Style Blog/Guides

Wedding Dress Codes: What Is Formal Wedding Attire?

Published on May 21, 2024

By Lily Ertischek
Wedding guests holding hands wearing women's red gown and men's black tuxedos for formal attire.
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First comes the RSVP, then comes the wedding-wear. Sorting out what to wear to a formal wedding is one of the most pivotal pieces of wedding guest preparation leading up to celebrating the big day. As a wedding guest, showing up in the appropriate attire for the dress code is key, and with this in-depth guide, choosing a formal event outfit you feel good about and that reflects your personal style is simple. 

From the characteristics of formal wedding attire to wedding guest outfit ideas, accessory style, and more, find all the details you need for a wedding dress code that’s formal and be ready to be a perfectly-dressed wedding guest.

Key takeaways

  • Black-tie optional attire means the same thing as a formal dress code.
  • Formal attire weddings are elevated events that require specific, polished outfits.
  • Outfits for men’s formal wedding attire include the option for a tuxedo or a dark-colored suit, dress shirt, tie, dress shoes, and suit accessories.
  • Outfits for women’s formal wedding attire include a floor-length gown, fancy midi dress, elevated cocktail dress, or a polished women’s pantsuit with formal accessories and shoes.
  • Respecting the dress code in appropriate formalwear is necessary when attending a wedding.
  • The formal attire dress code leaves space for personal style choices, so you can adapt the look based on your preferences or the season.

What is formal wedding attire?

Formal wedding attire can be one of the trickiest wedding dress codes to understand, since it falls somewhere between other, more straight-forward dress codes. Fancier than cocktail attire, but not quite as dressed-up or strictly regulated as black tie attire, formal dress code weddings ask for some of the most elevated style while still allowing some flexibility and space for personal preference. A formal attire wedding is often thought to have the same or very similar rules to Black Tie Optional events.

A distinct step up from the semi-formal wedding dress code, formal attire for weddings signifies the need for especially fancy suits, dresses, shoes, and accessories. This means that while the level of dress is certainly elevated, the specific garment isn’t mandated (which is the case with black-tie attire), and for that reason, there are a host of outfit options. Sticking to darker colors or more refined patterns tends to be best to wear to formal weddings as opposed to semi-formal or cocktail dress codes.

Wedding guests in formal attire and formalwear accessories on the dance floor

Formal wedding attire for men

When attending a formal or black-tie optional wedding, men and those opting for masculine styles have a choice. The dress code is essentially allowing for either a suit or a tuxedo. Both are absolutely acceptable and the decision may come down to personal preference, men’s style, or the level of formality you feel comfortable wearing. Here are the main points to keep in mind when choosing an ensemble for your men’s formal wedding guest attire:

  • Suits: Formal suits are perfectly acceptable, especially if you go with a darker suit color like a black suit, charcoal grey suit, or navy suit.
  • Tuxedos: A tuxedo is perfect for a men’s formal wedding outfit since it’s polished, fancy, and reserved for special events like this.
  • Adding formality: Elevate your formal suit by choosing a double breasted style or by adding a suit vest for a 3-piece suit.
  • Tie: Bowties and neckties are both options with either a suit or a tuxedo, but for a formal attire wedding requires that guests do wear a tie.
  • Dress shirt: Regardless of your decision between suit and tuxedo, pair your look with a crisp dress shirt. A tuxedo go perfectly with either a classic tuxedo shirt or a French cuff dress shirt. For suits, try a white dress shirt or one in a refined color or pattern.
  • Dress shoes: Dress shoes are a must for a formal wedding, and they should match the sophistication of your suit or tuxedo. Black, brown, and burgundy can be great shoe color choices.

If you opt to wear a tuxedo to a formal wedding, you will be following the dress code perfectly and you will not be overdressed. Typically, any classic style of men’s tuxedo is great for an event like this, just steer clear of a white tuxedo, as they are reserved for white-tie events or for the couple.

For men’s formal attire suits, stick primarily to darker, richer colors, since they are seen as more elevated than their lighter-toned counterparts. This doesn’t mean men can’t wear fun hues to formal weddings, though, so long as they aren’t too bright.

There are other ways to add extra fanciness to a suit for a formal wedding, too. For example, the style of suit you wear can make a difference. Both single breasted or double breasted suits are appropriate to wear to formal weddings. Double breasted suits add an extra detail that can offer a bit more formality. It is often a less expected option, and it can be a great way to strike that perfect balance between not-dressed-up-enough and overdressed, or between an outfit that feels like cocktail attire and one that seems like black tie attire. Since the outfit is still a suit and not a tuxedo, it is distinctly separate from more elevated dress codes (like black-tie or white-tie), and if you opt for a dark-colored suit in this especially formal cut, it’s certain to be appropriate. 

