While spring is officially here and with summer just around the corner, many happy couples are already in the planning stages of their big day. Due to recent events, of course, some of the betrothed may be putting their big plans on hold, and while this may seem disappointing at first, the upside is that it gives everyone more time to plan ahead. Putting together a wedding can be extraordinarily stressful, whether it is one that has a long guest list or one that is more intimate and low key. Aside from figuring out floral arrangements, seating, venues, and dining options, one major part of any wedding plan that often gets overlooked and oversimplified is the dress code expected from both the wedding party and the wedding guests. Many times, the dress code is explicitly stated on the invitations sent out to the guests as a surefire way to avoid confusion, and this is especially true of weddings that push the upper limits of formal attire as well as those which seek a very casual ambiance (for the latter, think of destination weddings held directly on the beach). But many wedding invitations also don't specify what the guests are expected to wear, and while there are certain standards of dress implied for traditional weddings, it is much easier for guests to misjudge their choice of clothing. The last thing anyone would want would be to show up to a destination wedding in Hawaii, packing nothing but floral shirts and board shorts in their suitcase, only to find out that the ceremony isn't taking place on the beach at all but in a church very close to the water. While being underdressed is usually more embarrassing than being overdressed, both situations can cause a fair amount of discomfort.
In this piece, we'll go over the most popular wedding dress codes and give you pointers on how to avoid any confusion from your guests, as well as outline the potential benefits and drawbacks of each mode of attire.
Black-tie weddings have seen a comeback in recent years, and this is likely due to the dress code's rigid standards and resulting lack of confusion over what to wear. Black-tie dress code requires a tuxedo and all the accessories that go with it. Bow ties, cummerbunds, suspenders, waistcoats, cufflinks, white shirts with studs, patent leather shoes, satin accents, and dinner jackets with one vent at the very most are generally expected. There is still some room for variation; waistcoats and cummerbunds are not always required, but we would recommend wearing at least suspenders to give extra support to your tuxedo pants in order to avoid any embarrassing dance floor mishaps.
The benefits of opting for a black-tie wedding are numerous. Everyone will certainly look their best during photo opportunities, no one will be confused about what is expected in terms of attire, and the uniformity of the dress code can make everyone feel more socially comfortable all around. While it might seem counterintuitive at first, a black-tie dress code can also end up being more inclusive, especially if guests are required to adhere to the standards of everyone in the actual wedding party. Tuxedos, unfortunately, have a mischaracterized reputation of being uncomfortable, but if they are measured and tailored properly, you shouldn't even be able to notice that you are wearing one.
Of course, black-tie weddings don't come without certain drawbacks. One of the biggest complaints guests have when it comes to black-tie dress code is that they feel put off by the extra expense of altering their wardrobe, especially if they have to travel to another destination for the wedding. While we at Enzo Custom are of the firm belief that every gentleman should have at least one tuxedo in their wardrobe, many men still ignore this advice. Another downside to black-tie weddings is the extra time it takes to get ready; even though tuxedos can in fact be comfortable, they still involve more preparation than a normal suit, and this is even truer for people who don't have much experience with putting one on.
White-tie weddings are rare these days, but when they do occur, the dress code is usually reserved for the wedding party only and not the guests themselves. White-tie dress code normally features a tailcoat, a white bow tie worn with a wingtip collar, and a low-cut white waistcoat. While a white-tie wedding definitely enhances the style and appearance of a wedding party, it is more or less logistically inconvenient to require it from the guests in attendance.
The greatest benefit to a white-tie wedding is going to be appearance. As it is the most formal dress code in modern existence—even more so than black-tie attire—brides and grooms, along with the rest of the wedding party, will look their absolute best during the ceremony. Just like black-tie weddings, white-tie attire also has the added benefit of uniformity.
