Wedding Guest Attire – How to Word on Invites

You have dreamed of your wedding your whole life, but in your dream, you didn’t picture your cousin showing up in jeans for your formal evening reception. Some guests won’t know what to wear without being told directly about the dress code.

Mentioning a dress code on your invitation will not only help keep the look of your wedding the way you envision but will also help your guests know what is expected of them.

The easiest way to let your guests know what to wear is to include a dress code in the lower right-hand corner of your invitation or on your reception card. Here are some acceptable terms to help guide your guests in what they should wear.


Casual dress means wedding guests can wear pretty much anything they want. Be careful with casual dress, though, as your crazy uncle might come in a tank top and short shorts and not the polo shirt and dress pants that you thought he would.

Cocktail Attire, Semi-Formal or Dressy Casual

All three of these phrases are asking guests to dress somewhere between formal and casual. This would be a cocktail dress for the ladies and a suit and tie or a sports coat for the guys. This is the most common of the dress codes as most guests have something similar to this already in their closet.

Beach Formal

When you think of a beach wedding, you think casual, which is why formal is tacked on to the end. Beach formal attire would include a formal summer sundress (tea-length or knee-length) with flats for the ladies and a summer suit with a linen shirt, linen pants or khakis and sandals for the guys.

Formal Attire or Black Tie Optional

These two phrases are very common in today’s weddings. They indicate that the wedding party will be in formal wedding attire, and it’s optional for all guests. This could be a dark suit or tux for the men and formal evening wear (floor-length dresses or evening pantsuits) for the women.

Black Tie

Black Tie usually indicates an evening affair where the men wear tuxedos, and the women wear formal gowns of any length. When choosing Black Tie, keep in mind who might be attending your wedding. If your guests are all college kids, they might not have the money to rent tuxedos.

White Tie

This is the most formal of all wedding dress codes and is seen the least. You will see White Tie receptions at events such as White House-type functions where the gentlemen will dress in long-tail tuxedos, and the women wear full-length ball gowns.

If you are planning a themed wedding, then be specific as to what you want your guests to wear. For example, if you are doing a Halloween-themed wedding, let your guests know that “Costumes are encouraged.” Going to a color-themed wedding such as a white wedding? Let your guests know that “White attire is required.” Want your guests in jeans? Let them know that “Jeans are encouraged.” Most guests are not going to assume that casual means jeans.

Don’t expect your guests to know what you want them to wear. Let them know ahead of time by including it on your invitation and even your wedding website. It will save them the stress of trying to figure out what you want them to wear and help keep your wedding look the way you always dreamed of.