Ahh, fall weddings. Whether you’re headed to a cool outdoor event or a festive indoor celebration, autumnal nuptials are a time for everyone to enjoy rich colors, hearty holiday foods, and the latest in fall fashion. Bring on those Save the Dates!
Of course, receiving the invitation in the mail is only the start. The real challenge is in finding the perfect outfit, which can sometimes be complicated by hard-to-decipher dress codes and fall’s somewhat unpredictable weather.
Lucky for you, we’ve created this helpful guide to understanding wedding dress codes. Below, we highlight the different dress codes you’re likely to see in the fall, as well as outfit ideas to inspire your search for the perfect autumnal wedding guest attire. From sexy maxis in gorgeous hues to delicate and glittery minis (and more), you’re sure to find a dress to fall in love with.
Our Ultimate Guide To Wedding Dress Codes
If you’ve ever received a wedding invitation with a dress code, you may have found yourself lost in a brief moment of confusion, wondering things like:
- What’s the difference between “black tie” and “black tie optional?”
- If a couple specifies “semi-formal,” do they really just mean you should dress formally?
- What the heck does “formal” mean anyway?
While understanding all these different dress codes may seem unnecessary, it’s actually incredibly important. That’s because dress codes help set the tone of the wedding and reception and ensure the happy couple experience their big day exactly as they imagined it.
Starting with black tie and going all the way down to casual, we’ll show you how to decode these dress codes, call out those rare exceptions when it’s okay to bend the rules, and show off some of our favorite fall options to inspire your search.
In terms of fanciness, black tie wedding dress code just about takes the (wedding) cake. (There’s also white tie, an even higher designation of elegance, but unless you’re friends with the Obamas or the Queen, it’s very, very unlikely that you’ll have to deal with this category—so let’s move right along, shall we?)
Black tie weddings are almost always held in the evening and generally require wedding guest dresses like a formal ankle or floor length gown (although you can fudge this guideline if the wedding seems a touch less formal). An elegant pantsuit can also work.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, when thinking about what to wear to a black tie event, most women choose something black—and this fall, we’re especially feeling form-fitting, one-shoulder dresses, like the Confidence Ribbed Dress.
A fall wedding guest dress like this keeps it simple, yet creates lovely lines around the neck and shoulders and offers a stunning silhouette. You can even dress up this trendy take on a classic look with your favorite gold or silver jewelry.
Black Tie Optional or Formal
The wording here can almost feel like a trap. Does optional really mean optional? Let’s break it down.
Basically, when thinking about a black tie optional or formal wedding dress code, the key is that black tie is acceptable but not required. In other words, you can dress as lavishly as you’d like—but you don’t have to if you’re not feeling it. So, have some fun with the freedom you have here!
For women, the general guidelines for this dress code are as follows:
- Full-length or mid-length hemlines
- Nice pantsuits
- Darker hues or prints (particularly in the fall)
- Statement jewelry
Need some ideas?
We love a simple yet flirty dress or pantsuit, like the Paisley Ruffle Jumpsuit, embellished with some jewelry, a smokey eye, and an updo or a blowout.
Or, embrace the head-turning emerald hue of this One Shoulder Satin Maxi Dress. Pair it with chunky jewelry and a neutral toned clutch for the ultimate Evelyn Hugo look.
Cocktail wedding attire offers a broad range of styles for women, as it asks for elegance, but not at the expense of comfort. This means you can opt for the following dress styles:
Just what is meant by tea-length?
This style falls between three and four inches below the knee and is so named, according to Emily Post, for the kinds of dresses that women used to wear to tea back in the 1920s.1
If that doesn’t sound like your thing, you can’t go wrong with a Crochet Lace Midi Dress, which provides the perfect blend of sophistication and whimsy, thanks to its tiered skirt and lime embroidery overlay.
Cocktail attire is also the perfect time to rock your favorite colors, so it’s totally acceptable to don a showstopper like this Carrie in Paris Tulle Dress in red, or this One Shoulder Cape Sleeve Dress with its luxe navy fabric (Can you say Bridgerton vibes?).
