What Should THEY Wear? The Pros and Cons of Wedding Guest Dress Codes

Are wedding guest dress codes a total “bridezilla” move? Or is it a way to ensure everyone looks and feels their best?

Wedding guest dress code beach formal attire

Image courtesy of Anecdote Photography

Black-Tie, White-Tie, Upscale Casual – there are a million ways to say (more or less!) the same thing: show up to my wedding looking good. But does enforcing a dress code seem a little …you know…bridezilla-y? Or is it a helpful direction for your guests to follow, so they won’t feel out-of-place among the crowd? As with most wedding-related choices, wedding guest dress codes have their plus sides and their downfalls. We’ll go over a few of them here.

What are common wedding guest dress codes?

Depending on the overall vibe of your wedding, you may want your guests to pull out their sequined gowns and long coattails, or dance the night away in fun cocktail dresses and sport coats. Here are some frequently-requested dress codes you may find on your next invite:

  • White-Tie: Super duper formal. Think straight-up elegance, like state dinners or royal banquets. White-Tie is also sometimes called “Full Dress” – which is what you’ll need if you’re invited to one!
  • Black-Tie: Less formal than White-Tie, but you’ll still want to look fancy. Tuxes and floor-length gowns are expected. 
  • Formal Attire: There’s a lot of room for interpretation with Formal Attire. You still have the option of Black-Tie, but a shorter dress (or even a nice pantsuit) and coat with tie would work well too.
  • Cocktail Attire: Here’s where you can wear that amazing dress that seemed too over-the-top for the company party, but not nice enough for the Black-Tie wedding. Men can get away with no tie and a coat, or a tie with no coat. 
  • Beach Formal: Saying “I do” on the sand? Guests can wear flow-y sundresses, linen pants, and comfy (FLAT!) shoes like sandals. 
  • Upscale Casual: Ever been to an after-work Happy Hour? Where everyone still looks professional but a few buttons are undone? That’s your Upscale Casual. A similar idea would be “Business Casual.” 
  • Color-Specific: The bride(s) or groom(s) may want guests to wear the same color, like all red or accents of blue. This is usually requested for picture uniformity. 
  • Cultural or religious customs: Some cultures or religions require a certain manner of dress for weddings. The invite might go into detail on what’s expected, but it’s always best to reach out to the bride or groom with any questions or clarification. 
  • Casual: Show up in whatever! Jeans, everyday dresses, even a nice pair of shorts are all game here. Most people will intuitively dress a little nicer than everyday wear for a wedding, so if it’s important to you that guests come not dolled up, you may need to make that fact well-known.

PRO: Dress codes give your guests guidance on what to wear

We’ve all been there – standing in front of the closet, combing through every dress you own trying to determine what to wear for that daytime wedding. Should you go long and black, even though the wedding is at 1pm? Will you look underdressed if you choose a knee-length skirt and blouse? With a dress code in place, your guests will have a better idea of what to pull from their wardrobe. Even a dress code with more ambiguity, like Cocktail Attire or Upscale Casual, will help your guests narrow down their choices and stress less about an appropriate outfit.

This is especially true if your dress code is cultural or religious in nature. The more explicit you can be about your expectations, the better!   

CON: Your guests may have to spend money on a new outfit

If you choose a more specific dress code, like White-Tie, Black-Tie, or certain color requests, chances are a number of your guests will have to spring for a new (or rented) dress, suit, or tux. When you factor in that expense with a nice gift, travel arrangements and accommodations, childcare…the cost of attending your wedding can get quite high – possibly too high for some.  

Wedding guest dress codes formal

Image courtesy of Elise Margolin Photography

PRO: Everyone will look great in the pictures, with no one “standing out”

Let’s be real: wedding photography is expensive. And when you’re forking over the equivalent of a college semester for pictures, you want them to look AMAZING. And to you, “amazing” means all your guests are decked out in a certain color palate, with the crisp, clean lines of a coat or floor-length gown. If consistency and homogeny is important to you, then go for it! It’s your wedding, and you make the rules. 

CON: Your guests may be uncomfortable

Imagine wearing a wool coat in the summer. Or a sequined dress when you basically live your life in leggings. Sure, most of us love getting super dressed up from time to time. But if you want a Black-Tie wedding in the middle of July, your guests may be so uncomfortable that it prevents them from having a good time. This goes for non-neutral color requests too – not everyone looks good in red, coral, or yellow, and they usually know it. 

And speaking of those all-important pictures again – if there’s one thing that ruins a good shot, it’s the body language of someone who’s really uncomfortable. 

Wedding guest dress codes formal

Image courtesy of Stephen Mayo Photography

PRO: You won’t be distracted by the guest who’s under (or over) dressed

You’ve just said “I do.” The officiant’s given you the cue for that first married kiss. But instead of focusing on your new spouse, you can’t take your eyes off the front row – where you see a guest in a cotton polo and cargo pants.

There are some brides that wouldn’t think twice about an under (or over) dressed guest. But there are others that would find it hard to focus on other aspects of their day. You know yourself, and you know which of these categories you’d fall under. Make decisions on a dress code accordingly!

CON: Your guests may ignore the dress code 

If you’ve not provided a dress code, a guest in a cotton polo and cargo pants may catch your eye. But what if you HAVE provided a dress code? Would it be MORE distracting to see someone who has just ignored (or overlooked) your requests?

Listen, you’ll always have the guests that don’t RSVP, show up without gifts, or break other time-honored wedding customs. It’s highly likely that at least one or two of your guests won’t abide by a dress code – either by accident or on purpose.  And that may irk you even more. 

Whatever your decision on a wedding guest dress code, it’s the right one! Remember – it’s your wedding, and you get to make the decisions.