Weddings – they are some of the most important events in societies across the world. This goes double if you are the one getting married. But what are you supposed to wear? What is the appropriate wedding attire for men in different scenarios?
Get it right, and you will create a day everyone attending will remember for years to come. Get it wrong and you'll cringe every time you look at your wedding photos.
Gents, that's why today I'm giving you my ultimate guide on what to wear to a wedding. Here's what we're covering:
- Why we dress up for weddings
- The five questions that determine your wedding's dress code
- Wedding dress code terms 101
- The three things to remember for every wedding
Why We Dress Up For Weddings
Grousing and grumbling about wedding attire is almost as much a tradition as throwing the bouquet. In a way, that’s a good thing.
Not that people don’t make unpopular wedding choices, or spend too much on clothes, or all the other complaints.
But the factor that sometimes drives the cost of wedding attire up is the same factor that makes it so essential: it’s visibly special.
By that we mean it’s not something you throw on for any old day. Even when wedding attire isn’t made custom for the event it’s still usually a conscious choice made to highlight how special the occasion really is.
And people do that in many different ways. For some people, it’s the weight of tradition that lends an outfit that extra special something. Things like tuxedos or morning coats are meaningful parts of the day. For others, it’s a cultural touchstone that makes the difference. That might mean a custom-made dhoti for an Indian groom or just some tasteful pocket squares in the family tartan for a Scottish man.
So we dress up for weddings to make the day more special.
And each participant’s outfit plays its own role in contributing:
- The bride’s outfit is, in most weddings, the centerpiece of the show. Progressive couples might struggle for a little equality there. The reality is that women’s dresses are easier to make extravagant and unique than men’s suits. Short of matching outfits, someone has to be the center of attention, and 99 times out of 100 it’ll be the bride.
- The bridesmaids’ outfits are there to complement the bride’s. They may or may not be coordinated with the groom’s party as well, depending on how tightly-organized the wedding visuals are.
- The groom’s outfit is, ideally, there to make everything perfect for the bride (just like all his other responsibilities — that day and for the rest of his life!). Its job is to make him look as sharp as he can without stealing attention from the bride.
- The groomsmen’s outfits are usually a similar or slightly toned-down version of the groom’s, or something else that complements his ensemble but doesn’t quite equal it.
- Guests’ outfits are usually given a specific dress code; when they are not, good business attire with perhaps a few small social touches are traditionally expected. They should always show a little extra effort for the special day.
For all of these participants, the wedding attire can mean a little added inconvenience or a lot. It depends on the wedding. But universally, the goal is to add a little more uniqueness to a special day — and that’s a goal we can all come together on.
With that in mind, we take a look at both traditional and modern outfits for every male participant: how to dress as the groom, how the groomsmen should dress (and potentially “bridesman,” or a man in the bride’s wedding party), and what to wear as a wedding guest.
The Five Questions That Determine A Wedding's Dress Code
Ask yourself these questions to determine the level of formality for a wedding:
#1 Where is the wedding going to take place?
Outdoor weddings tend to be less formal than indoor weddings and call for option 3 – however this isn't always the case.
If the couple are getting married on the beach, a linen shirt and pants would work great! You can also consider wearing slacks with a traditional dress shirt sans tie. This way you are still keeping the mood of your ceremony casual but look the part, even if you are the groom!
If an indoor wedding is being planned, particularly at a gothic or ornate church/building, you may consider formal or semi-formal dress.
If you tend to be up-to-date on current fashion trends, and consider yourself a “fashionable” kind of guy, formal dress may be an option for you. But, if you are more of a classical man, you may want to opt for a semi-formal outfit.
A tuxedo will never go out of style (it hasn't yet in over a hundred years!), so you can't go wrong.
#2 When is the wedding taking place?
Traditionally, if a wedding is taking place before sundown (or 6 p.m., whichever comes first) it is considered a daytime event, and therefore less formal; tuxedos are probably inappropriate for a daytime event.
Instead, opt for a more casual option like a suit. When you wear a black suit that fits well, the appearance can be as stunning as a tuxedo, while remaining appropriate for the event.
Weddings after sundown (or 6 p.m.) are considered more formal, nighttime events and are more conducive to tuxedos.
