Your Wedding Dress Code Deciphered: Black Tie to Semi-Formal


By Jae Curtis

Summer means sun, a laid-back schedule, and of course, a barrage of wedding invitations to signify the start of the season. And, whether you’re the bride or a wedding guest, the various wedding dress code rules can leave you scratching your head. Some sound similar, but their names can be deceptive. Wondering what the difference is between “black tie” and “semi-formal”? Get the details on each type of wedding dress attire so that, no matter your role, you can make the day perfect for the bride and groom.

Black Tie Formal

One of the fanciest types of wedding attire (beaten only by “white tie formal”), “black tie” wedding dress code means the bride and groom are aiming for a formal and traditional affair.

Donna Morgan One-Shoulder Chiffon Gown, Peach from Neiman MarcusMen should wear either a full tuxedo, or a dark evening jacket with matching trousers. In the summer, a white jacket is appropriate, as log as it’s worn with dark pants.

Women should have fun and dress up: floor-length gowns in dressy fabrics, like this chiffon Donna Morgan, look the best.

If you do choose to wear a cocktail-length dress, look for special embellishments like lace and beading to ensure that the look is dressy enough. Modern weddings allow for just about any color, but it’s best to skip white gowns to avoid competing with the bride.


If the wedding dress code calls for simply formal attire, you can relax a little: it’s not as formal as “black tie.”

Alice + Olivia Deedee Ruched One-Shoulder Sheath Dress, Black from Neiman MarcusMen can wear tuxedos if they want, but a dark suit worn with a conservative tie and pocket square works well, too. If your dress-up digs need a spruce, hop onto Gilt and search “ties” and “pocket squares” under “men’s accessories.” You can even narrow your search by color to make sure you match your date.

As for women, a floor-length gown is acceptable, but formal wear might also mean wearing that special LBD for the occasion. You’d get a lot of milage out of this Alice + Olivia frock. Make sure to keep lengths to the knee, and opt for statement jewelry to create a formal look from a basic LBD.


A semi-formal dress code denotes a classic affair—perhaps with a few surprises. Men can ditch the tux and wear a dark suit and conservative tie. “Semi-formal” may also mean a dinner jacket and slacks, but stay away from casual fabrics such as seersucker.

Haute Hippie Embellished Cold-Shoulder Chiffon Halter Blouse from Neiman MarcusFor women, semi-formal usually means a cocktail-length dress, but you can also wear dressy separates, like a pencil skirt and this flowy Embellished Cold-Shoulder Chiffon Halter Blouse from Haute Hippie. Just remember that lengths should remain conservative, and when in doubt, err on the side of dressing up instead of appearing too casual for the wedding’s theme and venue.

Wedding season is definitely exciting, and it means celebrating friends and family members who have found love. Respect the dress code your loved ones have laid out, as it can lend an important factor to the look, feel, and mood of the wedding. In the right clothes, you’ll be ready to eat, toast, dance, and celebrate the night away.

Buy the perfect LBD from Alice + Olivia at Neiman Marcus.


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