Wedding-Guest Attire, Decoded

This story was originally published in 2015.

In theory, wedding invites should be pretty straightforward: We’re getting hitched; ceremony takes place here; registry details are at this website; RSVP by this date, and hope you can join. But when the wedding is labeled as a certain kind of wedding — cocktail, semiformal, casual, beach, black- or white-tie (yes, there is a huge difference), and so on — well, that’s when you need to know what you’re getting yourself into.

To help us decode the attire requirements for every kind of wedding, we called on Xochitl Gonzalez, creative director of boutique event-design and planning company AaB Creates, to give her take on what is sartorially expected of guests. Before we get into the nitty-gritty, let's just say that, in general, Gonzalez advises that your look be planned with your date. “In the context of proper attire, a date can totally throw off your outfit or make something questionable seem on-point.” All the components to help create a stunning look, right this way!

The Invite Says: White Tie

What The Expert Says: “A white-tie wedding is the most formal of dress codes, and if someone is bothering to make their wedding white tie, you can bet your bottom dollar they care if you get it right," says Gonzalez. "Interestingly, white tie is more buttoned-up and conservative in general, so the subliminal message here is 'proper.' You need to be in a floor-length gown, and remember, it’s not the time to get scandalous and experiment. Men will literally need to wear a white tie — specifically a bow tie. The tux needs to have tails, and if you want to get technical about it, a guy will need to wear slip-on shoes with no laces. That’s how specific a white-tie wedding is.”
If you’re planning on attending a white-tie wedding, be prepared to spend a pretty penny on your dress. Since these are more conservative affairs, opt for a non-flashy, elegant black gown — skip the sequins and weird cutouts. Round out the look with a simple clutch, subtle jewelry, and an edgy pump to keep things sharp and fresh.

Needle & Thread Whisper Gown, $225, available at Net-A-Porter.
Mark Cross Grace Mini-Box, $2,095, available at Barneys New York
Aldo Vetrano, $75, available at Aldo.
Lizzie Fortunato Crater Earring in Light Moss, $185, available at Need Supply.
Jennie Kwon Black Equilibrium Cuff Choker, $1,430, available at Jennie Kwon.
The Invite Says: Garden

What The Expert Says: “For a garden wedding, think what Charlotte York would wear to a baby shower or bridal shower in the summertime: edgy Lily Pulitzer-style floral dresses. Also include a hat if you feel bold or daring! Dresses that are cocktail- or tea-length are good, though you could also get away with a boho maxi-dress. For the men, khakis and a blazer are perfect. No tie is required, but again, it's always lovely to include.”
The easiest way to be a party pooper at a garden party is to not wear any florals, so keep the look blooming throughout the outfit. If obvious floral patterns are too seasonal or cheesy for your liking, select a print that is a bit more abstract. Keep the ensemble feeling modern through artful accessories like a ruffled bag and metallic earrings that add to the botanical theme.

Ganni Emory Crepe Dress, $149, available at Ganni.
Loeffler Randall Amara Velvet Platform Slide Sandals, $395, available at Barney's New York.
Zara Sequined Mini Bucket Bag, $49.90, available at Zara.
Faris Ladyday Earrings, $145, available at Faris.
Legier Lapis Lazuli Stone Signet Ring, $400, available at Legier.
The Invite Says: Cocktail or Semiformal

What The Expert Says: “A good rule for semiformal is no beading on anything long, and if it’s a short dress, it can have a little bling," Gonzalez notes. "Wear something you’d feel is easy to dance in and that you would never, ever consider wearing in a ‘day-to-night’ dressing scenario. Pretty much any dress-up event they probably had at your college or high school was considered semiformal. Remember those? For guys, this means a jacket is required. Depending on how fashionable they are, they can potentially get away with no tie, but a tie is always a good bet.”
A knee-length cocktail dress, such as this jacquard number, with a crisp blazer draped over your shoulders is totally acceptable for a semiformal affair. The overall look doesn’t have to be too over-the-top, so feel free to introduce more unexpected accessories like a quirky bag and elegant sandals. Opt for heels that strap in place — after all, you don't want to lose 'em on the dance floor.

