Wedding Dress Codes Demystified

By Annie Lane

January 11, 2019 3 min read

Dear Annie: I recently attended the wedding of a college friend of mine.

In the days preceding the wedding, a buddy of mine asked whether I was going to wear a tuxedo. I told him no, because the invitation said "formal attire." I interpreted "formal" to mean I should wear a suit, whereas "black tie" would have meant men should wear a tux. We asked our respective wives and decided that "formal" meant suit.

The wedding took place during the summer in Southern California. I wore a true-blue suit, blue shirt and light red linen tie. I thought it was perfect for the venue, time of year and location. My buddy wore something comparable.

However, when we showed up in our suits, we were surprised to see that almost everyone else was wearing tuxes.

Business? Business casual? Business cool? Formal? Black tie? Black tie optional? Toptional? Is there a council of elders who decide what we can wear and when? I am writing to you to get the definitive ruling on ambiguous attire definitions. Feeling underdressed is the pits. -- Dressed to Be Stressed

Dear Dressed: Here's a brief overview of what wedding dress codes mean for men. If the invitation says "white tie," dress to the nines -- with a long black jacket with tails, a white bow tie and a white vest.

To a "black tie" wedding, always wear a tuxedo.

If it's "formal," a tuxedo or dark suit and tie will do.

"Semiformal" or "cocktail" denotes a suit and tie.

For a "casual" wedding, go with dress pants and a button-down shirt.

If you're not sure, err on the side of formal. It's less embarrassing to be overdressed than it is to be underdressed.

Dear Annie: Thank you for the very useful list (above) of what a gentleman should wear to a wedding or event based on the dress code listed on the invitation. Could you do the same for women, please? -- Mary Lou

Dear Mary Lou: If it's a "white tie" event, dress as if you were headed to the Oscars -- with a full-length ballgown and carefully styled hair. For "black tie" outings, go with a long evening gown or an elegant black cocktail dress. If it's "formal," stick with a chic cocktail dress or long evening gown. "Semiformal" or "cocktail" means a cocktail dress. For a "casual" wedding, go with a sundress or dressy blouse and skirt. When in doubt, ask the host.

Annie Lane's advice column, "Dear Annie," can be found at

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