If the event straddles the day/evening timeframes, go with the option that suits the event most closely. For example, if the ceremony is being held at 1 p.m., but the reception will not be until the evening, you may want to opt for the slightly more casual suit.
However, if the ceremony is being held at 4 p.m. with the dinner and reception immediately following, you may be able to bend the rules and wear a tuxedo. Go with your gut!
#3 What is the general “feel” of the event?
Talk to the bride and groom about this one! Ask them to share their vision for the event. Have they always wanted a romantic, fairytale wedding complete with top hats and tuxedos? Or are they dreaming of a casual ceremony at sunset on theirfavorite beach? Depending on their ideas and the theme of the event, you may be able to determine which style is best suited.
You should also ask yourself if you are going for a trendy look, or would you rather keep your look classic? Think about it – brides from the 80s are probably kicking themselves every time they look at their wedding albums and see the sky-high, teased bangs and puffy sleeves (no offense brides of the 80s!).
Just be sure to be mindful of being too trendy. The nature of fads is that they fade in and out. You don't want to be left with “trendy” wedding photos long after the fad has faded.
#4 What are guests expected to wear?
Again, this is probably a great topic to discuss with the bride and groom. Let's say one of your close friends showed up wearing slacks and a dress shirt (sans tie). Would your first thought be ‘Wow, I'm glad he's comfortable!' or would you think ‘how inappropriate for the wedding!'?
Be sure to consider the couple's feelings. Some brides are comfortable with their guests wearing clothes that they feel comfortable in, while others require their guests to attend in accordance with black tie dress code.
Whatever is decided, be sure what you're wearing coincides with the formality that guests are expected to adhere to. Communication is key!
#5 What is the bride going to wear?
Even if it's a traditional couple and the groom will not know what the bride's dress looks like until the wedding day, having an idea of the style and formality will help the groom to decide what he and other men should look like.
Is the bride going to wear a short, cocktail-length dress? Or will she be wearing a traditional gown with a train and veil? Knowing these details will help to determine the level of formality required by everyone else.
Think about it – if you opt to wear a linen shirt and pants while the bride is wearing a gown with chapel train and veil, you may look a little odd – to say the least.
With these questions answered, take a look at the wedding dress codes below.
You can give your wedding any look you please such as a military wedding, as long as you know your options.
Formalwear is elaborate (and expensive), black tie is elegant in the evening, and suits are always appropriate at any time of day. More casual styles can be easier on the guests and the wallet.
So long as you look over the options beforehand, wedding attire is nothing to fear. If you're comfortable in what you're wearing, you'll have more of your mind free to think about the important parts of the day — the happy couple and the wedding!
Identify the dress code, choose an appropriate style within it and then look for well-fitting, quality clothing that matches it. If it is your wedding, share the dress code for men and women with your guests so they know what is expected of them. Having a few guidelines is a lot less stressful than being left to guess.
Wedding Dress Code Terms 101
Most invitations, as we mentioned above, will list a specific “dress code.” They may not use the word “code” itself, but expect to see a line about “wedding dress” or “such-and-such attire is requested” in there somewhere.
These are reasonably standard categories. Any event planner or fashion consultant knows them automatically, and it’s assumed that guests are aware of at least the basics. The less formal the code, the more the lines get blurred. In general though. the categories break down as follows:
This is a phrase that gets misused sometimes, so exercise some caution.
When most Americans say “formal wear,” they’re thinking of the classic men's tuxedo. And that’s not strictly accurate — the black or midnight blue dinner jacket typical at “formal” events is really a semi-formal garment.
True formal wear has two different outfits for men: “morning dress” during the daytime, and “white tie” at night. But be aware that your host or hostess may be misusing the phrase “formal” — if an invitation calls for formal attire, rather than using a specific phrase like “black tie,” it may be worth a discreet phone call or e-mail checking whether formal or semi-formal dress is desired.
Daytime formal attire – morning dress
Morning dress is — officially, as far as these things go — the most formal daytime attire for men. It’s almost never worn at anything but a wedding by anyone outside of the European aristocracy, however, and looks more like a costume than fine dress to most of us.
Nonetheless, it’s technically speaking still the maximum dress standard for men. If you’re invited to a true “formal dress” wedding in the daytime, expect to have to rent, unless you happen to have the morning dress staples handy.
