Wedding Dress Codes Explained

This is what you should be wearing to the next wedding you're invited to

Amal and George Clooney

Photo: Getty

Girls, admit it. We’ve all grown up dreaming of our fairytale weddings and have it all planned out in our heads, or literally in book, if you’re like Emma Allan and Olivia Lerner from Bride Wars. Nevertheless, every wedding has its own personality (thanks to its bride) and commands a particular wardrobe, regardless of the location or grandiosity. And we’re here to help: From opulent weddings at The Plaza to a pastel-themed wedding by the beach, here’s our guide to navigating wedding dress codes and top tips on nailing them.

1. Black-Tie

You know you’re in for a fabulous evening soiree if the wedding invitation explicitly says “black tie” for the dress code. Originating from British and American conventions for dressing in the nineteenth century, black tie refers to a semi-formal attire for events from 6pm onwards. Men have it easy—anything from a prototypical tuxedo to a dinner jacket will do. But for women, gowns are a must—which comes with a whole other set of do’s and don’ts, not forgetting decisions that have to be made on the colour, fit and level of extravagance. We recommend going with a fit that’s most flattering for your body shape and a shade of colour complementary to your skin’s undertone—the same goes for jewellery. Ladies with cooler (or bluer) skin tones, should opt for silver or white gold jewellery whereas those with warmer undertones will look better with yellow gold accessories.

First things first: Do not turn up to the wedding in a white gown, we’d even advise against a cream-coloured number. Secondly, no naked dresses à la Beyoncé (and Jennifer Lopez, Kim Kardashian West and the list goes on) at the MET Gala. Showing a little bit of skin is fine, we encourage it even, but modesty is equally encouraged. After all, as Carolina Herrera once famously said: “You can’t be a fashion icon if you’re not wearing any clothes.” When it comes to choosing your gown for the evening, keep comfort in mind—you’re going to be doing a lot of sitting and waiting till the ceremonies are over. Take a style cue from Australian-born-Chinese director, photographer, consultant and writer, Margaret Zhang (@margaret__zhang) and opt for a black sophisticated and feminine floor-sweeping gown paired with a tuxedo jacket.

2. Formal or Black-Tie Optional

Here’s when you have some leeway when it comes to dressing. The same choices as a black-tie event applies but you can have more fun with it. A fancy party frock from Rotate would do the trick. But if you really want to the turn the dress code on its head, we recommend doing so with a #powersuit—this way, you’ll be making a fashion statement without upstaging the bride (which is a big no-no).

We love social media darling, Yoyo Cao’s (@yoyokulala) take on the trend with this uber chic woven linen number from Petar Petrov. Petrov has Western celebrities such as Anne Hathaway and Leonnie Hanne as regular patrons and we can see why. Finish the look off with a nude pair of stiletto heels and a pop of colour in the form of a clutch, à la Yoyo Cao. Earrings are optional, depending on your hairdo, but we’d recommend keeping them subtle yet stylish with a fine pair from Los Angeles-based designer, Katherine Kim’s label, KATKIM.

3. White-Tie

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All ready for 紅星大獎2019 🌹

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White Tie is the more formal version of the black tie—think Michelle Obama at the White House State Dinner. Ladies are expected to turn up dressed to the tens in formal floor-length gowns with no exceptions.

Up the ante with sophisticated jewellery, your favourite (and most comfortable) pair of Louboutins and a fabulous yet utilitarian clutch (you’re going to want to bring touch ups and tissues for all the crying you said you wouldn’t do at weddings). Other than that, the same principles of a black tie event should be applied here. Which means, no naked dresses, no wearing white and definitely no casual wear in any way shape or form. Take notes from Singaporean actress Rebecca Lim (@limrebecca), who wore a chic and effervescent gown in black by Maison Valentino to the Star Awards 2019. She was styled by the group fashion director of Burda Singapore, Johnny Khoo. She also wore embellished stiletto-heeled shoes and an elegant pair of earrings. Gorgeous.