Semi-formal is currently the most popular style of wedding dress, so you may have already been to a semi-formal wedding, or perhaps you’re headed to one soon.2 The term semi-formal is a touch vague, but essentially, it means you should dress as nice as you can, without breaking the bank.
This means you can choose almost any of the above options, including:
- A maxi dress
- A tea-length dress
- A knee-length dress
- A midi dress
- A nice pantsuit or jumpsuit
We’d avoid dressing as nicely as you might for a black-tie event, as you may end up drawing attention away from the bride.
You also have the freedom here to think about how to tailor your look for the wedding. For example, if the event is being held outdoors, a pair of wedge heels that won’t sink into the grass is totally acceptable. You can still wear black, but feel free to rock a design with surprising elements, like this Tiered Dress that features polka dot tulle.
We also love a mashup of formal attire and eye-catching color, like this Margeaux Midi dress in red. The satin fabric, off-the-shoulder design, and subtle feather trimming embellish the look, while the color is merry enough for any afterparty. Pair this show-stopper with silver heels and neutral makeup for 100% chicness.
This term may need some context clues to help you land on your exact outfit. For example, if the wedding is taking place beside the ocean, that’s your go-ahead to pick out a breezy sundress or less formal pantsuit. (Keep in mind: Flip flops are never a good idea for a wedding, even if you do anticipate some sand between your toes.)
This Satin Maxi in hot pink is a wonderful example of starting with a somewhat formal design and making it more fun and casual by choosing a head-turning color option. Pair it with chunky heels and hoop earrings for a cool yet vibrant look. Plus, a satin maxi is the perfect dress that's both fitting for a casual wedding and fall trends.
If the wedding is vintage-style, you can experiment with your favorite designs of the era, which could mean getting creative with specific nods to flapper fashion, Victorian elegance, or the Golden Age of Hollywood, depending on the exact theme.
Casual weddings held after the second half of the day are a great opportunity to dress in a younger, livelier style. For instance, this Glitter Mini Dress features a plunging neckline and sparkly silver details, and provides the perfect look for a late-night event.
What To Do When There’s No Dress Code Direction
Wedding season can be an exciting time from the wide selection of party dresses to choose from to styling the perfect fall shoes women love to show off on the dance floor. But how do you navigate the search for the attire when a dress code is not provided? While we hope this doesn’t happen to you—it can be nerve-wracking to head to an event while wondering if you’re appropriately dressed!—there are ways to determine what a wedding’s dress code is even if one isn’t specified.
Here are our top detective tips:
- Check the event location – If the location is fancy, err on the side of formal attire. If it's an outdoor wedding, like a beach location, you can probably dress more semi-formal or casual, or if it's more of a formal wedding venue, it will most likely require fancy wedding attire.
- Aim for the middle – Choose something between cocktail and semi-formal so that you’re dressed nicely, but not overdressed.
- Check the wedding website – Sometimes, additional information is included here.
If all else fails, remember that you can always ask a bridesmaid as a last resort. If there’s a chance the bride cares about what people are wearing on her big day, those ladies will likely know about it. Plus, you can always use their outfits, often stipulated by the bride herself, as a starting point for your own.
Find the Perfect Fall Wedding Dress with VICI
We all love to dress up for the right occasion, and weddings are no exception. But when we’re putting time and effort into picking out the perfect dress or outfit and doing our hair and makeup, we want to make sure we show up feeling appropriately-dressed and confident.
That’s why we’re here to help you find a fall wedding guest attire that will give you the assurance you want, whether you’re observing two loved ones exchange their vows or breaking it down on the dancefloor later. By understanding the differences between various wedding dress codes—and by shopping Vici—you’ll be able to stun and shine at every fall wedding you attend.
Head to our wedding guest dress and special event dress collection to browse our collection of maxis, midis, and more for weddings and beyond. And if you’re not sure where exactly to begin, simply get in touch with one of our stylists. We’ll ensure you find the perfect look no matter what occasion you’re shopping for.
- Glamour. An Important Dressing Lesson: Let's Talk Hemlines. https://www.glamour.com/story/an-important-dressing-lesson-l
- The Knot. This Is the Most Popular Wedding Dress Code Right Now. https://www.theknot.com/content/most-popular-wedding-dress-code