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Decoding the Wedding Dress Codes

Alyssa Martinez and friends

Theme parties are awesome. I don’t know about you, but as a former cosplayer I’m always game for theme parties. But when it come to weddings, the dress codes always makes me a confuse. It always makes me second guess. And I recently discovered I’m not the only one encountering this kind of… let’s just say, delima. Seriously, what’s with wedding dress codes that trip us up?

Alyssa Martinez and friends on Kristine and Nico Cabrera's wedding

Our photo from my friend’s wedding.

There’s festive, black tie preferred, white tie suggested, and even fancy ranch optional and more two to three words combined that doesn’t seem to make sense. It’s not as easy as “ugly Christmas sweater” or dressing up as your favorite character. But we cannot just say “f*** it” and dress the hell whatever we want. It’s important to respect our friends’ wishes when it come to celebrating their relationships. And of course, we expect that from them also when it’s out time to wear a wedding dress and walk down the aisle. Which means we need a whole different dictionary to figure out what to wear.

Luckily, your reading this post! You don’t have to stress over the vocabulary anymore or worse, confuse “smart casual” attire as an invitation to wear sweatpants. I’m breaking down or rather, I’m decoding the wedding dress codes for you to finally understand what they really expect from us with that RSVP.


When it says “preferred” on the dress code such as Black Tie Preferred it means “I really, REALLY want you to dress this way.” 


“Preferred” is much different than “optional,” which means, “Some people, including the bride and groom, are going to dress like this but you don’t have to.”


The last but definitely not the least is “suggested”. Which means is a polite way of saying “You should f***ing wear it.”

Alyssa Martinez and friends on Kristine and Nico Cabrera's wedding

Me and my college friends on our friend’s wedding. Dress Code: Black Tie Suggested Color: Midnight Blue

Now that’s decoded, finding a dress now seems easy, right? WRONG! Because not all wedding invites says “cocktail attire” which we all know and very easy. There are still these dress codes that are quite specific but you’re not sure what they really mean. Below are the few examples:


This one is the most confusing dress code ever! Because aren’t every weddings “festive”. Have you’ve seen a wedding party theme that is depressing? Anyway, “festive” means you get into the spirit of the location and it’s semi-formal. For example, are you going to a destination wedding in a tropical locale? Opt for a tropical print.

“Smart Casual”

Like I mentioned above, casual doesn’t mean you’re allowed to wear sweatpants. This just mean that the event is going to be relaxed, but you’re still socializing in public, so an easy sundress or jeans and nice top are great picks.

“Dressy Casual”

As if you’re not confuse enough. Yes, this is not the same as smart casual. Think your Sunday Best. This event is definitely not formal, but still requires a bit of effort. A cute dress or top with pants or skirt is a great option — but no jeans this time.


What does that even mean? Do you I have to dress like Tinkerbell? — nope! Actually, I personally find this the most tricky one. Because it’s not quite a costume party, but this wedding is going to be a quirky one where creativity is encouraged. Guests are invited to use their imagination as they dress themselves in an almost anything-goes sort of atmosphere. Put on that tutu you weren’t sure [you’d ever] wear out of the house. In short, take a cue from Carrie Bradshaw’s quirky formal wears!

“Black Tie”

“Black tie” or sometimes called “formal” is a bit less ceremonial than white tie, but still in the formal realm. Black Tie means tuxedos and gowns. Ladies can wear anything from a floor-length dress to an elegant cocktail dress. Shorter dresses have become acceptable for Black Tie events — as long as they are stunning and dressy! My tip here, buy your dress in formal shops and look for bridesmaid dresses style. But make sure your dress won’t be the same as the wedding’s actual bridesmaids.

Alyssa Martinez and friends

A perfect example of “Black Tie”

“Creative Black Tie”

Yup, just like smart and dressy casuals, there’s anoher black tie category. On this one, your hosts are looking to have you add a little flair and personality to your formal Black Tie outfit. Choose a unique dress design or layer a fun accessory on top of your traditional ballgown or cocktail dress for a bit more pizzaz.

“White Tie”

This is at the tippy-top of the scale for formal attire. We’re talking long gloves for ladies, tails for the gents. Ladies should be in elegant, floor-length gowns only. Think of the Oscars and New York’s MET Gala.

“Beach Formal”

Beach Formal indicates the wedding is going to be in an informal beach setting, but still elegant and upscale enough for guests to dress their best while factoring in the sun, sand, and sea breeze. Shop for the oxymoron of a ‘less-formal, formal’ dress — such as a flowy, long dress.

“Fancy Ranch”

Much like Beach Formal attire, the idea here is to ironically dress formally for the informal setting. The hard part here is to find a sophisticated dress that has a bit of western style to it. Good luck!

Have you attended a wedding with confusing dress codes? Is it one of these wedding dress codes listed here? Share it below!

  • Frances Claudine Segui Vasquez

    Great post!

    Love, Didi of Frances and Flair
    KEEP IN TOUCH: Facebook||Bloglovin’||Twitter||Instagram

  • I’d choose the black one!

    x, Kat of Nested Thoughts

  • Thanks for the tips! Honestly, it’s so awesome that you cosplayed before and I firmly believe you should just wear that to any wedding! Haha totally just joking (but I still admire that a lot, I’ve been to Animeexpo with my brother before). Luckily I’m not quite at that age yet where all my friends are getting married but will definitely need to refer to your guide when that time comes! Can’t wait to see your next posts!

    Stephanie @ Sartorial Diner

  • Jeanie

    These tips are great. I think it’s so important that the bride is very specific on the invitation when it comes to dress codes.



  • Wonderful and helpful tips. Thanks so much for sharing. Now I understand it better. 🙂

  • All the dresses here are so beautiful! What a nice blog post idea to clarify an invitation’s dress code. Thanks for sharing 🙂



    Looks by Lau

  • Kyle Rodriguez

    Thanks for this! Sometimes I get confused with the attire codes haha

  • Tracy

    What a great post to read! Thanks for decoding those confusing codes!
    Fashion Soup

  • wow love all of the dresses <3 beautiful~


  • Mai Tran

    I’ve never been to a wedding with a dress code even. It’s a chill occasion, why would people make it uncomfortable with dress code?