Wedding Guest Etiquette for Cocktail Attire

by Marie Sporich

A semi-formal wedding calls 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.

Photo Credits

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About the Author

Marie Sporich is a SoCal native, classical ballerina and devoted Yogi. She holds an A.A. in product development and B.S. in business management from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising. She has spent nearly 10 years in retail, is a published writer and certified wedding planner.