From Black Tie to Casual: Wedding Dress Codes Explained

Earlier this year I received a wedding invitation from my sweet friends, Taylor & Cory, the dress code was “Cathedral Appropriate” … I was like “what does that even mean?!”

After some Googling & honestly- I texted Taylor for Bride approval- I was able to find an appropriate dress to dance the night away in.

Wedding Dress Codes are a tad confusing and you don’t want to show up at the wedding under-dressed or over-dressed. So… I thought it might help if I made this blog post to break down the dress codes and what is acceptable to wear within those parameters!

Saving you & the bride a headache!

Dress Codes

White Tie:

This is for the super fancy dressers.

The men’s outfits will include a black tailcoat, a white shirt, a waistcoat, a white bow-tie, high-waisted pleated black trousers, white gloves and black shoes.

The women’s outfits are a long evening gown with nice dress shoes.

Black Tie:

Tuxedos and long ball gowns are normally what is worn when the dress code is black tie.

This is the dress code is normally chosen for more formal, evening weddings.

Men’s attire includes a tuxedo, waistcoat, white dress shirt, a black bow tie, and black dress shoes.

Ladies should expect to wear a floor length ball gown, dress cocktail dress and heels or dress shoes.

*I think “Cathedral Appropriate would fall under this category*

Black Tie Optional:

This dress code means tuxedos are encouraged, but not mandatory.

Women can wear formal dress that isn’t floor length.

No sundresses or non-formal shoes (like wedges or sandals).

Beach Formal:

This means the wedding will be on the beach so it’ll be a little bit of a relaxed, formal dress code.

Women can wear a formal summer sundress (no shorter than knee length) with flats or nice sandals.

Men can wear a summer suit with a linen shirt, linen or khaki pants.

Cocktail Attire / Dressy Casual / Semi-Formal:

Men normally opt for a dark suit.

Women usually wear cocktail dresses.


This dress code means guests can pretty much wear whatever they’d like.

I recommend a nice button up and khakis or slacks for men.

For ladies, a nice sundress. I 100% recommend avoiding wearing a white dress. Only the bride is to wear a white dress. *Here are tips for what to wear to a wedding with an all-white dress code!

Also, light color schemes or dark color schemes for fall weddings are usually great ideas.

For example: for spring: light pinks, purples, blues, etc.

For Fall: Dark red, blues, or greens.

What Not to Wear to Wedding, Regardless of Dress Code

There are a few rules that apply to all dress codes across the board. Whether you’re wearing casual or black-tie attire, avoid all of the following faux pas.

Wearing White:

Pick any other color to wear to the wedding. Wearing white will just have heads turning in your direction for all of the wrong reasons. Plus, it will most likely upset the bride, who won’t want to feel anything but pleased by her guests throughout the night. The only exception, of course, is if the couple has specifically asked all the guests to wear white — in which case, respect their request and find yourself a white outfit. *Here are tips for what to wear to a wedding with an all-white dress code!

Picking a Dress That Looks Like the Bridesmaid’s Dress

If you can get a heads up on the style and color of the dress the bridesmaids will be wearing, try to avoid wearing anything similar. If not, you may have to spend the night explaining to everyone that you’re not a bridesmaid and you didn’t mean to dress like one.


Whether or not the dress code is black tie, try not to under-dress for the wedding. Unless it was stated that wearing jeans is okay, try to at least wear clothes that you would feel comfortable wearing to a formal office party.

Dressing for the Club

It’s a party, so you might be tempted to dress like you’re heading out to a nightclub, but remember for a wedding, you should keep it classy. You’ll be surrounded by someone else’s family and friends so keep it appropriate.

Author: Madeline VeZain Photography

Hey there! I'm Madeline. Award winning wedding photographer local to Jacksonville, Florida. I pride myself in providing an unforgettable wedding experience through outstanding customer care, top-notch knowledge and skill of photography, and always rocking a big smile!

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