To bring a single or double breasted suit ensemble for a formal wedding look even closer to a tuxedo, try styling it with a bow tie rather than a necktie, which is normally the more traditional option to pair with suits.

Another way to level up a suit for a formal attire wedding is to wear a 3-piece suit instead of a simple suit jacket and pants set. Layering in the vest as an added element creates a completely new, enhanced feel perfect for a formal wedding.

Formal wedding attire for women

Feminine and women’s formal wedding guest outfit options include a whole range of dressed-to-the-nines styles. One key to them all? Long! Between dresses, pantsuits, and women’s tuxedos, hemlines can vary, but to meet the expectations of a wedding dress code that’s formal, sticking primarily to longer silhouettes tends to be best. These are the top choices and considerations for women deciding what to wear to a formal wedding:

  • Dresses: Both midi and full, floor-length dresses can be acceptable for formal weddings. Fancy details in the design and fabric are signatures of the dress code.
  • Pantsuits: A dress alternative that’s just as formal as its counterpart, women’s suits in dark colors (like a black women’s suit or a burgundy women’s suit) are great for this dress code.
  • Tuxedos: Just like for menswear, women’s tuxedos are even more formal and perfectly appropriate for this dress code.
  • Jewelry: While not required, necklaces, earrings, bracelets, and more are ideal to dress up, accessorize, and complete a women’s suit or dress look for a formal wedding.
  • Shoes: Dress shoes are a must. Think heels, polished loafers, or fancy flats.

Dresses are typically the go-to for women’s formalwear. Even within this category of dresses, there’s a range of styles that are best for formal wedding guest attire. As a formal wedding is just one step below black-tie affairs in terms of formality, this is the time to opt for truly fine, elegant choices. This means that it’s not out of the question to go all the way for a gown. Floor length and often statement-making, a wedding guest gown will fit right in. 

Long dresses and midi dresses are also fantastic options that still abide by the formal wedding dress code, if you don’t want to go quite as dressed-up as a gown. 

Regardless of which dress type you choose, the details and finishes matter. Consider touches like embroidery, lace, ruffles, or silky fabrics–these are often found in women’s formalwear.

You don’t have to wear a dress to wear the proper women’s wedding guest attire for a formal wedding, though. Pants can be perfectly formal, too, and there are a few ways to incorporate them into your look. A flowy or crisp jumpsuit is great at a wedding, especially once you style it with formal accessories like jewelry and shoes.

Women’s suits with a matching blazer and pants are essentially made for formal wedding environments–they are an elevated style and can be worn as a masculine, feminine, or androgynous look depending on the accessories.

For another alternative to a dress, and one that might feel a bit unexpected, try a tuxedo. Slightly more formal even than a women’s pantsuit and easy to dress up or down with your accessories, a tuxedo is the perfect option for women’s formal wedding guest attire. And, women’s tuxedos are trending on the red carpet, so bring the fashion and fun to your next formal wedding, too.

Formal wedding attire for anyone 

Stay elegant, but don't be afraid of color. One of the biggest benefits of this dress code is that there’s flexibility to have more choice with what to wear to a formal attire wedding, especially in regard to adding color or personality to your wedding guest outfit.

Don’t forget the finishing touches. The same suit or dress may be appropriate for both a cocktail attire wedding and a formal attire wedding, but with this fancier dress code, it’s important to elevate the look with your accessories. Make sure you’re choosing shoes, neckwear, grooming, and more that really take your garments to the next level.

Wear what makes you feel comfortable. Whether that means choosing between a suit and a tuxedo or a dress and a gown or something else altogether, you should feel free to select attire that is true to you. And, not only should your wedding guest outfit make you like how you look, it should keep you physically comfortable, too–within reason! You’ll want to be able to enjoy the celebration, dance, and wear garments that fit you well.

Black lace dress and black tuxedo for formal wedding guest attire.

The Final Words on Formal: Getting the Formal Dress Code Right

For any occasion, understanding the dress code is essential. For a wedding, it can be even more important to dress appropriately and in line with the requested attire, since it will show your support of the couple’s wishes and help you feel comfortable at the wedding.

Formal attire in particular asks wedding guests for a very high level of dressed-up sophistication while also leaving some room to make the style their own. Let the flexibility in the formal dress code encourage you to wear what you love or experiment with your style–from tuxedos to sharp, dark suits and gowns to pantsuits and more.

No matter what you wear, the fit is key. With SuitShop, getting your best fit in suits and tuxedos for men, women, and everyone is easy. Between our Fit Finder, where we’ll calculate your recommended size, and the Fit Guide, where you can learn more about our different cuts and sizes, your sizing solution is simple. Plus, with our high-quality materials, classic and exciting colors, and stylists ready to help with personalized service, you’re sure to get a look that’s just right for your formal wedding.

Lily Ertischek
Lily Ertischek

Lily is constantly reading, keeping up with the latest TV, and seeking out the best bites. She lives in New York City.

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