Wedding season is among us, and if you have lots of friends getting married, it’s a good idea to get your wardrobe in order now so you won’t spend the week before each celebration scrambling to find something suitable to wear. As a wedding guest, your best bet is to just follow the dress code specified on the invitation. After all, a wedding is a ceremony, and wearing the proper wedding attire signals your respect for the celebration and for the commitment that your friends are about to make.
But few young men, even those who wear a suit and tie to work every day, are familiar with the ins and outs of all of the possible wedding dress codes. And even the most well-intentioned wedding guest won’t necessarily know what to wear to each wedding he’s invited to. Here’s what the most common wedding dress codes mean for you.
If the invitation specifies a black tie dress code, you’ll need a tuxedo. The ideal, whether you’re buying or renting, is a midnight blue or black tux that’s single-breasted with a single button, a peak or shawl lapel, and grosgrain (or, alternatively, satin) lapel facings. The facing should match the tie and cummerbund, the pants should be pleated and not cuffed, and the shirt should feature French cuffs, a pique bib, and either a detachable wing collar or a turndown collar. You can wear a waistcoat instead of a cummerbund, either opera pumps or patent-leather oxfords, and you can add a white pocket square.
“Black Tie Optional”
As Jesse reports for Put This On, an invitation that reads “Black Tie Optional” means you should wear black tie-appropriate clothing unless you sincerely cannot afford to rent or buy a tuxedo. Even if you’d like to opt out of black tie attire — perhaps because the ceremony begins before 6:00 p.m. and for good reason you don’t want to wear a tuxedo during the day — you should still wear a tuxedo. You can’t single-handedly change people’s tendency to choose tuxedos for daytime weddings. If you can’t afford a tuxedo, a solid black suit is an appropriately formal option.
Semiformal or cocktail attire
This is the dress code that applies at most American weddings, and it means you should wear a suit. You should avoid stripes and pinstripes, which look decidedly too business-y for the joyous nature of a wedding, and you should avoid a black suit as well. If you’re unsure which suit to wear, safe bets are navy blue and charcoal, and peak lapels are considered more formal than notch lapels. A white shirt, preferably with a spread collar, and a pair of oxfords or balmorals should accompany the suit. A traditional wedding tie, which features a pattern in a palette of black, white, gray, or silver, is an optional detail, but any dark tie will suffice.
If you’re wondering what the invitation’s request of “festive attire” really means, you’re not alone: We’ve all attended a wedding with strangely specific or downright confusing dress codes. These are usually added by couples who are just trying to keep guests from feeling restricted when it comes to their attire, but they’re often more confusing than helpful. So what should you wear to a wedding where festive attire has been requested? A classic suit with a colorful tie is a good choice.
For a wedding with a casual dress code, it helps to know the couple and the venue to gauge what you should be wearing. But generally, a suit without a tie, or a sport coat, are good choices. However, you should never wear a tie without a jacket, and usually at events with a “casual” dress code, a tie is unnecessary, anyway. When attending a wedding, it’s always better to be overdressed than underdressed, though it’s also important to avoid out-dressing the groom and the wedding party, so keep things simple.
It can be difficult to decipher what the dress code specified on the invitation (or one of the half-dozen accompanying pieces of paper) really means, but it’s even trickier to figure out what to wear to a wedding when there’s no mention of a dress code at all. If you’re close to the groom or the bride, the best thing is simply to ask. But if you aren’t close with anyone in the wedding party, you’ve waited until the last week or two before the event, or it otherwise seems inappropriate to bother the couple with an inquiry, then you’ll need to do some detective work.
First of all, figure out when and where the wedding will be held. All of that information should be easily visible on the save-the-date or the invitation. If you’ve scrutinized the invitation and all the accompanying paperwork, and still see no mention of a dress code, the first thing to know is a suit is always a good idea. Outdoor weddings are usually a little less formal than indoor weddings, and the season of the wedding can help you determine what material the suit should be made of. Summer weddings are a good occasion to wear a cotton or linen suit, or even a seersucker suit if you live in a part of the country where they’re commonly worn (i.e., won’t look like a costume).
Similarly, if the ceremony will be held on a beach, it’s a safe bet that you don’t need to wear a tux, or perhaps even a jacket at all. For a garden party ceremony, a pale linen suit is likely a better choice than a dark wool one. And a wedding that’s held at a city venue probably calls for a darker suit than a ceremony held on a country estate, where a more softly-structured suit and even patterned shirts can be appropriate. In any case, ensure that you use all the available information to determine what to wear, and make sure your clothes are properly tailored and your ensemble tastefully accessorized.