There are times and places when there’s ample wiggle room for dress codes.
Business casual meetings. Dinner al fresco. Fast-casual in various states of inebriated undress.
However, a wedding is one of the few events where you really can’t screw up the dress code.
Firstly, there will be inescapable photographic evidence, both on a professional and Instagram-tag-happy level. Secondly, you’ll stick out like a sore thumb when the rest of the party adheres to a similar theme.
And last but not least, it’s rude to take attention away from the couple—your job is to show up to a wedding and enjoy yourself, not let your tuxedo printed T-shirt be the mockery of cocktail hour.
Usually, the wedding invitation should specify the dress code, but if it’s left off, then do your due diligence and make an educated assumption by looking up the venue and time of day the ceremony and reception are occurring.
If the invite does kindly ask you to adhere to any of the following dress codes, here’s how you decipher them.
The fanciest of all the dress codes! You’ll rarely have to deal with this unless you’re on the charity party circuit. Think White House dinners or red carpet events like the Met Gala.
Wear a long black jacket with tails, a formal white shirt, white vest and bow tie, white or gray gloves, and black formal shoes.
However, unless you’re super fancy, I sincerely doubt you’ll have to deal with this strict level of Downton Abbey-esque sartorial formality.
If the invitation states black tie, make it easier on yourself and just opt for a tuxedo.
If you don’t foresee yourself dramatically losing or gaining weight in the near to distant future and it’s in your budget, buy a tux and get it tailored instead of renting. The number of times you’ll end up wearing it will be more economical and so much less of a hassle than renting.
Also drag out your black bow tie, vest or cummerbund, and patent leather dress shoes.
CREATIVE BLACK TIE
The “fun” black tie which allows you to inject more personality or the designated theme of the night into your attire. Take your cues from black tie requirements, but you can opt for patterned ties or colored vests or cummerbunds.
For example, if it’s a tropical themed creative black, ditch the black tie and leather shoes for brightly printed neckwear and smoking slippers.
You have some flexibility, but remember to keep your look elevated. As much as you may want to show up in a suit jacket and Chubbies shorts, that’s still a little too “creative” for this type of event.
BLACK TIE OPTIONAL
This dress option allows for the choice between a tux or suit but why wouldn’t you go full black tie if given the opportunity?
Life is too short not to wear your black tie attire whenever humanly possible. This is where owning versus renting your tux really comes in handy.
We’ve departed from the tuxedo arena and are now in suit territory.
Throw on one of your nicer black, navy or grey suits, and since it’s cocktail attire, you can be less refined and have fun with your tie, socks, and pocket square.
GARDEN PARTY OR BEACH FORMAL
One of the more fun summer dress codes, garden or beach formal allows you free reign while taking the environment you’ll be gracing your presence with into account.
If it’s a garden party, then swing for light-colored, linen suits or a more vibrant blazer and pants situation. If you’re not feeling that vibe, go with a navy blazer, white shirt, chinos, and loafers.
Beach formal is precisely that – formal – but remember you’re on a beach.
There’s sand and waves and seaweed and seagulls that could attack you if you feed them your bread basket after an hour or two of the open bar.
Take the same cues from the garden party look, but with a more nautical theme instead of a landlocked one.
If you’re stumped on where to start looking, J. McLaughlin has great menswear options for both of these kinds of events.
SEMI-FORMAL OR DRESSY CASUAL
Slightly less formal than a cocktail, but not quite casual attire. Think of it as what you’d wear out to a nice restaurant.
Go with a seasonal suit that reflects what time of day the event is taking place, and feel free to leave out neckwear and include fun socks.
This means the weddings will likely be held outside, or it’s a courthouse wedding, and they didn’t want you to go all out.
Throw on khakis, a button-down, and loafers of your choosing. Bring a blazer or a cardigan as well that you can eschew if others are going without. It may say casual, but it’s still a freaking wedding.