Wedding Dress Codes, Decoded: 5 Standout Looks For Every Possible Occasion

It’s a situation we’ve all been in: An invitation to a friend’s wedding with a cryptic dress code. Panic ensues because striking the balance between looking good, following the code and not upstaging the bride is quite the challenge.

And while the bride and groom may think they’re helping when they say “black tie” or “semi-formal,” too often it sends guests into a tailspin. Below we’ve created a guideline on what is appropriate for each type of wedding and a look that is easy to emulate and create for this fun and celebratory day.

Although it can be hard to dress for a wedding, there are some rules that are self-explanatory and everybody should know. It’s the bride’s day so wearing something that is bright and over the top is completely unnecessary and rude. You don’t want to outshine the bride so stick to classic fabrics and neutral colors. Another big rule is to never wear white to a wedding. This is a color that is meant for the bride and the bride only. It’s completely disrespectful and rude to wear the same color as a bride so avoid that color at all costs. All in all, when attending someone’s big day make sure you look your best and that you’re ready to celebrate such a momentous occasion.

» White Tie: Glamorous and gorgeous. When the bride and groom inform you that you should be dressed in white tie you should definitely dress to impress. For men it’s important to wear a proper tuxedo and classic shoes, while women can wear formal and full-length ball gowns that come in neutral or subdued colors. This is quite the fancy event and it probably won’t be the dress code for your friend’s special day unless they’re Kate Middleton and Prince William.

THE SHOPPER: Erin by Erin Fetherston strapless floral ruched-bodice gown, $495 at Neiman Marcus. “Ibenama” sandals, $70 at ALDO. “BIGHORSE” clutch, $50 at ALDO.

» Black Tie: One of the most popular dress codes for weddings, it’s easy to look your best when attending a black tie affair. The dress code is simple and consists of a man in a polished tuxedo and patent leather shoes, while a chic cocktail dress or even a long evening gown get the job done for women.

THE SHOPPER: David Meister long-sleeve lace-bodice cocktail dress, $460 at Neiman Marcus. Tixilated pointy toe pumps, $89 at Nine West. Nadri star cluster drop earrings, $60 at Bloomingdale’s.

» Formal: Just like prom, but for grown ups. If the invite says to dress for a formal occasion it means a little less dressy than black tie. Have your guy pull out his tuxedo or a dark-colored tailored suit. For you, while a long dress or tux-inspired suit may be your first impulse, consider a cocktail dress at the appropriate length (right above the knee).

THE SHOPPER: Jenny Yoo convertible tulle fit & flare dress, $240 at Nordstrom. HARLEQUIN heeled sandals, $57 at ASOS.  Western glam dagger necklace, $13 at Forever 21.

» Beach Formal: There is nothing more beautiful than a destination wedding and attending one on a blissful beach is a little touch of paradise. The invite will usually say to dress “beach formal” which is somewhat casual but also dressed up and classy. Men should wear either a summer suit or a linen shirt with a nice pair of khakis. Ladies, you can get away with wearing a classic summer sundress that is tea length or hits right above the knee.

THE SHOPPER: Floral dress with buttons at the back, $60 at Zara. Vibe-2 strappy buckle open toe heel, $32 at Urban Original. Tory Burch long multistrand logo station necklace, $195 at Nordstrom.

» Casual: This laid back and relaxed wedding style can fit a multitude of weddings and is by far the easiest to dress for. Men can sport a nice pair of dress pants with a button down or a polished polo. A pair of dress pants/skirt with a classic blouse or an appropriate sundress that hits right above the knee are suitable options for women.

 THE SHOPPER: Printed zip back tube dress, $60 at Zara. Sandals, $25 at H&M. Falling leaves drop earrings, $5 at Forever 21.