Wedding Guest Etiquette for Cocktail Attire

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Some wedding invitations include wording to clue you in on what to wear. Commonly used terms include cocktail attire or semi-formal. These phrases are basically interchangeable and cover a variety of weddings. Since most couples choose to avoid both black-tie fancy and daytime casual, cocktail is a popular middle ground. Take cues from the venue, season and time of the ceremony to craft appropriate cocktail wedding guest attire.

Guidelines for Guys

Cocktail attire generally indicates a two-piece suit, buttoned shirt and tie. Shoes should be oxfords, clean leather loafers or wing-tips. Lighten the look for day by choosing soft hues in your shirt and tie to complement a darker suit. Add cuff links and a silk tie with a dark charcoal gray or black suit for a semi-formal evening wedding. Beach venues warrant more casual cocktail attire -- go for a linen suit or a nice button-up shirt and tie with slacks. Forgo the suit jacket if it's too hot outside.

Cocktail for Day or Night

Ladies can opt for a pastel or floral-printed knee-length dress and heels to stay dressy for day. Richer colors like black, navy blue and jewel tones are more suited for evening cocktail events. Sparkling jewelry adds a fancy touch to a simple cocktail dress and pumps for evening. Dressy skirts or pants are also appropriate, depending upon the occasion. For an engagement party or fancy dinner out, rock well-tailored pants in printed jacquard or a wide-leg trouser in a dressy fabric -- think silk -- and team it with a dressy lace blouse.

Suit the Venue

While more rustic venues like gardens, beaches and farms are increasingly popular, many couples still ask guests to arrive in cocktail attire. Start planning a semi-formal look at an outdoor venue by picking out your shoes. Walking through sand, grass or dirt requires a stable, flat shoe rather than a stiletto heel. Patent-leather ballet flats are comfortable, durable and classy. A dressy pair of wedges works well if you're looking for added height. Knee- or midi-length dresses in light fabrics like chiffon or silk make great semi-formal choices for outdoor venues. At indoor venues like a hotel or church, traditional cocktail attire guidelines should be followed.

Cocktail Wear for any Season

Blazing-hot or blistering-cold weather can present challenges for sticking to semi-formal wedding attire. In cooler seasons where rain and snow can occur, a tailored coat offers protection from the elements without detracting from a put-together look. Staying cool when attending an outdoor summer wedding requires finding a balance between comfort and showing too much skin. Light dresses work best for ladies, with sleeves balancing hemlines. A maxi dress can be strapless, but a knee-length dress should at least have spaghetti straps.