Classic morning dress standards
- Tailcoat – A morning coat closes in the front (usually with a chain link) and ends at the waist in front, with the sides sloping down to a broad set of tails. Morning coats are usually black or dark gray, sometimes in a textured weave, and should always have peaked lapels.
- Morning trousers are not made as part of a matching suit with the coat. They are usually patterned and made from a lighter gray. They do not have “ribbon” or piping like dinner trousers, but are still worn high on the waist and should always be paired with suspenders, not a belt.
- Waistcoats in morning dress are light and do not match the jacket or trousers. Dove gray and yellow buff are the most common, but any light (non-white) color is fine. The waistcoat should be long enough to fully cover the tops of the trousers. There is more than one way to properly wear a waistcoat – they can be single- or double-breasted, and can have lapels or not — this is something of a personal style choice.
- Shirts are light-colored, but usually not plain white (although white is technically acceptable). A light background with slightly darker patterns is typical, ranging from minimal striping to elaborate “wallpaper” designs. None of the colors involved should be dark or bold. The collar should be a turn-down style, not wing.
- Men's dress boots are the appropriate footwear; a plain black balmoral style is ideal. Plain black balmoral oxford shoes can also be worn, but are slightly anachronistic.
- Neckties or cravats are equally acceptable, though at the point where they’re wearing morning dress most men prefer to go for the cravat. Be aware that this means a dress cravat — broad, hand-tied, and worn outside the shirt but beneath the vest — not the colored, scarf-like versions that are coming back into contemporary fashion and are worn tucked into the shirt.
- Top hats — light gray with a dark band — are expected. A pure black hat is technically acceptable but looks rather stark, and is usually reserved for funerals or state affairs.
As strange as morning dress feels to most of us, it’s important to remember that it’s not a costume — it’s the highest sartorial standard in Western culture. It gets worn for social events by European royalty and, to a lesser degree, by the “old money” of the American east coast. Try it, you'll probably look sharper than you might first think.
Evening formal attire – white tie
The dividing line between daytime and evening for formal events usually gets drawn around 5:00 in the afternoon, but there’s leeway depending on the time of year. Typically the invitation will make it clear which is expected or else be set at a time that is clearly one or the other. In general, if it’s going to be dark when the event concludes, you wear the evening version.
For men at formal events, that means the “white tie” standard of dress. It’s similar to the more widely-known black-tie standard, but is even more exacting and has a few specific details that set it apart.
Classic white tie standards
- Tailcoats are worn instead of tailless dinner jackets. Unlike the morning coat, an evening coat is a cutaway with a sharp waist. The front of the jacket simply ends, while the back continues in long tails. It is not buttoned or fastened, but stays open at the waist. The lapels are peaked and covered in silk, usually ribbed grosgrain rather than sheer satin.
- Trousers are plain black, uncuffed, and have either one or two narrow vertical stripes at the outside seams made from the same satin as the lapels.
- A white waistcoat made of stiff pique cotton is required. The fit has to be exacting: it needs to fully cover the trouser waist (which is usually quite high), but cannot peek out from under the cutaway front of the jacket. It’s a narrow window, which is why few rental outlets even handle white tie.
- Shirts are made from very thin, light, white cotton, with a thicker, almost cardboard-stiff “bib” down the center of the front. The collar is always a stiff wing collar that detaches from the shirt. The cuffs are traditionally a single style, rather than the doubled French style. They still fasten with the cufflinks most men associate with French style cuffs. The front of the shirt fastens with studs, not buttons.
- Bowties are — obviously — white, usually made from the same stiff pique as the waistcoat and shirtfront. Make sure you know how to tie a bowtie because they should always be hand-tied and never premade into a bow.
- Dress pumps are the ideal footwear, though a pair of plain, highly-polished oxford balmorals will also be accepted. Patent leather — sometimes acceptable as a black tie option — is too ostentatious for white tie, and should be avoided.
- Studs and cufflinks are always light-colored, unlike in black tie. Mother-of-pearl facings are typical, but light-colored metals such as white gold or silver are acceptable as well.
- Top hats, if worn, should be plain black. Plain white kid gloves are also acceptable, and may be stored in the pockets sewn into the coattails, sometimes called the “glove pockets.”
White tie has, in addition to those basic elements, its own very exacting rules. They cover everything from the pocket placement to the number of shirt studs used. It is a very, very thorough dress code — probably the most formal a man will ever wear.
