Accessories: Stick to the silk/satin neckwear, but feel free to play with many more colours and patterns for your silk ties and bow ties! The pocket square should match or tone with your tie or bowtie. Top off your cocktail look with dress shoes or boots.
You can now rest easy when the invitations call for a semi-formal dress code. We’ve crossed into the more casual end of the dress code list! Both vests and cufflinks can look out of place here and separates with chinos are fair game—so long as you still wear a tie.
Suit:You can wear separates with a tie or suits without a tie. This is to avoid tipping the balance too far in either direction. Separates with no tie can look a little underdressed, while a suit and silk tie can look too put-together.
For the suit, reach out for the most common lapel style, which is a notch, and consider lighter colours, especially for garden weddings and daytime events. That said, your trusty navy or charcoal suit will also serve you here, no problem! Just be sure to check the accessories section below.
For separates, a sports jacket (blazer) or suit jacket with chinos is a classic look and gives you a lot of room to work within your personal style. Opt for a notched lapel jacket for a classic, neutral look or a peaked lapel for a little edge. If in doubt, stick with a dark, neutral chino and a lighter coloured jacket.
For both looks, you have more freedom in colour and pattern than in more formal dress codes, even more so with the sports jacket.
Shirt: Any plain coloured button-down or collared shirt will do. If you want to add a little extra to your look, a neatly patterned shirt can make a statement. Dark coloured shirts can also be utilised here, but are more challenging to style.
Accessories: As mentioned earlier, you can forgo a tie for suits! If you do this, make sure to leave your top button undone. If you do wear a tie, be sure to incorporate patterns and textures. A knit or boldly patterned tie can balance the formality of a suit, or complement the texture of a sports jacket well. You can go louder and bolder with your neckwear here, especially if opting for a bow tie, as the plain silk options will look a little out of place. As for the shoes, you can wear loafers for this dress code if you would like, instead of dress shoes or boots.
This is a pretty rare dress code in weddings, however it is sometimes seen for an outdoor, more relaxed ceremony. This is the only dress code for which you can forego a jacket.
Suit:Suits look out of place for this dress code, and don’t even think about donning a tuxedo! Stick to separates! A pair of chinos will fit well in this atmosphere.
Shirt: With the jacket optional, the shirt can be the focal point of your outfit. You can experiment with a wide range of shirt colours and patterns, and channel avant-garde looks to showcase your personal style.
Selecting shirts that are both stylish and practical in nature makes them easy to wear throughout the entire wedding ceremony and reception.
Accessories: If you do wear a tie, stay away from silk. Knitted and floral ties are a good choice, anything matte won’t look too stuffy. You don’t have to stress about what cufflinks or pocket squares to choose, as it’s not required anymore. Many types of shoes are allowed but tread lightly if you decide on a pair of sneakers. You are still going to attend a wedding, after all!
At the end of the day, the golden rule is to follow the dress code in your invitation. Aside from that, you also have to keep in mind the time of day and the venue of the event. You can choose a lighter attire in the summer and a heavier attire in the winter. If you are invited to a destination wedding, you can enjoy some leeway with your dress code.
While this is a great guide that will definitely get you dressed well as a guest, there’s no way to cover the entire scope of the event and wedding dress codes in one list. It’s always best to consult a professional stylist who knows the full extent of the leeway granted by different venues as well as different seasons. A stylist will help you select the right suit for the event, and can help you find those coveted statement looks that still fit the dress code but express your personal style. .
At Briggins, we can help you with tailored advice on what to wear and how to look your best at an event or wedding. Whether you’re looking for a custom suit for one extra-special occasion or would like a versatile investment piece that can be styled for a range of dress codes, we’ve got you covered!