Wedding Attire for Women

We’ve all been there, ladies. You’re invited to a wedding and have no idea what to wear. You want to be comfortable, but still dress up for the occasion.

So where do we draw the line? The first thing you need to do is break down the dress code. Add some accessories, cute shoes and voila! Here’s a guide on what to look for in each scenario.

Following the Dress Code for Women’s Wedding Attire

Most wedding invitations include a dress code for the event—from fancy white tie to casual. If you’re not 100% sure, it’s better to be overdressed instead of underdressed. Let’s break down each category to get a better idea of what to expect.

Tena Gown by ML Monique Lhuillier
Tena Gown by ML Monique Lhuillier ($150 to rent on Rent the Runway)

White Tie

The most formal wedding attire level is white tie, and it’s super fancy. Get ready to be the belle of the ball in a long, formal dress. Be mindful of the size of your dress since full, poofy dresses are hard to sit and dance in. Heels are a must, but wearing a shorter height isn’t an issue. Finish the look with an elegant clutch and your finest jewelry.

Rose Gold Mac Duggal Gown
Rose Gold Mac Duggal Gown ($498 on Verishop)

Black Tie

The next step down is black tie. It’s also very formal, and typically used for an evening wedding. Again, a long gown works or a very dressy cocktail dress, but nothing that shows off the ankles. Stick with heels this round as well.

Black & Navy High Neck Gown by Badgley Mischka
Black & Navy High Neck Gown by Badgley Mischka ($55-$80 to rent on Rent the Runway)

Black Tie Optional

Still high on the formal dress code list is black tie optional. Like black tie, a long gown or cocktail dress works, but now we can show off some ankles. Pantsuits are also an option at this level, along with dressy separates. Your shoes can be more fun at this point too!

Faye Ruffle Dress by Dress the Population
Faye Ruffle Dress by Dress the Population ($188 at Nordstrom)

Semi Formal

Now we’re heading into a less dressy category, the semiformal. In our opinion, it’s best to stick to the dressier side of this category. It’s better to be overdressed than underdressed. Cocktail dresses and dressy separates totally work.

Delaney Dress by Sachin & Babi
Delaney Dress by Sachin & Babi ($495 at Sachin & Babi)

Cocktail

Like semi formal, cocktail attire is a great in-between category. Find something dressy yet comfortable. If it’s a day wedding, a tea-length, knee-length, or midi dress will do. Go the semiformal route for a night wedding. Heels or even nice wedges are great footwear options.

Twist-Front Cutout Jumpsuit by Abercrombie
Twist-Front Cutout Jumpsuit by Abercrombie ($120 at Abercrombie)

Dressy Casual

Now we’re crossing into the more casual categories, but not completely casual. Think of what you’d wear to church or in the office. A sundress or jumpsuit is a great option. You may be able to pull off a nicer pair of flats or sandals here.

Floral Fit & Flare Dress by Taylor
Floral Fit & Flare Dress by Taylor ($99 at Macy’s)

Casual

We’ve reached the lowest level of formality, but casual still has a few guidelines. You’re not going to wear shorts and flip flops, but you can wear a jumpsuit, sundress or even a dressy skirt. Wedges, sandals, and flats are totally acceptable here. When planning this outfit, think relaxed, but not frumpy.

Group of wedding guests in a field
Courtesy: vogue.com

No Dress Code? Consider These Factors

  • Where is the venue (beach, church, garden, barn, etc.)?

Each of these locations can still host anything from a formal to a casual wedding. Laid-back weddings on the beach or in a barn tend to lean towards casual or dressy casual: think a midi dress and wedges for the beach or a high-low lace dress and cowgirl boots for the barn.

A church or garden wedding would be a bit dressier: a nice cocktail dress with heels should work. Again, if you’re not sure which way to lean, it’s better to dress up than dress down.

  • What season is it?

Seasonality definitely plays into what type of attire to wear. Spring and Summer weddings tend to lean towards the dressy casual and cocktail attire. Breathable, lightweight fabrics like chiffon and cotton are best.

Fall and Winter weddings are typically more semi-formal to formal. Dark colors and fabrics like satin and velvet are the way to go.

  • What time is the wedding?

Unless the bride and groom specify, this one’s pretty easy to figure out. Daytime weddings are traditionally more casual to dressy casual, and late evening weddings are more formal. If the wedding is late afternoon to early evening, cocktail to semi formal attire is your best bet.

  • What’s the wedding theme?

Some themes might include nautical, rustic, country, or costume. The theme doesn’t necessarily mean you need to dress to match the theme, but hopefully a dress code will be provided if you do.

Overall, go with your gut if a dress code isn’t provided. Check out the wedding website or initiation to try and determine the best direction. If you’re still concerned, it’s okay to reach out to the bride and groom to confirm or clarify.

Spring dresses and shoes in a row
Courtesy: stitchfix.com

Other Tips

Here are some additional things to consider when planning your wedding guest attire.

  • It’s all in the accessories! Finish your look with the perfect clutch, some dazzling earrings, and a cute necklace.
  • Don’t experiment with a crazy multi-colored dress or loud pattern. You’ll be snapping photos all night, so pick something simple and slimming.
  • Comfy is key, so choose your shoes wisely. Make sure to try them on with your outfit and break them in if they’re brand new. If you’re wearing heels outside, invest in some heel protectors. They’re a lifesaver.
  • Match your hair and makeup to the dress code. For a formal to semi formal wedding, go bold with a darker eyeshadow and lipstick. An updo is great for a formal look. For a casual to dressy-casual wedding, go a more natural route with a nude lip and brown or cream eyeshadow. Have your hair in a curly ponytail or all the way down for this type of wedding.
  • Don’t upstage the bride or bridesmaids. Remember, you’re a guest, not part of the wedding party. Let them shine.
  • Do NOT wear white. Period.
  • Buy or rent early. By shopping early you’ll save money, avoid last-minute stress, and have more time to try things on. This leaves time to exchange or return anything that doesn’t work out.
OnceWed.com

About OnceWed.com

Once Wed was launched in March 2008 to meet a need in the marketplace for an online listing service for second-hand wedding dresses. Within a short time, the company had developed into an online wedding publication and resource to provide newly-engaged brides with inspiration and tools to plan their dream wedding. 

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