In the unlikely event that you’re asked to attend a white-tie wedding, either have your attire made by a tailor specializing in formal wear or seek out a very knowledgeable rental outlet. Warehouse-style rental chains are not going to be equipped to manage proper white tie.
Most “formal” weddings in America are actually semi-formal affairs. Many of them also get the timing wrong. The traditional “tuxedo wedding” that so many couples opt for should really only be held at night. This usually means after 5:00 or so (depending on the local sundown).
Like formal attire, semi-formal outfits come in two flavors: the stroller outfit in the morning and the tuxedo or dinner jacket ensemble at night.
Semi-formal daytime attire: the stroller
Strollers are also sometimes called “morning suits”. This phrase inevitably leads to confusion with “morning coats” and “morning dress”. The name is misleading anyway — not all strollers are made as a matched suit, though they can be.
In general, the style looks very much like its formal cousin, with slightly different jackets and accessories:
- Stroller jackets are often just called “strollers,” from which the rest of the outfit takes its name, much as we refer to men wearing “tuxedos” when we mean the whole black tie ensemble. They should be either black or gray, button at one point on the chest (usually with a chain), and do not have the tails of a morning coat. The lapels are usually peaked, though notched lapels are technically acceptable.
- Trousers should be a lighter gray than the jacket, and can be visibly textured or patterned. Like in morning dress, they are worn high on the waist and fastened with suspenders, never belts.
- Waistcoats are essentially the same as in formal attire: a medium color like dove gray or yellow buff, with the lapels and button stance a matter of personal taste.
- Shirts are interchangeable with formal attire. They should be light-colored, lightly-patterned, and take a detachable turndown collar. Plain white is a bit more common in semi-formal day attire than in morning dress.
- Derby or homburg hats are worn instead of top hats (a top hat should never be worn without tails).
- Dress boots or plain black, polished balmoral oxfords, as in morning dress, are appropriate footwear.
The stroller is probably the least common of the formal and semi-formal options for weddings.
Semi-formal evening wear: the black tie standard
Of all the weddings billed as some kind of “formal” (whether they get it right and say “semi-formal” or not), the vast majority will be black-tie affairs. Black tie is theoretically evening dress, but that won’t stop people from requesting it during the day, and a good guest follows the instructions on the invitation.
The key thing to remember with black tie is that it is an exacting standard — it’s not meant for improvisation. There are a lot of bad tuxedos out there, especially if you’re renting, and you don’t want to wear any of them. Unless the wedding planners instruct you to rent a specific brand or model, you should wear a tuxedo that meets all the traditional requirements.
Classic black tie standards
- Tuxedo jackets should be plain black or midnight blue, made from worsted wool with satin-faced peak or shawl lapels. The jacket has no tails and does button in front, unlike formal jackets. It should have a breast pocket, in which you wear a white pocket square or handkerchief.
- Trousers are made from the same fabric as the jacket, creating a matched suit. There should be a vertical stripe covering each outside seam made from the same satin as the lapel facings. There are no cuffs or belt loops, and the suspenders should button to the inside of the trousers.
- Waistcoats, if worn, are black, with a low cut to leave the shirtfront visible and small lapels that should be narrower than the jacket lapels (so that both are visible). They are often backless, and fasten with a simple clip in the back.
- Shirts are plain white, with a doubled layer of fabric down the front placket. They can be starched stiff like a formal shirt, but often are not. Either turn-down or wing collars are acceptable, though purists will insist that the wing collar is too formal. The shirt usually fastens with studs, but mother-of-pearl buttons are technically acceptable.
- Bow ties should be black and made from the same silk as the lapel facings and trouser ribbon. It should always be hand-tied.
- Dress pumps are the classic style of footwear, but plain black oxford balmorals are also acceptable. Black patent leather is also an option for black tie footwear, so long as the style of shoe is plain and simple.
- Cufflinks should either be a solid metal color or be metal with a plain black facing. The studs do not have to match the cufflinks, though the colors of metal should complement one another.
- Pocket squares should be plain white and neatly folded.
- Cummerbunds are an alternative to a waistcoat. The sash goes around the waist with the broadest part in front and the pleats facing upward (so that they can be used to hold small, flat items like tickets). Classic black tie calls for a black cummerbund, but modern style accepts a very sober, dark color in its place, such as deep burgundy or forest green.
