Formal Attire Questions Answered!


Tis the season for weddings, galas and other glam events! Because we live in a more casual, relaxed world these days, in terms of fashion and what is deemed "appropriate", many women are confused by the attire associated with events they are attending. I am constantly being asked questions like, "It says Black Tie, does that mean I need to wear a long dress?", "The wedding is at 5 o'clock, should I wear a "church" dress or an evening gown?", etc. etc. etc.! What follows are my suggestions and a few guidelines from those "in the know".

If the wedding invitation says "White Tie", it means this is the most formal of all wedding dress codes. Men should wear a tuxedo with a long black jacket with tails, white pique vest and bowtie. You should wear a formal full-length ball gown.

If the invitation says "Black Tie", the man should wear a tuxedo or a dark suit and tie. A white dinner jacket can be worn in place of the black one in summer. You should wear a long dress or a very formal cocktail-length dress.


This is the dress that I am wearing to a summer ball. It is an example of the most formal attire, appropriate for evening weddings, galas, and events. I would wear a sheer ivory wrap around my shoulders in church for a wedding. I would carry the wrap to the ball or event to take the chill off if needed. It can uncomfortably cold in large spaces with the air conditioning on high to combat the summer heat. 

What if the wedding is on the beach? The man can wear a summer suit, or linen pants and a blazer, and you should wear a formal sundress that's tea or knee-length.

When you're invited to an event that says "Semi-Formal" or "Dressy Casual", the man should wear a suit and tie or pants and an elegant sportcoat. You should wear a fun cocktail dress or dressy pants or skirt and a top.

When you receive an invitation that says "Casual", this can be particularly tricky. Usually, if they have gone to the trouble of sending an invitation, this does not mean blue jeans and a tee shirt. The man should wear nice pants or khakis with a buttondown shirt or polo. If it's outside or at the beach, a nice pair of shorts will do instead of the pants. You should wear a pretty summer sundress/jumpsuit or skirt/pants/shorts with a top. By putting a little effort into what you wear, you are showing your hosts that you are honored to accept their invitation, even if it's just a cookout by the pool.

I am often asked about what to wear to a formal 5 o'clock wedding. The writers at give some very smart advice on this, stating that you should wear something that easily transitions from day to night. I recommend a simple cocktail dress without embellishment like sequins (lace is fine), worn with a sheer wrap to cover the shoulders if the dress is strapless, halter or spaghetti strapped. As the sun sets on the reception, take off the wrap and you dressed for the evening! 

Keep in mind that some churches, most notably the Catholic and Episcopal churches, often request that shoulders are covered.

White and off-white are not the best choices because it's nice to leave that to the bride. Red is fine for weddings, and more women are wearing black for evening if the dress is feminine and elegant. This might not be the best choice if the reception is outside in the warmer months! Also, a pair of beautiful, embellished flat sandals should be considered as an alternative to heels, the more comfortable you are, the better time you will have!


This link will take you to Town And Country magazine's thoughts on the subject.

If you have comments or questions on this subject, please send them in! I hope this information helps you have a wonderful summer filled with beautiful events and occasions!

Until next week,


Alison Bruhn