4. Casual Eleganza

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Shades of pink for @Dior #DiorAW19

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It’s actually called semi-formal or casual dressy, but you get the gist. Unlike a black-tie or white-tie event, this dress code isn’t time-specific. So you’d definitely want to take the time of the wedding into consideration and make colour choices accordingly. We suggest opting for darker hues for evening or night time and lighter, or even pastel hues for day time. You’ll also be happy to know that floor-length gowns are not appropriate for this.

Cocktail dresses, a skirt-and-top combination or a pantsuit would be ideal for this occasion. If the wedding takes place in the afternoon and leads to a dinner reception in the evening, a cocktail dress would be your best bet. And depending on the location of the wedding, opt for sensible yet fashionable shoes—especially if it’s outdoors. You wouldn’t want a heel getting stuck in mud or grass, so a gorgeous pair of flats or heeled mules would be perfect for this. We’re obsessed with Aimee Song’s (@songofstyle) twist on this where she pairs a fabulous pleated pink skirt with a blazer belted over a turtleneck sweater (colour blocking, anyone?). If you’re going to somewhere warm, we’d recommend skipping the sweater and opting for a double-breasted blazer to keeps things modest.

5. Casual

Casual dress codes are a huge hint that the wedding will most probably be held outdoors, suggesting a more laid-back convention of dressing. But that doesn’t mean it’s time bust out your Levi’s or jelly sandals—it’s still a wedding and decorum demands a certain level of sophistication. Unless, of course, there’s a footnote in the invitation that says it’s unacceptable, then by all means (but really, don’t). Our favourite way of approaching this dress code is with a sundress. Or any dress, really, as long as it’s not blazoned with sequins and metallic beads. Take a style cue from Tina Leung (@tinaleung) who wore this sublime pink and green sleeveless dress from Dior Fall RTW 2014 by Raf Simons. It’s perfectly appropriate for a wedding in a casual setting that’ll see you through the dance floor and supper at your favourite dim sum restaurant. Normally, we’d suggest wearing it with a pair of heels but given today’s fashion trends, a pristine pair of white sneakers would do the trick too. And don’t forget to have fun with your hair and accessories! A messy chignon is quick and easy and looks like you made more effort than you actually did. As for something to carry your belongings in, something from Lee Savage would be absolutely perfect.

6. Themes

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Spring is in full swing!🌷🌹🌺🌸💖

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This is a fairly new concept for weddings where essentially, anything goes, as long as your outfit falls within the realms of the theme. That said, standard wedding attire rules still apply: No naked dresses and no wearing white—although it’s hard to say if the bride will even be wearing white, but let’s stay on the side of caution. If you find yourself unsure of what the theme actually entails, keep things simple: That means classy, yet fun. This flirty and floral printed number from Irene Kim is a great example. The fit complements her physique and the floral print screams fun but not in an over-the-top Real Housewives Reunion kind of way. And the flowiness of the dress is the cherry on top. We’d recommend a pair of white leather boots with heels and crossbody clutch. For hair and accessories, anything goes—but it might be a good idea to opt for an updo with minimal accessories to let the dress do all the talking.

7. Tropical or Destination Wedding

This is our personal favourite because everything you’d need to dress up for it is probably already in your closet. After all, we do live on a tropical island. But be prepared that a tropical wedding will be a hot and humid affair, which calls for moisture wicking fabric choices in dresses and long-lasting humidity-resistant makeup. Anything from a cotton sundress to a whisper-soft flowy tulle dress is a go—just keep in mind to avoid the colour white and dressing in a manner similar to the bridesmaids. We’re loving this low-neck velvet number from Victoria Secret Angel, Liu Wen (@liuwenlw), although we’d highly recommended opting for something made from natural fibres such as silk, rayon or cotton so that you don’t find yourself perspiring too much. A classic pair of wedged heels and statement earrings are the way to go with this trend. As for hair, forget about it—pop on a sun hat and call it a day, because honestly, no one would be able to tell if you #wokeuplikethis or took inspiration from Alessandra Ambrosio’s technique for a beachy hairdo in Vogue’s skincare series on YouTube.

Lastly, we’d like to end off by saying that it’s always a good idea to dress more formally than you think you should because there’s no such thing as overdressing. Unless, of course, if you turn up to a beach wedding in a tulle gown. That’s all.

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