“Fashion has to reflect who you are, what you feel at the moment, and where you are going.”
– Pharrell Williams

Having spent so many years producing fashion shows and editorials much like this one, I have come to realize that there are many things I take for granted. Knowing what to wear to any given event is one of them — it just comes naturally. I have two dear friends whose children are getting married this year, one in August and one in December, and there has never been any concern regarding what I will wear. But the same can’t be said for several of my personal clients. There had been great concern on their parts regarding the various weddings they will attend. Thankfully, all have been taken care of, they are thrilled with what they are wearing, and they will look fantastic without taking away from the bride.

In fashion, there really aren’t any rules anymore, but when it comes to dressing for a wedding there are a few guidelines you may want to follow. Generally speaking, I would never recommend wearing white (or off-white), black (the exception would be cocktail or formal events) or red. (Speaking of black this is a great time to suggest purchasing a fabulous navy dress if you don’t already have one.) For more specific and/or cultural themed weddings, the attire is pretty self-explanatory, and hopefully there is detailed information on the couple’s website; the venue, season, weather and time of day should also help clear up any confusion regarding what to wear. But just in case some confusion remains, I want to share some suggestions for common themes and dress codes.

Dress Code: Casual

For many, this one is tricky. Casual for a wedding doesn’t mean the same thing as casual in life. It does not mean jeans, tee shirts, tank tops and flip-flops are okay. They are not okay unless they apply to a specific theme designated by the bride. My best advice is to dress as you would for a casual first date. Your attire may be more relaxed, but you are still putting some effort into it. After all, it is a special occasion. While dresses are fine, a jumpsuit (as we did here) would be modern and also appropriate. Guys are not required to wear jackets but should always wear a shirt with buttons. Polos are a great option to pair with a classic pant and can be worn with or without a jacket.

Going to a casual wedding? Keep these fashion tips in mind
On Sophie: Bottega Veneta pink jacket (more options here and here); Karhi washed plaid jumper at e. Allen (more options here, here and here); short wooden necklace, $98, and long wooden necklace, $128 at SBJ
Wondering what to wear to a wedding? We are here to decode wedding dress codes
On Adam: polo shirt, $85 at J.McLaughlin; stone khaki pants, $155 at J.McLaughlin; chestnut and blue woven belt, $125 at J.McLaughlin; Nisolo Taylor walnut wingtips, $168 at Nisolo

Dress Code: Beach-y

This is the perfect occasion to wear that easy, billowy sundress. Long or short, it doesn’t matter as long as it’s paired with wonderful accessories — leave the bling for another time (see below). The best shoe for a beach themed wedding is a fashionable wedge. Yes, beach theme means looks that are easy and soft – beach inspired — but it should not be confused with swimwear. Bikini tops, sheer cover-ups and board shorts may belong at the beach, but not during a wedding. Guys can wear a light colored or lightweight suit without a tie; a less formal button-down shirt, a tropical print shirt or Guayabera shirt worn untucked with pants or Bermuda shorts in linen, cotton or twill would also be fine.

From beach-y to white tie, we are here to decode wedding dress codes
On Sophie: Jessica Simpson multi-colored maxi dress (more options here, here and here); Akola seaport demi necklace, $88 at Akola Project; cashmere wrap, $248 at J.McLaughlin; Lloeffler Randall Harper rose gold wedge, $295 at Bergdorf Goodman
Consider these tips when dresses for a beach wedding
On Adam: J.McLaughlin shirt, $155 at J.McLaughlin; blue pants, $155 at J.McLaughlin; leather belt, $95 at J.McLaughlin; Barton Perreira Roux pewter sunglasses, $595 at Barton Perreira; Nisolo Taylor walnut wingtips, $168 at Nisolo

Dress Code: Garden Party

“Florals? For Spring? Groundbreaking.” So said Miranda Priestly. Most people attending a garden wedding aren’t trying to be groundbreaking; they just want to look pretty. And florals, or bright colored dresses, are best. Dressing for a garden or outdoor wedding is very similar to dressing for the Kentucky Derby. In keeping with the theme, I chose a print that looks like floral but it’s actually abstract. If prints and patterns are too much, you may want to use accessories that look as if they have come from the garden — flowers, insects, etc. For men, khakis or seersucker pants paired with a blazer are perfect. Ties are not required but are a nice touch!

