What is the right attire to wear to a wedding reception as a guest?


What should I wear to a wedding?

At The Perfect Wedding Company, we have lately noticed a trend on wedding invites to describe wedding attire in the wedding couple’s own words; such as “Dapper Suits and Dazzling Dresses”. However, there is still much confusion as to what different wedding attire means; we want to help our clients by giving you a clear guide to what to wear to a wedding.

Wedding guest attire don’ts

  1. Do not wear white to a wedding. Unless you are the bride or groom there is absolutely no need whatsoever to wear white. In fact, the bride or groom may be extremely offended if any of their guests were to wear a solid white dress or suit. It is not your place to upstage the bride or groom.
  2. Do not wear anything too short, skimpy and tight. You are not going to a nightclub and there is a time and a place for such attire.
  3. Ladies, do try to avoid any kind of ornamental headband that could be mistaken for a tiara.
  4. Do not ignore the wedding invitation dress code, as the bride and groom have specifically chosen this dress code for their big day. If there is no dress code specified, then do not worry too much and try to have fun with your outfit. A nice summery dress is always a safe bet for a casual summer wedding, or a pretty party or tea dress for a winter wedding.
  5. Beware of dressing like a bridesmaid. Believe me I have done this before myself! There are certain dresses that look like typical bridesmaid dresses, so do try to avoid them.
  6. If you are wearing black, do try to make sure you do not look as if you are going to a funeral. I was even once asked by a bride not to wear black (brides can be so picky!).

What is meant by the different kinds of wedding dress attire?

White tie

This is the most formal of all dress codes. Think Downton Abbey and Titanic. This is also quite old-fashioned and not something that you would typically see on a wedding invite in the 21st century. However, I must say I personally love white tie, I find it charming! Gentleman should wear a tuxedo, a long black jacket with tails, a white pique vest and a white bow tie. Black, formal shoes and even white gloves for dancing are appropriate.

Ladies should wear a formal, full-length ball gown in a neutral colour such as dark brown or black. Glamorous makeup and dramatic jewellery and hair are appropriate. Think Oscars. Nowadays I doubt very much it would be looked down upon if a lady were to wear a dress with some colour.

Black tie

This is the next most formal wedding dress code and usually means the wedding is an evening affair. Black tie is still common – I am attending a black-tie wedding at the beginning of April and am very excited to wear a long evening dress.

Gentleman should wear a tuxedo – a black bow tie, cummerbund and patent leather shoes are also suggested.

Ladies should wear a chic cocktail dress or a long evening gown in a dark, neutral colour such as brown or black. However, as I said above, I doubt very much if it will matter you wearing a dress with some colour in, or even gentleman wearing a bow tie that isn’t black. In this day and age, I do believe in showing your individual personality as we are no longer in an “Edwardian” type era and I’d hope that the British are no longer such snobs.

Formal or black tie optional

The wording here suggests something slightly less formal than black tie. This means that a tuxedo isn’t required but the event is still formal enough for one to be appropriate. Gentleman should wear a tuxedo or a formal dark suit and tie. Ladies should wear a long dress, a dressy suit, or a formal cocktail-length dress in a dark, neutral tone like brown, grey or black.

Casual attire

This could mean that the wedding may be held outdoors or even on a beach, meaning the event will be much more laid-back, especially when it comes to attire. That said, jeans, shorts and tank tops are probably not appropriate unless they’re specifically noted as acceptable.

Gentleman should wear dress trousers or khaki trousers with a button-down shirt, tie (though you might be able to get out of wearing a tie) and sport jacket or sweater.

For ladies, a summer sun-dress is appropriate. Just make sure the fabric isn’t overly tailored and formal. 

Lounge suit

This does come up from time to time and means dress attire for occasions of various degrees of formality. Gentleman should probably wear a formal suit and ladies a cocktail dress would work perfectly. 

Morning suit

The morning suit is making a comeback and I have to say I absolutely love it. Wedding attire for the bridal party and groomsmen can be slightly pageant-like. I mean you are not meant to dress how you would every day, so why not make it slightly fancy dress (and I mean that in a stylish way!).

Traditionally a morning suit should not be worn after 6pm, when men would change for the evening. Sometimes known as a top hat and tails, morning wear is worn by male members of a wedding party; for example, the groom, fathers of the bride, best man and ushers.

A traditional morning suit consists of a black or grey tailcoat worn with striped or matching plain grey trousers. A waistcoat should be worn over a plain white shirt. A tie or cravat is acceptable. A black or grey top hat should accessorise the suit, and traditionally would be worn with a pair of lightweight grey gloves.

A few suggested places to buy wedding guest dresses

Over the years, I have bought dresses to wear for weddings from stores such as New Look and Warehouse, so a great place to start is the high street. I even once wore a beautiful dress I picked up at a little independent store for £10.00, and even the bride asked me where it came from as she liked it so much! Do bear in mind that you do not have to spend a fortune to look and feel great at a wedding.

Font Hill Road
This is a firm favourite for many wedding guests. Font Hill Road is the wholesale shopping district situated in London’s Finsbury Park and doors are open to the public every Saturday with dresses galore to choose from.

I do however have one top tip for you!

Do not buy the first thing you can see– there is so much choice- walk around and try things on and you can always go back to the store when you have decided what you want.

Try Googling ‘wedding guest dresses’ and a number of options will come up. There really is so much out there, so do look around; you may find exactly what you’re looking for in the least likely store.

We recently did a survey on where people have bought wedding guest dresses from. Here are some of the stores that came up: Monsoon, Very, Quiz, Karen Millan, ASOS, Wallis.

For men’s suits you could always head down to Saville Row for your bespoke, tailor-made options or try places such as: TopMan, Next, Charles Tyrwhitt, Moss Brothers, Thomas Pink.

Happy shopping people!


The Perfect Wedding Company are London-based wedding planners providing a free wedding venue finding and wedding reception planning service to couples in the capital and across the home counties.