So you have the save-a-date from your best friend and are making wedding plans. But you keep getting stuck on one big question: What should I wear to the wedding?
If you are a guy, lucky for you the classic wedding attire has gone through a lot of changes in recent years, so you have a lot of options to choose from. That doesn’t mean it is always easy picking out what to wear to a wedding. Each wedding has its unique style and setting and your clothes need to be chosen to both match the dress code and the theme/style/atmosphere of the wedding. We like to say here that dressing well isn’t just having nice clothes but also knowing how to dress for the occasion.
So to help our fellow men out, we put together this comprehensive guide on what to wear (and not wear) to a wedding. We will cover the basic elements of men’s wedding attire and also talk about how the season and theme should impact your clothing decision.
Wedding Dress Codes and What to Wear
The exact dress code depends on the specific wedding., but there are various wedding dress code classifications that they tend to stick to. We will cover each of these dress codes and offer some advice and tips on how to dress for them.
White Tie is the most formal dress code and is actually pretty rare when it comes to weddings. Most weddings operate on a black-tie standard or lower and it’s only the really fancy weddings that use the white tie dress code. The basic get-up for a white tie affair is a tailored suitcoat and trousers with a white tie and white vest. The tie is always a bowtie and the coat has tails that fall below your backside. An all-white wing collar shirt is considered standard. You will also be required to wear cufflinks and studs, as well as a pocket square. Black leather dress shoes are really the only suitable option when it comes to a white tie affair.
The white tie dress code is probably the most restrictive in terms of dress codes as there is a very set standard for what you have to wear. You cannot really experiment with different styles and colorings. The basic outfit is sort of like a tuxedo, except even fancier. Like we said, white tie dress code is not common for most weddings and is reserved for very posh events, like a state dinner, royal ceremonies, and highly formal weddings for influential people.
Accessories for the white tie affair are very sparse. At most, a watch and some cufflinks are really as far as you should go. Depending on the specifics of the ceremony, you might be required to wear something on your lapel, like a bouquet of flowers.
Black tie is the second most formal dress code and is more common for the average wedding than the super formal white tie dress code. The standard dress code for black tie is a tailored and fitted tuxedo, complete with a black dinner jacket, tuxedo trousers, dinner shirt, and black leather shoes. Obviously, the piece de resistance is the silk black bow tie to complete the look.
Tuxedo jackets for black tie affairs are best when made from a durable wool material with a shawl lapel and no vents. In our opinion, the best kind of finish is a satin or grosgrain finished for a classy, elegant look. The classic tuxedo suit jacket is midnight black, but depending on the vent you can stretch the color palette to midnight blue or another subdued color. Unless it is a special event, stay away from bright colors and patterns on your jacket.
Trousers for tuxedos have a seam stripe down the side which matches the finish of the lapel on the jacket. Tuxedos do not use belts so stay away from pants with belt loops and get pants that have a high style on your waist with a flat front. Tuxedo trousers have a straight leg fit and you want a little bit of space between the bottom of the pants leg and the top of your shoes.
Tuxedos shirts are typically white or a cream color and have a pleated design. The best tuxedo shirts are made from a Marcela fabric that has a textured and deep tone. You also have the option between a turn-down collar of a more classic spread collar. In general, the spread collar is the more formal option, so make sure you know the exact specifics of the dress code.
The traditional tuxedo is usually black on white, but there are several color variations you can make depending on the formality of the event. If the event is extremely formal, then we highly recommend sticking to the black-and-white scheme but if it’s less formal, then you have some wiggle room with colors and patterns.
Formal attire is a step below a black tie dress code and shares many of the same rules. The main difference between formal and black tie is that a tuxedo is optional. Instead of a tuxedo, formal attire calls for a dark suit that is either charcoal gray, black, or dark blue, collared dress shirt, and necktie. Pants should be flat dress pants with a straight fit and shoes should be either black or brown leather, depending on the color of your suit. Accessories like a pocket square or cuff links are optional but highly recommended.
The suit is the foundation of the formal look, whether it is a one piece or a two piece suit. Color should be dark and go minimal on the patterns. An understated pinstripe or checkered pattern might be appropriate but nothing too bold and overstated. Exact coloring should depend on the time of year. During the winter, darker-colored suits are almost always preferable while during the summer lighter colors might be more acceptable.
Shirts should be classic yet simple. We would recommend going with a single-colored shirt with no pattern, preferably something with a lighter, neutral color. Patterns can be acceptable as long as they are subtle and stick with one pattern per outfit. Turn-down collars are the standard and make sure that it is pressed and ironed.
When it comes to shoes for a formal wedding, Oxfords are almost always the ideal choice but a nice pair of monk strap shoes can do well too. Either way, you should stick to brown or black leather shoes, polished and shiny. You can get a little more creative with your accessories and stylings if you want. For example, pocket squares, socks with an interesting pattern, or subtle textures are welcome and highly recommended, as long as they do not clash with each other.
