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The Best Wedding Guest Dresses for Every Dress Code

From black tie to “festive attire” (whatever that means).

Five models wearing colorful feathered gowns pose against a blue and purple backdrop
Photographed by Nadine Ijewere, styled by Ola-Oluwa Ebiti.
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If your calendar looks anything like ours do, you have a wedding-packed summer ahead. Which means lots of champagne toasts, lots of dancing to “Shout,” and lots of time spent trying to figure out what to wear. Whether the invitations stuck to your fridge call for black tie, cocktail attire, or the ever-confusing “festive,” we’ve put together a foolproof guide featuring our favorite party dresses of the season. Need something for a beach celebration or a church ceremony? We’ve got you covered there, too. Check out all of our picks, and a brief explainer on each dress code, below.

What to Wear to a Black Tie Wedding

Some people see the words black tie on an invitation and think it means they have to invest in a red-carpet-ready gown. While that may be the case in some circles, most of the time this dress code just calls for a long (ankle- or floor-length) dress in a luxe fabric like silk, velvet or lace. You might even get away with a midi, if it has a dramatic flair to it, like a feather trim or a bit of sparkle. And even a simple silk slip dress can be jazzed up with the right accessories. Avoid anything too short or cut from a too-casual fabric like cotton or linen.

What to Wear to a “Cocktail Attire” Wedding

Cocktail attire is probably the easiest dress code to get right. Any length goes, and you can play up or play down the formality of a whole array of styles, depending on the accessories you choose. A mid-length slip or a floaty mini can be a cocktail look if you go for bold jewelry and a pair of fabulous heels. So can something gown-adjacent, if you keep the rest of your ensemble relatively simple. Some of our favorites of the season are on the sexier, more colorful side, but you can’t go wrong with a fun LBD.

What to Wear to a “Festive Attire” Wedding

Think of festive attire (or Festive Formal, as you’ll sometimes see it written) as a playful version of cocktail, where bright colors, cheerful prints and fun textures (like ruffles, sequins and shimmer) are encouraged. While you can definitely get away with a simple, solid-color sheath, if the couple goes out of their way to use this term, chances are they want guests to feel free to express themselves in a bolder way. A mid-length frock with some intriguing details is the move here.

What to Wear to a Beach Wedding

A beach wedding calls for easy, breathable, non-constricting styles you’ll feel comfortable wearing while dancing barefoot in the sand. If it’s a tropical destination, you also have license to show a little more skin than you otherwise might, so why not go for something with a fun cutout? Cotton and linen are also totally acceptable in this setting.

What to Wear to a Church Ceremony

Church ceremonies, which typically take place in the morning or mid afternoon, require a daytime-friendly style that’s on the more modest side. Florals and solid pastels are your friends here, and you may want to avoid anything too far above the knee. But that doesn’t need to mean boring! You can play around with texture and volume or try tongue-in-cheek versions of traditionally “girly” styles. If you decide to go sleeveless, make sure to bring a shawl or sweater to throw over your shoulders.

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