Realisation Par The Emilie, $160, available at Realisation Par.
Barneys New York Suede Crisscross-Strap Mules, $275, available at Barneys New York.
Velvet by Graham & Spencer Ofelia reversible wrap-style faux-fur jacket, $230, available at MatchesFashion.com.
Mansur Gavriel Circle Bag, $1,095, available at Mansur Gavriel.
H&M Rhinestone choker, $7.99, available at H&M.
The Invite Says: Beach

What The Expert Says: “Beach wedding equals a dressy sundress, either short or long with good accessories, something you’d wear to a lovely dinner in the summertime. Nothing too blingy — think: flowy and beachy. For guys, light-colored suits with no ties, or even a guayabera shirt with khakis, would be good,” says Gonzalez.
It’s easy to head to a beach in as little clothing as possible, but for a wedding ceremony, the look has to be somewhat lavish and, well, ceremonious. So skip any see-through cover-ups and wear an actual dress with a wedge sandal (it’ll be easier on the sand). Major bonus points if you can incorporate a tropical motif throughout the look. Here, the accessories make it a perfect warm-weather ensemble that screams, "Wish you were here!"

Reformation Adora Dress, $248, available at Reformation.
Topshop Cutout Round Sunglasses, $30, available at Topshop.
Rachel Comey Paso, $133, available at Lyst.
Edie Parker Lara Backlit, $1,195 available at Edie Parker.
Tory Burch Bailey Espadrille, $328, available at Shopbop.
The Invite Says: Black Tie or Formal

What The Expert Says: “A black-tie wedding is pretty formal, but it’s considered fun," says Gonzalez. "These start after 6 p.m., so you’re looking at a nighttime affair where the couple getting married harbors a love of seeing the uncommon, slightly debaucherous side of really dressed-up guests drinking and partying it up. Floor-length gowns are completely acceptable, as are beading, bling, and more. Black tie doesn’t necessarily require a long dress, of course, so if you’re going short, be sure it makes a fashion statement and isn’t something you might wear to a cocktail party or a club. Men should be in tuxedos and most certainly ties. Black suits can be passable, too.”
A simple rule of thumb when putting together a black-tie wedding outfit is asking yourself, “What would I wear if I were invited to the Golden Globes?” Select a dress that is equal parts sexy and elevated — something that will surely impress the other partygoers. Complete the outfit with quirky accessories that will let your hosts know you’re there to have a good time.

The Reformation Gardner Dress, $388, available at Reformation.
Charles and Keith Corset Detail Pumps, $89, available at Charles and Keith.
Mateo 14K Gold Malachite Parallel Bar Ring, $675, available at Mateo.
Benedetta Bruzziches Hand Detail Clutch Bag, $821, available at Farfetch.
Dadybones Star Girl Hoops, $35, available at Dadybones.
The Invite Says: Casual

What The Expert Says: “Casual weddings are probably the hardest — it’s usually all over the map in terms of attire," Gonzalez points out. "A dress you might wear on a date during the week is probably fine, or a jumpsuit is also a great option, just not in a knit fabric. And please accessorize! Remember, a casual wedding doesn’t mean casual in life — it’s still a special occasion where two people are joining their lives. For the guys, no jacket required, but buttons definitely are.”
It’s likely that you already have everything in your closet to attend a casual wedding, since the outfit doesn’t have to be super spiffy — in fact, a fun jumpsuit is solid enough. But it’s the accessories that can elevate the ensemble in a huge way — think funky shoes, a textured clutch, and statement earrings that can complete the look for a daytime or nighttime fête.

ASOS Bonded Off Shoulder Jumpsuit, $106 $31.50, available at ASOS.
J.Crew Womens Oval Barrette In Brushed Metal, $16.50 $10.50, available at J.Crew.
Gucci Metallic Studded Pump, $1,190, available at Gucci.
Jiwinaia Matchstick Earrings, $120.80, available at Jinwinaia.
Poppy Lissiman Fire Cherub Velvet Purse, $150, available at Poppy Lissiman.