Here's your ultimate guide to co*cktail wedding guest attire (2024)

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Wedding dress codes can be confusing at the best of times, but co*cktail wedding attire can be especially daunting to figure out. Ironic, really, since it's also one of the most popular dress codes that wedding guests are asked to follow.

However, because co*cktail attire fits into that strange space of "formal, but not too formal," it's easy to be anxious about getting it just right. You don't want to go in a full-length evening gown but you don't want to go in a casual sundress either. So, what is co*cktail attire? How formal does it have to be? We pulled together the perfect guide for this tricky dress code with everything you need to consider, including dress etiquette and our top picks for co*cktail wedding guest dresses.

Your guide to co*cktail wedding guest attire:

  • What is co*cktail attire for a wedding?

  • co*cktail dress dos and don'ts

  • Wedding co*cktail attire ideas for women

What is co*cktail attire for a wedding?

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When it comes to choosing your co*cktail wedding attire, there are a few easy rules to follow.

First, aim for something that can easily bridge the transition from day to night. The outfit should ideally fall between "formal" and "casual." Avoid anything casual enough that you'd wear it to the office or formal enough that you are red-carpet ready. If in doubt, err on the dressier side as a sign of respect.

It's worth noting that co*cktail attire is often confused with the "semi-formal" and "dressy casual" dress codes. However, there are subtle differences. co*cktail attire is considered one step higher in formality than either of these and can be thought of as a more playful way to approach a formal event.

That said, accessory choice can often mark the difference between these two dress codes. If you're still looking for ideas or trying to figure out the difference, be sure to check out our guide on the semi-formal dress code.

For a little more clarity on the fashion nuances of the co*cktail attire wedding dress code, keep the following parameters in mind:

co*cktail dress code dos:

  • Stick to dresses that are knee-length, tea-length, or midi-length. If wearing a longer dress, keep the fabric casual to balance the dressiness.

  • Skirts with shirts are acceptable but be sure that both are made from a material and fit that feels appropriately dressy for the occasion.

  • Accessorize with beautiful shoes and jewelry to step up the look or more casual pieces to tone down formality.

  • When it comes to suits, a jacket is a must. However, the jacket and pants do not have to be black and do not have to match—just coordinate.

  • For masculine suits, wear a tie. You can also include a pocket square if desired. Both accessories can be in fun colors and patterns that add personality, as long as they are classy and not too garish.

  • For feminine suits, a tie is not necessary. Consider using jewelry to take the suit from a day at the office to a night on the town.

  • Jumpsuits are a great alternative if you like the idea of pants but don't want the hassle or warmth of a jacket.

co*cktail dress code don'ts:

  • Avoid long dresses in formal fabrics. You shouldn't be able to attend a gala or formal event with the dress you choose for a co*cktail wedding.

  • Avoid ripped items, jeans, khakis, rompers, or shorts. Those opting for a masculine look should also avoid sandals.

  • Don't wear a full tuxedo. Avoid button-down shirts.

  • For masculine looks, plan to wear a jacket most of the gathering. Pants and a button-down shirt alone are not considered formal enough for this dress code.

Wedding co*cktail attire ideas for women

For a daytime co*cktail wedding

For daytime weddings, stick to softer styles and colors. Trend-forward is always a good way to go, but avoid dramatic embellishments. Aim for dressy and fun rather than daring.

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Sachin & Babi Scarlett Side-Bow A-Line Midi Dress

This bow-adorned midi dress is available in XS to XL.

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Blythe Dress

This floral print dress is a colorful addition to any co*cktail hour.

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For an evening co*cktail wedding

For evening looks, you can really ramp up the drama. Pull in your deeper colors and fancier fabrics and utilize extra additions like sequins (so long as it's not so bright or flashy that you'll be distracting from the ceremony).

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Calantha Off Shoulder Midi Dress

Jewel tones are a great way to make a statement.

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Chase Dress

A sleek silver number available in XXS to XL.

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For an outdoor co*cktail wedding

If you're headed somewhere like a beach, backyard, or barn, you'll want to keep the weather and season in mind when picking your outfit. Aim for clothes that won't drag on the ground and shoes that can navigate surfaces like grass or sand. Outdoor weddings are a great time to wear something that will flow—just be sure that wind won't cause unexpected wardrobe mishaps (particularly in places like the beach, where there is likely to be a lot of it).

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BHLDN Kamila High-Neck Lace Midi Dress

This lace midi dress is perfect for a little flow without risking a full wardrobe malfunction.

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Diva Embellished Boots

Glam up your outdoor look with these booties. You’ll still be able to navigate any surface.

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Ella Jumpsuit

The Ella Jumpsuit is a great way to feel feminine and fabulous in any weather. (Plus, it has pockets!)

For a conservative co*cktail look

For those who don't like to show too much skin, finding a more conservative co*cktail dress doesn't have to be a challenge. Look beautiful without sacrificing confidence or comfort.

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Lysander Dress

This polka dot dress is an absolute classic. It provides great cover while looking sleek and stylish.

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Sai Dress

Throw on a jacket, cardigan, or shawl for extra coverage on this high-neck dress.

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For a winter co*cktail wedding

Look chic and stay warm with these wonderfully winter-appropriate co*cktail dresses. And don't forget to pick up comfortable shoes to dance your way through winter wedding season!

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Velvet Square Neck Belted Ruffle Midi Dress

Velvet is always perfect for a winter wedding look.

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Inori Dress

This long sleeve red number has pockets to store all your needed items.

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For a spring co*cktail wedding

Pastels and nature-inspired colors and patterns are the way to go for a spring wedding guest look. Florals are especially popular this time of year.

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Satin Knotted Puff Sleeve Split Midi Dress

This green satin dress also comes in a pretty pink and blue.

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Baxley Dress

A cheerful floral piece with back smocking and a front slit.

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Memories Dress

A bolder pastel dress, available in XXS to XXL.

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For a summer co*cktail wedding

Breathable fabrics are a must with summer weddings—even for those of you that will be inside air-conditioned spaces. Consider how much you'll need to travel to get to the venue—you might break out in a sweat. And if you're worried about getting cold in air conditioning, pack a shawl. For outdoor summer weddings, lightweight looks with some extra flow are perfect to keep you cool, comfortable and polished.

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Stacie Floral Midi Dress

A summery midi dress, available in sizes XS to XXL.

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Renaissance Split Gown

This trendy orange piece is a great statement dress.

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Keefa Platform Sandal

Consider these shiny metallic sandals to brighten up any summer wedding.

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  • Related: Shop the 12 best plus-size wedding guest dresses

For a fall co*cktail wedding

Go toward jewel tones and darker colors for fall weddings. If the venue is outdoors, consider what will complement nature's changing colors around you and be sure to bring a jacket or sweater for when the sun sets.

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Adair Dress

The red Adair Dress is perfectly classy and made for fall weather.

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Vian Dress

Amp up the drama with this classic red shade and silhouette.

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The Cecily Fit & Flare Sweetheart Dress by Maeve

This floral piece has high ratings and is beloved by Anthropologie reviewers.

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co*cktail dress alternatives

If co*cktail dresses aren't your style, there's no reason you have to go in one as a wedding guest. Great alternatives for those who still want a feminine touch include jumpsuits and suits.

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Reiss Tania Cutout Detail Jumpsuit

A sleek and stylish jumpsuit in an eye-catching color.

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Tahari ASL Belted Pantsuit

This navy suit is classy yet trend-forward.

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Jumpsuit High Neck Floor-Length Chiffon With Bow

Combine the comfort of pants with the flow of a dress. The bow adds formal detailing. Plus, it comes in a ton of colors.

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