I'm Lisa Kirk, a wife, mama, writer, and founder. Since 2010, Something Pretty has been home to my favorite memories, reflections, and inspirations. Thanks so much for reading!

Guest Wear Etiquette


Hope everyone had a fun Cinco de Mayo yesterday! My post today is both a follow up of Wednesday’s post (find it here if you missed it) and a response to a post request from a reader–I hope you all know that I love hearing what YOU want to read on Something Pretty, so if you have any questions about weddings or fashion related things, get in touch with me via the info listed on my Contact page! :)

While it’s important for the bride and groom to be good hosts, it’s also important for friends and family to be good guests. One of the most important ways to respect the couple getting married is to dress appropriately for their wedding, which can be harder than it sounds, thanks to a truck load of etiquette rules. Some rules should be followed no matter what, but others vary according to the dress code.

Black tie: This basically indicates that the men should be in tuxes, but as we all know, girls have so many more options! Think of a black tie event like a ball–Cinderella would not be caught dead in a little cocktail dress–so the most appropriate choice is a floor length gown in a deep or jewel-toned color. Black is perfectly fine in this situation. Additionally, be sure to make a sophisticated statement with ¬†super-polished hair and makeup.

Formal: Also known as “black tie optional,” a formal dress code offers some flexibility between evening gowns and cocktail dresses. I would go no shorter than knee length, but feel free to go bolder in the color of the dress and your accessories than you would typically do for a black tie event.

Semiformal: This is probably the most popular wedding dress code, and for good reason–guests are still expected to dress up and look their best, but it’s much easier and more versatile than the formal specifications. For a semiformal wedding, cocktail dresses in any cut and color (with a few exceptions–more on the later) should be appropriate.

Casual: Let’s be clear on this one–casual does not mean lounging-around-at-home casual! This is still a wedding, so putting in the effort to look good shows the couple how important their special day is to you. A casual dress code allows for lighter fabrics, more colors (prints included), and more natural hair and makeup.

Along with these different dress codes, there are a few hard and steadfast rules that wedding guests should always adhere to:

  • Don’t wear white! Yes, this rule still stands—you don’t want to take any of the attention away from the bride. As far as patterns with white in them go, I would use the 50% rule. If the dress is 50% white or more, don’t risk it. If you’re really not sure, it doesn’t hurt to call the bride and ask for her preference (just be sure to do this early… she’s going to have a lot more on her mind the week of!)
  • Don’t wear anything too revealing. A lot of wedding ceremonies still take place in churches, so it’s important to be respectful of that. Even if no church is involved, it’s still not classy to look like you’re going clubbing instead of to a romantic, family-oriented event. Use your judgement here–if you wouldn’t want someone wearing it at your wedding, you don’t get to wear it to this wedding!
  • There’s an iffy rule about wearing black to weddings as well since it reminds a lot of people of funerals. I think the formality and the time of day are the key things here. If the wedding is black tie, formal, or the reception is in the evening, I’d say go for it. Try to stick to colors for casual, semiformal, or earlier events.

Have a great weekend!



Dresses: Black tie 1, 2, 3; Formal 1, 2, 3; Semiformal 1, 2, 3; Casual 1, 2, 3






  1. Jadzia says:

    Great post!

  2. Lauren says:

    I had no idea about the black rule! Thanks Lisa, great post! :)

  3. Dana says:

    very informative!

  4. I feel as though there have been two major trends popping up at most all of the weddings I’ve been a guest at lately – no “set” dress codes have even been hinted at, which has led to what I would consider very casual dresses popping up on guests, regardless of how formal the venue appears to be. I recently couldn’t resist purchasing the most gorgeous floor-length gown in a soft mauve chiffon from H&M (so it was a steal!), thinking I could definitely wear it to a wedding, but now I’m beginning to fear I’d be mistaken as part of the bridal party if I did! I have no problem with cocktail dresses at weddings, but I’d love to see a return of floor-sweeping styles!

  5. I totally agree with you about white (and about everything else). I don’t know why so many people seem to think wearing white is OK now. There were seriously 4 or 5 girls at my wedding who wore white! I was a pretty laid-back bride, but it still bugged me.

  6. […] {Guest Wear Etiquette: Deciphering wedding dress codes, a few outfit suggestions, and hard and fast rules to always follow} […]

  7. […] out my old post on Guest Wear Etiquette for a breakdown of common dress codes, as well as some general rules to adhere […]


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