What Is Formal Attire for a Wedding?

"Formal wedding attire sits between cocktail and black tie on the wedding dress code scale. It's slightly more elevated than cocktail attire and a touch less dressy than a black-tie nuptial," says Alex Rivera, a stylist at Stitch Fix, a personal styling service.

Formal wedding attire (synonymous with black-tie optional attire) offers more flexibility than black tie, so dressy separates and dresses that hit above the ankle are acceptable, as well as fitted, darker-hued suits paired with a crisp white button-down and tie, adds Rivera.

While shopping for formal wedding outfits, start by considering the venue and season. "These two important details will help provide an idea for the ambiance, the couple's personal taste, and ensure you've dressed appropriately for the occasion," explains Rivera.

For example, for summer events, lighter fabrics, brighter colors and shorter hems are common for formal attire. On the flipside—if you're attending a winter wedding—darker shades, thicker fabrics and longer sleeves and hems are the way to go.

In summary, prioritize seasonally appropriate pieces that are elevated and fancy, but still feel like you. Unlike black-tie attire, you have much more flexibility when it comes to colors, embellishments and hem lengths.

"Don't be afraid to have a little fun with your fashion either through a fun color or playful print," says Bridal Stylist Gabrielle Hurwitz. 

"A knee-length dress, midi dress, or even a flowy maxi dress are all appropriate; I also love the idea of a jumpsuit, suit or a patterned suit or a tuxedo with a standard necktie rather than a bow tie." 

As for accessories, a "colorful shoe, patterned tie, statement piece of jewelry or a fun pair of sunglasses (if the wedding is outdoors)" are all ways to add personality to your ensemble, according to Hurwitz.

Overall, pick an outfit that you truly love and feel your best in, while still being respectful of the couple's attire request. As for colors to avoid for formal weddings, steer clear of "white, ivory, cream, or champagne-colored dresses and light-colored suits," continues Rivera.

You should also avoid pieces that may read as too casual, such as a "cotton sundress or sports coat with chino pants," advises Hurwitz.

Learn more about how to organize a dream wedding and not go crazy