Dressing for the Occasion: Advice from a Chicago Wedding Planner

With wedding season descending upon us (and the weather getting a little warmer), it’s a great reminder to start thinking about dress code options for your own special day. This may be one aspect you didn’t think you had to plan, but no one wants Uncle Jim to show up to your glamorous Art Deco wedding in blue jeans and Converse. When it comes to wedding dress codes, we think it is to keep it cohesive! You want it to make sense in the context of the overall style of the party and that means taking all aspects of your day into account - from your wedding venue, the type of menu you serve your guests, and the look and feel of your event design and decor. 

Dress codes for you, your wedding party and your guests should feel like they fit with the rest of the party. For example, if have chosen to serve a 5-course meal at an elegant downtown hotel, you will likely want to see your guests in formal attire (think tuxes and floor-length gowns). On the flipside, if you’re planning an outdoor, beachside wedding, more casual attire may be appropriate and more comfortable (think linen suits and sundresses). We’ve broken down dress code options down from the most casual to the most formal!

  Photo courtesy of  Emilia Jane Photography

Photo courtesy of Emilia Jane Photography

Casual
What it means: Anything goes!
Play it safe: Summer dresses for ladies, dress pants and polos for the gentlemen.
Where we see it: Parks, community halls, backyard gatherings, low key events.
Where we shouldn’t see it: Hotels, golf clubs, historic venues.

Cocktail (also known as semi-formal and dressy casual)
What it means: A safe zone right in the middle of casual and formal.
Play it safe: Ladies break out those mid-thigh to mid-calf length party dresses. Gentlemen go for the suit and tie (no tux!).
Where we see it: Restaurants, hotels, golf clubs, historic venues, anywhere!
Where we shouldn’t see it: Luxury hotels.

Island/Beach
What it means: It’s warm and tropical and you don’t want your guests to melt!
Play it safe: Ladies go for the flats and sandals paired with a gauzy and breathable fabrics (bright colors a plus). Gentleman grab your boat shoes or loafers and pair that with a lightweight suit without a tie.
Where we see it: Tropical destinations.
Where we shouldn’t see it: everywhere but the beach

Formal (or Black Tie Optional)
What it means: It is an elegant affair, but you don’t expect everyone to have a tux and a ballgown. Elevated but contemporary.
Play it safe: Ladies mid-length cocktail dress or evening gown (avoid heavily sequined or elaborate). Gentleman can break out their tux but can absolutely wear a tailored dark suit and tie.
Where we see it: Hotels, historic venues, luxury venues.
Where we shouldn’t see it: backyards, beaches, parks.

Black Tie
What it means: A formal evening event.
Play it safe: Ladies should wear embellished mid-length cocktail dresses or full length evening gowns. Gentleman should wear a tuxedo with tails, white vest, and white bowtie.
Where we see it: Hotels, historic venues, luxury venues.
Where we shouldn’t see it: Backyards, beaches, parks.

White Tie
What it means:
The most formal of formal events. Expect to see someone famous. 
Play it safe: Ladies should wear full length evening gowns. Gentlemen, break out the tuxedo, black bow-tie, and vest!
Where we see it: Hotels, historic venues, luxury venues.
Where we shouldn’t see it: Backyards, beaches, parks.

  Photo Courtesy of  Perregeaux Photo

Photo Courtesy of Perregeaux Photo

No matter the direction you go, it is super important to communicate the suggested dress code to your wedding guests.  Weddings are an opportunity for people to celebrate and not everyone dresses the same for a celebration. You’d be surprised about who shows up in jeans and a t-shirt, and who wears a dress fit for the club. Communicating this to your guests can be done very literally on your invitation or your wedding website, but it can also be communicated through the style of your invite.

If you want to help guests understand what that guest code means, feel free to send them to this post!