Formal attire is still put together but you get a lot more stylistic flexibility to add your own flair. As long as your outfit is modeled around the classic 3-piece suit design and does not go crazy with colorings, then you should be just fine. You do not want to look super stuffy in a business-style suit so take time to put some spirit into your outfit.
Cocktail Attire (Semi-Formal)
Cocktail attire is the next dress code and can be considered the first semi-formal dress code option. Cocktail dress for men still revolves around the classic 2-piece or 3-piece suit but is much more relaxed and casual than formal attire. Suits made out of linen or tweed are great for winter months while suits made out of cotton are perfect for summer. Cocktail attire may or may not require a tie; it depends on the rest of the outfit and how everything works together.
The basic core of cocktail attire is the suit and you should still hover around the classic color trio of gray, black, and midnight blue. However, depending on the time of year, cocktail attire lets you branch out into different colors like greens, burgundies, and lighter toned blues. You can also be a little more adventurous with your patterns, such as plaid, windowpane, pinstripe, and cocktail prints. Again, if you do go with a strong pattern, make sure that it is the only one in your outfit.
Shirts for cocktail attire should likewise stick to a notch or peak lapel and have a slim, sharp fit. as per our fit guide. Colors can also be a bit more adventurous, with options in the salmon, yellow, and green range. If you do go with a lighter color, make sure that it is a softer pastel color and does not have distracting patterns. Ties are recommended, but not strictly required, depending on the rest of your outfit.
Shoes for cocktail outfits should stick to dark tones and leather materials for the summer. Smart loafers, Oxfords, and monk straps are all great options for a more relaxed cocktail attire look. As far as accessories go, a classic pocket square or timepiece is a good addition to the setup, as are a pair of cufflinks. Cocktail dress code gives you a lot more stylistic flexibility but it is still relatively formal. Stay away from extremely bright color, make sure your shirt is pressed, shine your shoes, and go over your blazer and trousers with a lint roller
When it comes to weddings, casual wedding attire does not mean t-shirt and shorts but is much closer to business casual than regular casual. To that end, classic staples of the business casual look include, chinos, a blazer, button down shirt (with or without patterns) chinos or slacks, and a pair of loafers or oxfords to complete the look. A casual dress code is about as relaxed as it gets at a wedding but is still smartly put together, with well-fitting, pressed clothes.
The best part of casual dress is that you can finally open up your wider color palette and get more adventurous. Casual dress includes darker colors and lighter colors in several shades, and you can be a bit more adventurous with your patterns. You can bring out a 2-piece suit or you can forgo the suit entirely and wear a pair of chinos with a blazer. Casual weddings are really the only time you should go with separate pieces for tops and bottoms, and you can get a bit more experimental with the contrast and colorings. For example, a jacket with a bright pattern on it makes a nice contrast to tan pants and a subdued-colored shirt.
Casual attire also opens up possibilities for more accessories. Coo cufflinks, lapel pins, socks, and different shades/patterns are all welcome with a casual dress code. Ties are completely optional and often not a good fit for various casual looks. The ultimate goal here is to express your individuality without drawing too much attention to yourself. After all, it's not your wedding.
Non-Standard (Theme, Religious, etc.)
Sometimes a wedding might have a special dress code of a theme that requires a particular outfit. The level of formality here varies heavily so you will most likely need to lean heavily on the host to figure out what they are expecting. When in doubt, dressier is always better. You won’t feel too weird being overdressed at a wedding but you will feel weird being underdressed.
Men’s Wedding Attire Tips
- If you are going the suit route, make sure that it is fitted and tailored. A well-fitting suit can make an outfit even more formal and you do not want to go to a wedding in baggy trousers or an oversized jacket.
- Make sure that your shoes and belt match colors. So if you get a black belt, wear black shoes, and a brown belt with brown shoes, Whatever you do, do not mix brown shoes and a black belt or vice versa.
- Make sure that your shirt sleeves are about ½ inches longer than your jacket sleeves. If your jacket sleeves are too long then you can go get it tailored to take in the sleeves.
- Limit yourself to 2 accessories per outfit. Accessories should be an accent to your outfit, not the entire focus. A watch and a pocket square are a good choice for almost any kind of wedding dress code.
- Make sure that the top button of your shirt is closed if you are wearing a tie. Even if the dress code is a bit more casual, a tire just doesn’t look as good if the top button is left open.
- Keep things out of your pockets. Things like phones, keys, and wallets create bulges, which do not flatter anyone.
Weddings are important events and you should take them seriously. If you are going to a wedding, the least you can do is make sure that you understand the dress code and dress to impress. Your hosts and the other guests will appreciate it. So if you are a little confused on what all of the dress codes mean and how that should affect what you decide to wear, then hopefully our guide will be of some use.
At the end of the day, every wedding will be unique based on the desires of the hosts. Do not be afraid to ask if you need some pointers or specific details on what to wear. Things will go a lot smoother as long as you have a clear idea of what to wear and what kind of dress code standards you are working with.