What is Formal Wedding Attire? Expert Attire Guide To Dress Your Best

Many couples choose a Formal wedding dress code to add an air of style and sophistication to their big day. But what does that mean for guests? This popular wedding request can cause confusion, but it also leaves room to express your unique personal style. 

We’re going to tell you all about Formal wedding attire, so you can skip the confusion and spend your time styling a perfect look. So keep reading for a handy how-to on Formal wedding attire. 

What is Formal Wedding Attire?

Formal Attire is a catch-all term that encompasses cocktail and black-tie-optional dress codes. While Formal was once used to express white or black-tie events, that’s no longer the case in most modern weddings. Instead, it means a level of dress that’s elegant but not over-the-top. 

Semi Formal vs Formal Attire

Just as the name suggests, Semi Formal is a step down from Formal attire. Semi Formal is the more common wedding dress code in many social circles, so some couples request Formalwear to elevate the look and feel of their day. 

The main difference between Semi Formal vs. Formal attire is that you can wear tuxedos and simple gowns to a Formal event, but you shouldn’t dress that elegantly at a Semi-Formal wedding. Most of your work-week outfits can’t be elevated enough for a Formal wedding – you’ll instead want to wear special cocktail or evening attire. 

Formal Wedding Attire for Men

Formal wedding attire for men can be super suave or a little simpler. Tuxes are acceptable, especially at nighttime or city weddings. But dinner jackets and suits are fine too. 

If in doubt, you can’t go wrong with a black or navy suit with a white shirt, dark tie, sleek oxfords, and a few thoughtful accessories, like cufflinks, a shiny watch, and a leather belt. 

Formal Fall Example

Fall is a cozy time for weddings, and you can style your men’s wedding guest look with warm, neutral tones and autumn-inspired touches. 

  • If you’re looking for a bold (yet respectful) look, try wearing a burgundy or emerald green suit. These deep jewel tones work well in the fall, and you can pair them with black accessories to elevate the look in a subtle way. 
  • Style your work-week suit into a Formal look by ensuring your jacket and pants match and are in a dark color (black or navy is best). Wear it with a crisp white shirt, a dark or warm-toned solid tie, and a pocket square for a little extra flair.  

Formal Winter Example

In the winter, chic and dark are the way to go. So skip the bright colors and warm up to blacks, deep jewel tones, and a bit of contrasting white. 

  • Pull out your tuxedo for a Formal city wedding. Make sure to wear black shoes and a tie with it. Wear a black necktie instead of a bow tie to bring the look down one level into Formal range. 
  • If your winter wedding seems to fall more on the casual edge of Formal, wear a black suit, a jewel-toned shirt, and no tie at all. A pocket square can add a sophisticated touch, and sleek black shoes will ensure your style is still thoughtful and Formal. 

Formal Spring Example

Spring brings the temptation to wear lots of fun prints and lighter-weight materials. And while some of that has a place in Formal weddings, you definitely don’t want to overdo it and appear too blase. Here are a couple of ideas for how to incorporate a blossoming spring style into your Formal men’s guest attire:

  • A navy or dark gray suit will look great with a light-colored shirt and a floral-print necktie. Dress up the look by wearing black oxfords, or take it down a notch with brown loafers. 
  • For a Formal daytime or garden look, a tan suit where the jacket and pants match could work well. Opt for a three-piece set to bring your look together, and pair it with a printed or pastel tie. Brown oxfords or even a nice pair of brown boots will work fine here. 

Formal Summer Example 

The bad news for summer wedding guests is that Formalwear still requires a jacket, even as things heat up. But you can keep it light by wearing it in soft colors or a breathable material like linen. 

  • A blue or tan light-weight suit with a simple neck time will be a dressy yet low-key look for a summer affair. If you’ll be outdoors, wear loafers and a waistcoat in case you want to ditch the jacket in the heat. If you’re taking it indoors, brown oxfords and a pocket square could bring the look up just a hair. 
  • Some men experiment with summer looks by wearing linen suits in muted yet fun colors, like mauve, taupe, or sage. Add a tie and dressy shoes to ensure your relaxed summer look is still appropriate for a Formal wedding. 

