Big Q, Easy A: Wedding Dress Codes and What They All Really Mean

Thanks to these expert tips, you'll never be stumped about what to wear to a wedding

Courtesy Randy Fenoli

There's nothing more exciting than opening an invitation to a friend or loved one's wedding – and frequently nothing more confusing than decoding that tiny line that states the dress code. "White Tie," "Black Tie," "Black Tie Optional," "Casual," "Festive," "Beach Chic," what does it all mean? We've teamed up with wedding expert and Say Yes to the Dress star Randy Fenoli, who just launched his own line of bridal gowns, to break it all down.

Some Important Dos and Don'ts:

· Never wear white to a wedding unless it's an all-white wedding

· Remember that you're a guest and you don't want to pull focus from the bride. This means nothing too risqué, wacky, sexually suggestive or inappropriate for the venue

· If you have questions about what to wear, ask a member of the wedding party or close friend of the bride first; try the bride next if they're stumped

White Tie

This is the most formal dress code for a wedding.

For men: "In general, the rules that apply to formal dressing for men are stricter and more straightforward and therefore more glaring when not followed properly," says Fenoli. He suggests a tuxedo, a long black jacket with tails, a formal white shirt, white (piqué fabric) vest, white bow tie and black formal shoes. Even white gloves can be worn for dancing.

For women: A formal, floor length gown is your only option. "I would suggest black, dark or neutral colors. This is your chance to glam it up with makeup and exquisite jewelry!" says Fenoli.

Celeb Muses: Kirsten Dunst in Dior Haute Couture, Naomie Harris in a back and white ball gown.

Getty; Rex

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Black Tie

Black Tie is the next most formal dress code for a wedding and usually indicates an evening event.

For men: A tuxedo is appropriate for this kind of wedding, says Fenoli. That means a black bow tie, vest or cummerbund, and patent leather shoes. He adds that for a summer wedding, a white dinner jacket and black trousers are acceptable.

For women: A formal floor-length gown or a very chic cocktail dress is appropriate. "Again, I would suggest black, dark or neutral colors and if you have any questions about what to wear or appropriate length of dress, it is best to ask the bride, wedding party, or close friends of the bride to help guide you."

Celeb Muses:

Emmanuelle Chriqui in Maria Lucia Hohan, Amy Adams in Tom Ford, Anna Kendrick in Vionnet, Laura Dern in a black beaded gown.

Getty; Rex; Getty (2)

Black Tie Optional

Black Tie Optional is still formal, but the rules are less rigid.

For men: "A tuxedo isn't required, but I suggest a well-tailored dark suit, white shirt and elegant, conservative tie, pocket square and accessories," Fenoli explains.

For women: "A long dress, a formal cocktail dress, a dressy suit or separates, and darker or neutral colors are always appreciated," he says.

Celeb Muses: Emma Watson in a black strapless jumpsuit, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley in Brandon Maxwell andAlicia Vikander inLouis Vuitton.

Getty (3)


Cocktail Attire tends to be semi-formal, with variations depending on the venue or time of day (a fancier venue or evening wedding should help give clues).

For men: Fenoli suggests a dark or muted suit with a tie and pocket square.

For women: A short party dress will work, and a little black dress is always a great choice when dressed up with some festive jewelry. If you wish to wear a color, "choose something bright and colorful," says Fenoli.

Celeb Muses: Gabrielle Union in Rodarte, Claire Daines in Roland Mouret and Brie Larson in Oscar de la Renta.

Invision/AP; Getty (2)

RELATED VIDEO: Randy Fenoli Reveals Why His Bridal Shops Dreams Were Ruined: '2 Weeks Before We Signed The Papers…Hurricane Katrina'


This dress code is similar to cocktail attire, but includes bolder colors and more playful accessories.

For men: A suit with a bright, colorful tie paired with a coordinating pocket square and cool accessories.

For women: Feel free to wear a dress with a print, embellishments or interesting straps, and have fun with your footwear.

Celeb Muses: Selena Gomez in Oscar de la Renta and Jessica Chastain in Zuhair Murad.

Getty (2)

Beach/Destination Formal

"Beach formal is an elegant beach wedding, so dress to impress," says Fenoli.

For men: A summer suit with a light-colored cotton or linen shirt, cotton, linen, or khaki pants will do, and no tie is required. "I suggest wearing shoes that can slip off easily or sandals, again with a nice pedicure! And definitely no shorts, tank tops or T-shirts, guys," says Fenoli.

For women: "A long elegant gown in a light fabric like a cotton, chiffon, organza and even lace in light, bright colors will work beautifully with elegant, flat sandals with a pedicure. You may want to bring a light weight, sheer shawl or wrap in case the night gets cooler," he suggests.

Celeb Muses: Emma Ratajkowski in a yellow sheer and beaded dress, Demi Lovato in Halston Heritage and Eva Mendez in NY & Co.

Getty (3)

Beach/Destination Casual

Beach or Destination Casual means it's an informal beach wedding. "You still want to dress nicely, wearing tropical colors and light breathable fabrics." Says Fenoli.

For men: "A bright-colored cotton or linen shirt paired with white or beige pants and sandals will look great and keep you cool. No shorts or tank tops, and men wearing sandals should make sure to get a nice pedicure!" advises Fenoli.

For women: To beat the heat, Fenoli suggests avoiding black and opting for light, bright, tropical colors. "You may even choose polka dots, floral prints, and other festive patterns," he says. If it is an evening affair a lightweight, sheer wrap or shawl is a great way to keep warm from the cool evening air from the ocean breezes, he adds.

Celeb Muses: Frieda Pinto in a striped sleeveless dress and Selma Blair in a bright one-shoulder dress.

Getty; Splash News Online

What formal dressing tips do you find most helpful? Share below!

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