Have you ever gotten a wedding invitation in the mail and thought... well what the heck do I wear? You worry that if you go with a sun dress that most other guests will be wearing fancier gowns. Or you panic at the thought of being the only woman in attendance (besides the bride) in a floor-length dress. Crap. It's so stressful.
It's not uncommon to suggest attire to wedding guests - in fact it's traditionally supposed to be on the details card of your invitation suite (yet we don't see that very often anymore). It can be really helpful to provide your guests with information regarding their attire so that they aren't calling you and your mother the week of the wedding to ask what they should wear. However, when you do choose a dress code be ready for an onslaught of questions anyway.
The most common wedding dress codes from least formal to most formal are: casual/daytime (note... this still means dress pants, not denim), semiformal/dressy casual, beach formal, formal/black tie and white tie. You can read the details of what each of those mean on Brides' blog post.
Other dress codes you might come across are garden party, resort chic, festive attire (around the holidays) and creative black tie.
And then if you're a guest at our wedding... we threw you a curveball. We set our wedding dress code as Kentucky Derby. Yep, you read that right.
Our wedding design has been influenced by southern coastal charm. Our design features bright and pastel secondary colors - basically no black, grey, royal purple or red. Our venue is an open-air barn with cooling units but no central air conditioning. I wanted guests to be comfortable but my no means did I want to encourage casual attire. I'm a stickler about wedding dress and while I know casual attire works perfectly well for most people, it does not for us. I wanted guests to know that formal attire was expected but also discourage them from wearing dark, heavy, wool suits.
I have learned one thing about assigning a dress code - be prepared.
So many of our friends and family were totally excited right off the bat. I've been getting pictures of my friends' hats and fascinators for easily six months. Some of our friends even custom ordered handmade hats from a shop in Charleston, SC! Others were really not thrilled about the idea of a dress code. I was even told that it was selfish and too much to ask of our guests. Oops.
I have found that people have a lot of questions. I can almost guarantee that everyone attending our wedding has some sort of grasp of what Kentucky Derby attire looks like or has the ability to Google it. But regardless, there have been an abundance of "is this OK?" and "what exactly does this mean?" text messages. I keep a lot of images of Kentucky Derby outfits on my phone and at the ready. I let guests know that hats and fascinators are definitely not required and that if they're really struggling... just don't wear dark colors and dress for the weather.
When choosing your dress code, you want to consider the venue, the formality of the wedding that you're dreaming of, the weather and the event design.
Assigning a dress code can really help most guests understand what level of formality you are going for on your wedding day. It will keep a lot of guests from wondering and stressing about what to wear. But it will also prompt a lot of others to contact you for guidance! I recommend keeping a brief description and/or some photos on your phone and ready to share.