If you’re like me, phrases like Black Tie Optional and Beachy Casual are vague enough to leave me wondering what’s appropriate. Fearful of being overdressed, or even worse, underdressed, it’s sometimes difficult to gauge what to wear. As if picking your outfit for a special occasion isn’t difficult enough, that tricky little line at the bottom of the invitation can easily throw you into a tizzy. Does Black Tie Optional mean a tux without a tie? Can I wear khaki shorts to a Beachy Casual soiree? General rules like “don’t wear white” and “no jeans” are fairly common knowledge at this point but after that, the lines are blurred.
Alas! I’ve outlined the most common style-labels and what’s appropriate for each, just for you!
1. White Tie: Think Oscars or a White House Gala. White Tie is the most formal of the formal when it comes to weddings. Women wear long, elegant, floor-length gowns in either brown or black. Accessories can be extravagant, with a sophisticated up-do and glamorous makeup. Men should arrive in a black tux with a long jacket with tails. Black patent leather shoes, a black or white vest and bow tie complete the accessories. For the ultimate formal event, be sure to bring white gloves for dancing!
2. Black Tie: A step down from White Tie but nonetheless formal, Black Tie is one of the most common wedding attire styles. Men should wear a tuxedo with either a bow tie or normal tie, with a cumberbund, and formal black leather shoes. Women stick to a floor-length gown in either black or brown but keep the jewelry simple with classic hair and makeup.
3. Black Tie Optional or Formal Attire: Keeping it classy, men should don a tuxedo (if he’s feeling fancy) or a formal, dark suit and tie. A white or colored shirt can be worn with the suit and tie. For daytime affiairs, brown shoes are acceptable while black shoes and accessories are appropriate for evening soirees. Ladies should opt for a long dress for an evening wedding but a formal cocktail-length dress in a dark or neutral tone is totally appropriate for daytime.
4. Beachy-Casual or Garden Party: Considering we live at the beach, beachy-casual is a fairly common style around here. This is not a free pass for men to wear unpressed khakis, a button-down shirt that’s unbuttoned a little-too-far, and flip flops. Be respectful that it is a very special occasion and men should consider wear a linen or tan suit and tie. Closed-toed shoes for men are always the better choice… For ladies, a cocktail-style dress or skirt and blouse can be worn with flats or a strappy sandal. Match the colors with the season and time of day. Bold patterns and bright colors are perfect for daytime events while a more jewel-toned dress is appropriate for night-time.
5. Casual: Although you may take this to mean a pair of jeans and boat shoes, keep in mind you’re attending a wedding. Again, keep perspective on this very special day and dress respectfully. Ladies should consider a sundress in the spring and summer months or a cocktail-style dress in a jewel tone for the winter. Men should don pressed slacks or khakis, a button-down shirt and tie. If you arrive and feel over-dressed, simply remove the tie and unbutton the top shirt button if you have an undershirt on. Remember, no one likes to see crazy chest hair trying to escape your shirt! Keep footwear conservative, meaning no flip flops or sandals for men. Boat shoes or loafers are completely appropriate for men while women should keep the heel height under 3″.
It is always a good rule of thumb to over dress rather than underdress. You never want to find yourself in a pair of unpressed cargo pants among a crowd of sophisticated dark suits and ties…