You are currently viewing Dos and Don’ts of What to Wear to a Formal Wedding

This post covers what to wear to a formal wedding as a guest, and explains what the dress code means. Read which colors to wear, and which styles and colors to avoid at nuptials.


  1. What Does the Dress Code Formal mean for a Wedding?
  2. What Color Is Best to Wear at a Formal Wedding?
  3. What Colors and Styles to Avoid at a Formal Wedding?
  4. What Are the Best Styles for Formal Wedding Guest Outfits?
  5. How to Save When Having to Attend Several Weddings?


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What Does the Dress Code Formal Mean for a Wedding?

When the invitation states formal attire and/or the start time is in the evening, an elegant feminine midi dress or a nice pantsuit like a tuxedo are the minimum requirement. However, a formal tea-length or floor-length gown would be more appropriate. Recall there are reasons why it is always better to be over- than underdressed.

As a rule of thumb for formal wedding guest outfits: The later in the day the more formal the attire, the longer the length of the gowns.

Late in the afternoon, men can wear formal suits with a shirt and tie. More on afternoon wedding guest outfits. After 6 pm, a tuxedo or even cutaway are appropriate.


What Color Is Best to Wear at a Formal Wedding?

Gowns in gemstone and earth tones, navy, pastels (not icy), metallic gold or silver are good choices. After 6 pm, a black gown works in the US as well. Pattern stand out, therefore go for a solid attire to blend in the crowd of guests.

For men navy, black, and gray attire is best with a pop of solid color for the vest as well as tie or bow. When wearing a tuxedo without a vest make a style statement with solid suspenders in the same color as the bow or tie.


collages showing what to wear at a formal wedding as a guest color and style wise
Ever Pretty gowns as examples for great inexpensive formal wedding guest attire. From upper left clockwise: See-Thru floor length lace evening dress with half-sleeve $64.99. Purple elegant double V-neck velvet party dress $58.99. Burned orange plus-size one-shoulder evening dress. Plus-size V-neck shiny puff sleeve evening dress $56.99. A-line Empire waist evening dress $62.99.  Plus-size lace cap-sleeve evening gown $72.99. Get 25% off on orders $75 and up with code:  blogger25Browse their collection now.



What Colors and Styles to Avoid at a Formal Wedding?

Of course, both male and female guests should avoid the color of the wedding party. Because a wedding is the bride’s day to shine, avoid white (unless the couple asked to wear white), bright colors, prints, and sequin/glitter gowns. These choices would make you stand out, instead of blending in. Because lately, black wedding dresses are a trend, check with the bride whether she will wear white or black.

Consider the location and time. When you expect that there will be strong artificial light or bright sunshine, icy pastels, ivory, cream, light gray and beige might appear as white. Therefore, it is best to avoid them.


sketch of formal wedding guests in colors not to wear
Sketch of formal attire not to wear at weddings. Also avoid the colors of the bridal party.


Style-wise, don’t show too much skin. Therefore, stay away from formal gowns with hems above the knee like it is often the case with high-low hems. During a religious ceremony, wear a cover-up, when your gown is sleeveless, or shoulder-free.


collage with sketches of formal attire not to wear at a nuptial as a guest
Examples of formal attire very suitable for formal balls, but inappropriate at a formal nuptial celebration after 6 pm



What Are the Best Styles for Formal Wedding Guest Outfits?

Any gemstone as well as primary colors will be remembered easily. Therefore, a gown in a classic cut in black or navy is a good choice, when you plan to wear the same dress at various weddings. Alter the look with your accessories, clutch and shoes depending on the location and season.  Great accessories for wedding guest outfits, are, for instance, a hat at a formal wedding brunch on the lawn/deck of a restaurant/hotel, or a faux fur stole for a formal winter wedding outfit.

Of course, a gown in your primary personal style and most flattering color is a great choice as well. You can invest in this gown, and make it your statement to wear it at all formal events.

Sustainability is a big trend right now.


How to Save When Having to Attend Several Weddings?

For what to wear to a formal wedding when you are on a budget, see also the suggestions above. However, when you want a different garment each time, browsing thrift stores and consigning can keep the costs at bay.  Renting an evening gown is another option. But, the cost of renting is often the same as  buying inexpensive formal wear.


Stylist tip: When buying cheap formal garment, look for pieces in fabrics that you can shorten and recycle as a normal daytime dress. See how to shorten a high-low hem  formal dress, and  great ways to recycle an evening gown. Consider that velvet, satin or mesh tulle are easier to alter than chiffon or taffeta.


Diagrams: N. Mölders with photos: Courtesy to Ever Pretty

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