Don't worry about being cliche when wearing florals to a garden party
On Sophie: French Connection summer white multi-colored dress, $168 at French Connection (more options here, here and here); Ex Voto Graham gold and pearl necklace with Julia locket, $155 at Ex Voto Vintage; Graham gold and pearl multi-strand bracelet worn as necklace, $299 at Ex Voto Vintago; Alexis Bittar gold cage bracelet, $275 at Saks Fifth Avenue; J.McLaughlin black/natural wicker clutch, $158 at J.McLaughlin
Wedding dress codes and what they really mean
On Adam: J.McLaughlin weather red blazer, $395 at J.McLaughlin; check shirt, $155 at J.McLaughlin; linen garden party bow tie, $85 at J.McLaughlin; pants, $155 at J.McLaughlin; embossed leather belt, $65 at J.McLaughlin

RELATED: “Must-See Spring & Summer Trends, 2016

Dress Code: Cocktail

For semi-formal events, wearing a knee-length or tea-length cocktail dress, as well as evening separates, is suitable. If you are wearing a long dress, it should have little-to-no beading. If you are wearing a short cocktail dress, it can have a little sparkle. Use this as time for dramatic accessories — jewelry, handbag and shoes. Wear something you will be at ease dancing in, but completely avoid an outfit that reads day to night (you shouldn’t look as if you’ve just left the office). Men should wear a dark suit with a shirt and tie. If it’s a more fashionable event, he isn’t required to wear a tie.

For a black tie wedding, keep these tips in mind
On Sophie: Laundry beetroot purple layer dress, $195 at Nordstrom; Spark Creations black diamond earring jacket, $1,650 at Cindi Earl Fine Jewelry; Cindi Earl Collection white diamond stud earring, price available upon request at Cindi Earl Fine Jewelry; Wilbur & Gussie Coco silver clutch, $325 at Wilbur & Gussie

Dress Code: Black Tie

This means that formal attire is required. In most cases the wedding will start after 6 p.m. Ladies have two options — full-length gown or a short cocktail dress as long as it is something you wouldn’t wear to a casual cocktail party or night club. Think of dressing up for the Academy Awards red carpet. This is the time to bring out the bling. A fabulous piece of statement jewelry is encouraged. Men should be dressed in tuxedos with black tie and cummerbund, but he can wear a white dinner jacket with black dress pants in the summer or a dark suit.

On Sophie: Vera Wang lavender gown with tulle overlay (more options here and here); Bounkit amethyst and green amethyst earrings (other options here, here and here); Bounkit green amethyst cuff, $495 at Bounkit; Stuart Weitzman cork sandals, $320 at Zappos
If you are heading to a black tie wedding, pair a lovely gown with playful accessories.
If you are heading to a black tie wedding, pair a lovely gown with playful accessories.

RELATED: A Breathtaking Wedding on Big Bald Mountain

Dress Code: White Tie

This is the most formal of dress codes. It is also the most restrictive in terms of what you should and should not wear. White tie is more formal than any awards presentations and most state dinners. Ladies should be in a full-length gown — it is generally recommended to wear a neutral or dark color. Men should wear a tuxedo with tails (tailcoat), a white pique vest and bow tie, a formal white shirt, black opera slippers (shoes without laces) and in some instances white or grey gloves.

Go all out when dressing for a white tie wedding
On Sophie: J. Mendel black off the shoulder gown with floor-pooling tulip skirt, $2,760 at J. Mendel (more options here and here); leather clutch (more options here and here)
Go for a full length gown when dressing for a white tie wedding
“Ladies should be in a full length gown — it is generally recommended to wear a neutral or dark color,” Milton says of dressing for a white tie wedding.


Fashion Editor: Milton White, The Fashion Office
Photographer: Alysse Gafkjen, Miss Alysee Photography
Model: Sophie Robison, EYE Model Management; Adam Woolard, Tribe Talent Management
Hair & makeup: Char Braden
Photo Assistant: Nathan Cox
Production Assistant: Tami Robison
Shoot Location: Cedarwood


Planning a wedding of your own? Take a look at these Southern weddings for inspiration on venues, bridal shops, caterers and tips! 

About the Author
Milton White

Milton White is an award-winning fashion industry veteran, celebrity stylist and fashion show producer. He is also a proud dog dad to Spanky and Snow as well as an uncle to 17 nieces. Learn more about him at TheFashionOffice.com