Levels of Wedding Formality

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When you go to a wedding, you might wonder how to dress. It's hard to know what's more uncomfortable – being overdressed or underdressed. Several designations will indicate the level of wedding formality to the guest. These labels do not only dictate dress for the event but cover every area of the ceremony. While time of day influences how guests should dress, it is only one aspect of how formal the wedding is. Usually, the invitation will tell you how formal the wedding is, but if a guest is unsure, she should call a member of the family or wedding party to clarify.

Black Tie

A black tie event is the most formal affair of all. These types of weddings will occur in a fashionable hotel or a house of worship. They include a fancy, sit-down dinner with a minimum of 200 guests and several attendants. However, contrary to popular opinion, they do not need to be held in the evening. They can start late in the afternoon as well. Both the bride and her bridesmaids will don impressive, full-length gowns. The groom and his attendants will wear black tails with white shirts. The invitations will be as formal as possible and will state that the event is black tie.


Formal weddings, also held at a hotel or place of worship, can begin in the afternoon or evening as well. They feature a buffet or sit-down meal with a minimum of 100 guests. The bride and groom will have a minimum of three attendants but not more than six. Dress for a bride and groom is very similar to that of a black tie wedding. Invitations also indicate that the event is formal and announce the event with formal wording as well.


The bride and groom can host a semiformal wedding in a house of worship or at an outdoor location, home or other venue. It begins in the afternoon. At the reception, the guests eat a light meal or refreshments and fewer than 100 guests attend. Between one and three attendants stand up for the bride and groom. While the bride can wear a long gown if she likes, a cocktail dress is also appropriate. Her attendants wear matching dresses, and the length depends on the length of the bride's dress. The men wear suits but may opt for tuxedos. The bride may handwrite her invitations or send out more casually worded ones.


Informal weddings, held during the day, take place in a home, on the beach, outdoors or at a reception hall. The smallest of all with under 50 guests, guests eat a light meal or snacks. The couple each has one person stand up for them. The bride may wear a dress, pants or sundress. Men might wear suits and ties, beach clothes with sandals or anything in between. Send a letter to invite guests or mail fun invitations.