- Boutonnières are usually the only color in a black tie outfit. Red and white are both common for wedding, with cornflower blue a somewhat less common but still traditional option. In all cases it should be a single large blossom, not a bouquet of sprigs.
Black tie optional
In many cases, grooms plan to wear a tuxedo (usually their party will as well), but do not want to require it of their guests.
Thus was the “black tie optional” invitation born. It’s exactly what it sounds like: a guest may choose to wear a proper black tie tuxedo, or may instead wear a dark, conservative suit color.
If you choose to wear a tuxedo, it should be black tie as discussed above. If you wear a suit, it should be the highest end of business attire: dark, unpatterned suit, white shirt, conservative necktie, and plain black belt and shoes.
Black or charcoal gray are preferred to navy blue for black tie optional suits, though navy is technically acceptable. It’s mostly just a matter of blending in — anything but the darkest navy color is going to stand out in a room where almost everyone else’s jacket is black.
It sounds odd to use the phrase in reference to a wedding, but “business attire” is actually a fairly common standard on wedding invitations. It’s also the standard you should adhere to when the wedding simply requests “dress clothing” or “dress attire.”
Dress or business attire — as far as invitations are concerned — implies what we’d think of as traditional suit-and-tie wear, the style of dress still worn at most financial firms and law offices.
Most men have bought a business suit of their own, eliminating the need for rentals. Decent ones can be found for as cheap as the low $100s, if you have time to shop around and keep an eye out for specials, and they’re useful to own outside of weddings as well, making them a much more sensible investment for most men than a tuxedo or morning suit.
The clothing is easier to acquire but the dress standard is still fairly strict, with very few exceptions or places for personal expression:
- Jackets and trousers should be made from the same fabric, usually a worsted wool. Suit color should be either charcoal gray, navy blue, or black. Plain white pinstripes (not chalk stripes or anything wider!) are technically business-appropriate, but a solid color is better suited to a wedding. Single or double-breasted suit jackets are both options and lapels may be either peak or notch.
- Vests can be worn if they are made from the same fabric as the suit, for a “three-piece suit.” This may actually be a good wedding option if you have access to it — the vest will keep you looking sharp without overheating when the festivities shift to the dance floor and men are allowed to take off their jackets and ties.
- Shirts should be plain white and have a turndown, non-buttoning collar.
- Neckties are mandatory if it says “business attire.” Stick with a relatively conservative pattern, though most colors are fine as long as they aren’t too bright. Red and light blue are both common wedding options. Avoid wearing a black suit with a black tie unless you’re in the band or waiting on tables!
- Shoes can be either plain black or plain dark brown, since this is a social occasion rather than business, but black usually looks better. Belts should match the shoes.
- Pocket squares are an important accent and a good way to add a personal touch. Always have one, and don’t feel limited to plain white — this is where many men make their festive gesture.
- Boutonnières are not required (unless you were given one by the wedding organizers, in which case you should wear it), but sporting a flower in your lapel is another option for adding some color and festivity to your outfit. A boutonnière and pocket square can be worn together, but be careful of clashing colors.
As you can see, business dress is actually a fairly strict standard — if you’re wearing a light-colored suit, or one with a pattern, or a shirt that isn’t plain white, you’re not quite up to code. At a wedding most people won’t care — it is a celebration, after all, not a board meeting — but whenever you can, meet the highest standard and use the permitted accessories to personalize.
Dress casual and business casual
“Dress casual” and “business casual” are two phrases that mean roughly the same thing.
The key difference between business dress and business casual — for the purposes of weddings — is that color, pattern, and texture are allowed in your dress casual suits and shirts.
Some will also argue that anything less than business attire makes neckties optional for men. This is technically true, and outside of a wedding a business casual outfit without a necktie would be fine. For a wedding a necktie is always recommended though. Nine times out of ten you’ll find all the other men wearing them as well. In the rare case where neckties are the minority you can always take yours off.
- Jackets are still expected. They aren’t required to match the trousers, but lightly-patterned or lighter-colored suits are an excellent choice if you own one. If you go with unmatched jacket, wear a navy blazer or another formal option rather than a very casual sports jacket.