The drawbacks of this dress code, however, largely come from its scarcity. While guests might be a little hesitant or reluctant to throw on a tuxedo when black-tie dress is expected, pulling off a white-tie ensemble might be virtually impossible for some people. Guests in all but very select few social circles could potentially find a request for white-tie dress to be rather strange or even rude, so if you opt for a white-tie wedding, please be sure to keep that requirement only for the wedding party and not the entirety of the guest list. Black-tie attire or even standard formal wear should be acceptable for the guests in attendance, even if you and your wedding party decide to go all-out and kick it up a notch with white-tie dress. It is, after all, the most formal dress code still in use.
Weddings that request a black-tie optional dress code allow everyone in attendance a greater deal of flexibility than standard black-tie attire. A full tuxedo, for example, would still be perfectly acceptable, but guests could take more liberties with their ties, cufflinks, pocket squares, and even shirts. Even wearing a standard full suit is appropriate, so long as it's nothing too ostentatious.
The greatest benefit of black-tie optional dress is that while the wedding party will be uniform in their appearance, it allows guests a little more leeway in terms of what they're expected to wear. While ambiance and appearance are important aspects of any wedding, it's also just as vital to make guests feel comfortable and provide an atmosphere conducive to having a wonderful and memorable experience. If guests are less worried about rigid dress code rules and have more of a choice in their outfits, they'll generally feel more relaxed and sociable.
The only main drawback of a black-tie optional wedding is that some guests might take the optional part of it a little too far. Wearing a bright green plaid suit or matching a sport coat with a pair of jeans, for example, would likely be frowned upon for black-tie optional dress. In our experience, however, the vast majority of wedding guests understand what black-tie optional entails. It's always best to use a combination of common sense, sound judgment, and a little restraint when it comes to your ensemble. If you're unsure of how other guests might interpret a black-tie optional invitation, you're better off erring on the side of caution. In most situations, it is better to be overdressed than underdressed even to a slight degree.
Not long ago, the term formal was used to indicate white-tie attire. This has largely fallen out of favor and is only used in this way in select social circles. More broadly, formal attire usually refers to any event that requires a full suit, and a wedding is no different. This latter type of formal is by far the most common dress code expected at wedding ceremonies, as it is also the easiest for guests to abide by. In such a context, a tuxedo would normally be considered too much. The suit and tie is the standard here, and most guests will have no difficulty at all in abiding by these guidelines.
The major benefit of opting for a simply formal wedding is that there is little confusion over what to wear, and most gentlemen own at least one or two suits so they won't have to scramble at the last minute to get fitted for a tuxedo or find a tailor that can rush out an order for tailcoats and top hats.
The drawback to requesting formal attire from your guests is that—just as it occasionally happens with black-tie optional fare—some guests might take too many liberties with the more relaxed dress code, opting to show up wearing clothes that are anything but formal. But so long as formal attire is specified, most of your guests will know that they will fit right in with a suit, dress shirt, and tie.
Just like formal dress code used to denote white-tie attire, the term semi-formal once had associations with strict black-tie dress. In modern parlance, semi-formal attire usually implies anything between casual dress and formal wear. While a full suit would still be acceptable, wearing one without a tie or even blazers or sport coats paired with nice slacks would be perfectly fine, as well.
The benefit to semi-formal attire, obviously, is increased flexibility. This is an ideal dress code for destination weddings in warmer locations where guests will feel more comfortable wearing lighter articles of clothing. Linen suits in pastel colors, for example, would be more appropriate than a full tuxedo in these situations, considering the former's ability to keep the body cooler when temperatures start to rise.
One thing to keep in mind, however, is that some guests might either interpret an indication of semi-formal dress code as black-tie or go the opposite direction by thinking that the event is strictly casual. By being more specific and direct in your invitations, your guests will be much better off so they can enjoy the celebration without worrying about being too dressy or too sloppy. Common sense usually prevails with this dress code, but it's still a good thing to know that everyone might not be always on the same page.
Whether you'll be attending a wedding soon or planning your own, Enzo Custom is here to help you stay prepared. Our selections of suits, tuxedos, shirts, ties, and accessories will keep you looking fabulous as you prepare for your own or someone else's big day. Book a private appointment with us so we can get you fitted in one of our showrooms. Be sure to also check out our custom suit builder online to better map out your own personal style preferences.