Formal Wedding Attire for Women

Women typically enjoy dressing in Formal attire, but it can be challenging since you may not have the right items in your workweek wardrobe. Most dressy casual outfits don’t cut the bill, but you don’t have to spend a fortune putting together a Formal women’s wedding look. 

If in doubt, choose a solid-colored dress that lands anywhere from your knee to the floor, and make sure the cut is somewhat modest and really well-tailored. A well-fitted jumpsuit is fine as well. Then dress it up with heels (or chic flats), add some shiny jewelry, and carry a dressy clutch. 

Go with dark colors for winter and fall, but experiment with more pastels and subtle prints in the summer and spring. 

Formal Fall Example

Deep jewel tones or warm hues rule in the fall months, and materials like satin, lace, or silk all work well in this transitional season. Need help putting together a fall wedding guest attire for women? Check out these examples:

  • A midi-length silk dress with a fitted bodice and flowing bottom is a great idea for women’s fall Formal attire. Wear it in navy, emerald, or black at night; or muted red, orange, or mustard during the day. Simple heels or ballet flats in a coordinating color and a black clutch will tie the look together. You can wear your hair up or down
  • A knee-length or calf-length lace dress in green, navy, or burgundy. Carry a light shawl for unpredictable weather, and elevate the shorter hemline by wearing chic black shoes and a stylish updo. 

Formal Winter Example

Winter can be a tough time to dress for weddings, since you’ll likely be traveling in chilly conditions but then sweating on the dancefloor inside. So while it may be tempting to rock a chic long-sleeve dress, consider layering instead for all-day comfort and style. 

  • A high or mock neck dress with no sleeves will look great on its own or paired with a warm shawl. Opt for floor length in a deep jewel tone for a stylish city wedding. Subtle metallics are appropriate, either incorporated into the dress or through accessories like a clutch or shoes. 
  • Dress up a standard cocktail dress or jumpsuit by wearing shiny jewelry, sophisticated heels, and an elegant clutch. If your cocktail attire seems to be leaning too much on the casual side, put your hair into a chic updo and bring your makeup up a notch. 

Formal Spring example

Spring is a fun time to dress for Formal weddings, especially if you love playful colors and lighter materials. But the transitioning weather can also bring challenges, even for the most fashion-forward wedding guest. 

  • A solid mid-dress in muted pastel hues is perfect for elegant spring weddings. Just dress it up a bit with nice heels and jewelry. 
  • Satin is an excellent choice for spring weddings. Go for midi or full-length, and lighten things up by choosing a spring-inspired color. The material goes nicely with nice jackets or shawls, so you’ll be comfortable if the weather turns cool. 

Formal Summer example

Summer weddings typically have a more relaxed vibe, but you should still be mindful of your event’s Formal dress code. Dress up standard cocktail attire or dress down elegant evening wear for a pitch-perfect summer style. 

  • A floor-length chiffon dress in a light color is great, but it could look like a bridesmaid’s dress. Make it more unique by wearing statement jewelry, a fun heel, or by choosing one with a slit or interesting neckline. 
  • Find a cocktail dress in a fun cut and color, and then elevate it with nice heels, a solid clutch, and a dressy hairstyle. 

Formal wedding Attire by Time of Day

The time of day will definitely influence your Formal wedding attire. Daytime will call for more playful and relaxed styles, while evening events are typically more elevated and elegant. Below we’ll outline each time of day and help you decide what you should wear as a wedding guest. 

Daytime Weddings

When considering your attire for a daytime wedding, think about the venue. Indoor weddings may be a bit more sophisticated, while outdoor weddings will be a bit more relaxed. The same outfit could work for both – you just may want to change up your accessories to fit the venue. 

