As wedding celebrations become ever more diverse in their style and degree of formality, it is becoming more common for the dress code to be stated on the wedding invitation. So what exactly do you say? Is it possible just to give your guests a hint about what you want them to wear without feeling like you are dictating their outfit? And what sort of dress code would be appropriate for your wedding?
Here are some of the questions that are commonly asked about wedding invitation dress codes.
Giving your guests a dress code to adhere to is a very simple way of expressing the type of wedding you are having and conveying how formal or informal it is going to be. Your guests won’t think you are being controlling by including dress code information; they will probably be grateful that you are saving them the embarrassment of turning up underdressed or overdressed, or the trouble of calling you to find out what they should wear.
Here are some of the standard dress code categories you could put on your wedding invitation:
Generally used for an informal wedding, this gives guests plenty of options. Men can wear casual trousers, but not jeans, with a long sleeved shirt, and optional jacket and tie. Women can wear trousers, a dress, or a skirt with a pretty top.
If your invitation says ‘lounge suit’ it is usually for a semi formal daytime wedding, beginning before 5pm. Men should realise that they are expected to wear a classic suit, with a smart shirt and tie, and women are generally expected to wear a dress that is suitable for the daytime.
This is the evening version of the lounge suit and should be used for a wedding starting after 5pm. Men will still be fine in their suits, but women should be looking for cocktail dresses that are more suitable for the evening.
Morning suits tend to be the territory of the male members of the bridal party rather than the guests, but very formal daytime weddings may require a morning suit dress code. Men should wear a tailcoat, waistcoat and striped trousers, and women should wear a very formal daytime dress with a hat. Morning suit should only be the dress code for weddings beginning before 4.30pm.
Formal by most people’s standards, the black wedding tie dress code is generally used for evening weddings that begin after 4.30pm. While men should wear a dinner jacket, also known as a tuxedo, and a bow tie, women should look for an evening gown or cocktail dress.
White tie is the most formal dress code for an evening wedding beginning after 6pm, and this is only used for really upscale weddings. Men should wear a dress coat with a white shirt, and white tie and waistcoat, and women should wear a ball gown.
If you don’t want to seem too pushy you can just use the words ‘formal’, ‘semi-formal’ or ‘informal’ on your invitations. This gives your guests more scope for deciding on their outfits, but does leave you wide open to extreme interpretations. If you want to soften a specific dress code you can make it voluntary, for example by writing ‘black tie optional’. This lets your guests know that black tie would be appropriate, but something equally smart would be acceptable.
Ultimately it is up to your guests what they wear, and having invited them to your wedding, you are unlikely to send them home just because they chose to wear something inappropriate. There will always be someone that wears something you don’t think is suitable, but the chances are they honestly won’t realise.
The only exception is if your venue has a very strict dress code. If the venue requires jackets and ties for men, ask your father or the best man to gather a couple of spares in various sizes in case male guests turn up in their shirt sleeves. If the venue does have a very specific policy it’s fine to state that on your invitation.