Wedding Dress Codes. De-Coded.

Each Spring I find myself running through Nordstrom like a crazy person frantically trying to find dresses. Dresses for weddings. Dresses for bridal showers. Dresses for evening summer gatherings. Dresses for dresses.

I personally find dress shopping to be stressful enough and then there’s this extra layer of confusion where you have to figure out how formal the event is. Plus it seems dress codes are even more complex than intended these days…for example “cottage formal”. Okay so it’s at the cottage but it’s formal… I’m immediately stressed. Should I be barefoot in a gown? Will we be in the grass? Will we be on a deck where my stiletto heel slips through the crack every step I take?

I can’t solve all of your formal wear woes but I’ve taken a stab at de-mystifying various dress codes below…

Let’s start with the crème de le crème – White Tie

This is the most formal dress code you will ever encounter and unless you rub elbows with the President and attend state dinners on a regular basis, you likely won’t see this on any of the wedding invites that show up in the mail. But in case you do, this is what you should wear.

For Him: A tuxedo with long tails, a white pique vest and a bow tie. Formal black tuxedo shoes and if you really want to blow everyone out of the water, white gloves for dancing.

For Her: A formal, full-length gown, borrow your Mom’s diamonds for some sparkle and go extra glam with your hair and makeup.

 Black Tie

It seems Black Tie weddings are becoming more popular these days, which I’m personally a huge fan of, so be prepared to step it up a bit if you’re asked to.

For Him: A tuxedo (no tails this time), black bow tie and formal black tuxedo shoes.

For Her: Some say you can do a cocktail length dress but I personally think a full-length gown is more appropriate here.

Black Tie Optional or Formal

Essentially this means – if you have a Tuxedo, please wear it. If you don’t, you can show up in a dark suit and we will let you stay.

For Him: A tuxedo or a dark suit and tie. Shoes should still be formal.

For Her: Formal cocktail dress or a full-length gown.

Semi-Formal or Dressy Casual

This one is a bit tricky because it depends on time of year, location and time of day. If there is no dress code on the invite, I would recommend going semi-formal.

For Him: In the summer this means linen suits and loafers. In the winter it means a darker suit, tie optional.

For Her: In the summer it means, chiffon sundress with heels or flats. In the winter it means, cocktail dress with heels or flats.

Beach Formal or Cottage Formal

I find this is where most people get confused because there are no set “rules” on exactly what is expected. I would say essentially this means, please look nice but also keep in mind we will be on the beach/grass/deck/dock.

For Him: A light coloured summer suit (grey or blue) with a linen shirt and khakis. Pair it up with some bold loafers or even boat shoes. Tie is optional.

For Her: A light sundress of any length paired up with a chunky heel or a wedge. A thicker heel or flat will ensure your heels don’t sink into the grass or get stuck in the deck. Very important detail.

Casual or Daytime

For Him: Dress pants or khakis with a linen shirt or polo (no jacket or tie required)

For Her: Daytime sundress or a skirt/top combo with wedges or flats.


If you’re still unsure, I always say overdressed is best.


On me: Marie Lace Midi Dress by Dress the Population available at Nordstrom (comes in various colours)
On him: Suit by Ted Baker available at Nordstrom

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