  • Men can wear lighter-colored suits for daytime events. Tan, gray, or navy will work fine, and a printed pocket square and sunglasses will add a stylish and playful touch. 
  • Women could wear midi or ankle-length dresses in subtle yet playful colors, like blush, burgundy, or blue. Open-toe shoes may be ok, and the right pair of sunglasses and earrings will help you look super chic. 

Nighttime Weddings

Evening events will lean a little more toward black-tie-optional territory, meaning tuxedos are appropriate but not required, and gowns or cocktail dresses will work for ladies. 

Consider your venue as well – a ballroom or fancy event center will call for a more elevated look than a garden soiree under a tent. 

  • Women can wear floor-length dresses or well-fitted jumpsuits. If opting for a cocktail dress, choose it in a dark color and dress it up with nice heels and jewelry. 
  • Men can wear tuxedos or dark suits. A solid tie will be your best bet, but choose a nice print if you think it matches the season and venue. 

Formal Wedding Guest Attire by Venue

Formal attire can vary a lot depending on the venue. Indoor locations are typically pretty standard, but outdoor areas will allow you to get creative and a touch more relaxed. Read on to learn about wedding guest attire for Formal outdoor weddings. 


Beach Formal is the most laid-back version of Formal attire, but don’t confuse it with resort wear. You still want it to be an elevated style, especially if you’re going to a hotel or restaurant reception. 

  • Women can wear midi or floor-length dresses in light colors or subtle prints. Wear a pair of dressy sandals and choose a chic clutch to add some sophistication to your wardrobe. 
  • Men should skip the tuxedos and instead opt for a suit and tie. A blazer and slacks could be ok if paired with a nice tie and sockless loafers. 

General Outdoor Venues

Most outdoor settings will call for a simplified Formal attire, with the weather playing a significant role in your decision. So layer up and try to lean into the event’s upscale tone.

  • Women can layer up by pairing sleeveless dresses with shawls or wraps, or opt for an unlined lace sleeve in transitional weather. Warmer seasons call for lighter pastels, while jewel tones are vogue in winter. 
  • Men can wear lighter suits for most outdoor weddings. Blues, grays, or dressed-down black are all nice. A tie, shiny watch, and pocket square can elevate these gray and tan suits. 


Garden weddings are some of the most elegant outdoor events, so it’s ok to overdress for them. Just be mindful of the exact venue and the weather. 

  • Women can wear floor or midi-length dresses in silk, satin, or chiffon. Opt for a solid dress but incorporate fun prints or hues through your shoes, clutch, and jewelry. 
  • Tuxedos would be nice for a sauve garden party, but a black or navy suit will also work fine. A floral pocket square and coordinated solid tie is a fun yet timeless look. 

Formal Wedding Attire Etiquette

Formal weddings offer a bit of flexibility for guest attire, but there are still some important rules to abide by. Below we’ll share some of our favorite rules, tips, and etiquette for dressing your best for a Formal wedding. 

  • Avoid wearing white or anything close to it, like cream, ivory, soft gold, pale blush, or light tan.
  • Men should wear a matching jacket and pants, either in the form of a tux or suit, or by wearing trousers that match their dinner jacket. 
  • While simple floor-length gowns and stylish cocktail dresses are ok, avoid any ball gowns, flashy dresses, or revealing clothes. 
  • Prints and metallics are ok as long as they’re incorporated subtly and tastefully.
  • The bride, groom, wedding party, and parents often dress in attire more elevated than the general dress code. 
  • Ask other guests what they are wearing to the wedding to get a better idea of the overall style. 
  • Check the couple’s wedding website to see if they have any recommendations or give better insight into their Formal dress code. 
  • As you consider different attire choices, go for the dressier option. It’s always better to be a bit more elegant than too underdressed. 


As you prepare to be a guest at a Formal wedding, consider the venue, the season, and your own personal style. Feel free to have a little fun with your look but be sure to respect the dress code. Elegant yet understated should be your ultimate goal – from there, try to have fun putting together a look you’ll be proud to wear!

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