- Trousers should either be part of a matched suit or else be wool or good cotton dress slacks. Jeans are not an option, even dark ones.
- Neckties should follow the same guidelines as business dress — conservative pattern; no bright colors.
- Shoes can be any leather dress shoe, including casual styles like saddle shoes and loafers.
- Dress/Business-casual accessories follow the same guidelines as business dress — both pocket squares and boutonnières are acceptable, and can be worn together if desired. Have a pocket square at the very least.
- Vests may be worn, either as part of a three-piece suit or as an unmatched accent, and are once again a good way to stay sharp-looking after the jackets and ties come off.
The key thing to take away here is that “business casual” is more business than it is casual. You still need a tie, and you still can’t wear jeans or sneakers. You want to err on the formal side of style for a wedding. This means a nice jacket.
An invitation that requests “casual” or “relaxed” dress is making it easy on you, but it’s not an anything-goes pass.
The dress code does tell you that the planners want a relaxed feel. That means neckties are out, but it doesn’t automatically downgrade you to a T-shirt and jeans.
The ideal casual wedding outfit is a casual men's jacket like a sports jacket, a collared shirt with some color to it, dark-colored jeans, corduroys, or other casual trousers, and casual leather shoes. That gives you a pretty wide range of colors and styles to choose from. But, note the important elements:
- A jacket (the ubiquitous gesture that you’re making a deliberate effort to look sharp).
- A collared shirt.
- Dark trousers.
- Decent shoes that you can put a fresh shine on.
The jacket gives you a place for your festive accessories, whether that’s a boutonnière or just a pocket square. It also features extra pockets, which almost always come in handy if you’ve brought a female date to the wedding. Women's wedding outfits tend to lack storage space compared to ours. Expect to be used as a backup purse at one point or another.
The key takeaway here is that even a casual wedding deserves a jacket, collared shirt, and decent shoes. You shouldn’t look like you ran your errands just before showing up.
The Three Things To Remember For EVERY Wedding
Wedding attire is an incredibly broad topic. But it all essentially comes down to these three points:
#1 Start buying your wedding clothes early
Gents, I recommend you start at least 90 days before the big day. Why?
You will save money – I own a custom tailor shop and the man who comes in a few weeks before his wedding ends up spending more. This results in having to make the work a priority over others, overtime costs and possible mistakes from a rushed order. All can be easily avoided with some upfront planning.
You will avoid stress – There is enough stress you deal with during your wedding. Don't make your outfit one of them. Choosing and purchasing your outfit a few months ahead will go along way in reducing stress.
You have time to practice – With your outfit picked out, you can testdrive it. Put your clothes on and wear them around the house or even the office if you can. Get comfortable with them. If you have bought a new pair of shoes you will have plenty of time to break them in. There is nothing worse than sore, uncomfortable feet. Just be careful not to damage your outfit in any way!
#2 Look your best
You should look like a part of the proceedings. Know the dress code, execute it well and have whatever festive accents you need to look appropriately celebratory.
Dressing sharp on your wedding day is a sign of respect. Not just to your partner but to all the guests surrounding you sharing this special occasion together.
Get an outfit that fits you well and make sure all your details are tidy. Shined shoes, trimmed hair and nails, pressed clothing — it’s all about making things look special and showing that you’ve gone the extra mile.
Pictures of your wedding day will last a lifetime. Ensure you look sharp so you don't have the look of shame every time the albums come out.
#3 Be easy-going
Never criticize, never complain; in point of fact never mention clothing at all, except to tell your bride that her dress is beautiful. You do your best, and trust everyone else to do the same, and you keep any sartorial opinions to yourself. Even if your bride made you wear a Hawaiian-print waistcoat.
That’s weddings for you.
Want to discover more about weddings? Truly master the art of creating a day nobody will ever forget by checking out the following:
- How to dress as a groom
- How to dress if you're a groomsman, usher or another important wedding participant
- What should the father of the bride or groom wear? A guide to dressing as a wedding guests
- How to deal with themed weddings
- A guide to renting tuxedos and wedding clothes
- How to dress for wedding events outside the ceremony
- A guide to wedding party gifts
- How to plan a bachelor party
- How to plan your honeymoon
- 101 wedding songs you can't go wrong with
- How to organize a wedding registry
- How to choose an engagement ring