Wedding attire can be its own form of fashion code, often lending itself to multiple points of confusion. Here is a decoded guide to wedding attire so you can dress up without stressing out.
black TIe As formal as it gets; keep it classic. The bride and groom are essentially signaling you should bring it.
For the guy: Tuxedo pants, jacket and bow-tie. Stick with classic colors of black or midnight blue.
For the lady: Long dresses are the default, but fancy cocktail dresses will work too. Think classic Hollywood.
Black Tie Creative Formal but funky; take risks. The bride and groom are indeed still telling you to bring it, but with your own edge and flair.
For the guy: A tux becomes creative with just a pop of color, texture or pattern. An easy, low-risk way to do this is in the bow-tie or pocket square. Shawl collars or fabric with texture or sheen all stand out. Red carpet looks at the ESPY or Grammy Awards inspire lots of ideas.
For the lady: You're still free to rock a long dress or a fancy cocktail dress, but fashion risks are truly welcome with this dress code. Take a look at Emma Watson's fringe, peek-a-boo lace and feathered skirt (below). Styles of the moment like sequins, crop tops and even elegant suits or one-sies all fit the creative yet formal bill.
black tie optionalFormal but with relaxed rules. The couple is inviting you to be as dressy as you'd like, but acknowledging they don't need you to stress if you don't have a tux or floor length gown.
For the guy: In other words, you don't have to wear a tux, but are welcome to. Typically the wedding party will be in tuxes so it's the couple's way of signaling feel free to join us. Or not.
For the lady: Long dresses and fancy cocktail dresses; you can feel even more free to show some leg.
Cocktail formal Dress to impress while following your own rules. The bride and groom are letting you freestyle within the typical wedding rules.
For the guy: Think a nice suit and tie, definitively not a tux.
For the lady: It will be safe to bet most female guests will be in short cocktail dresses, but there is nothing wrong with a long dress either. You can go classic or playful.
Beach formalDress to impress while factoring in that you'll be in the sun and on the sand. The bride and groom want you to dress up with some beach inspiration while still being comfortable and practical.
For the guy: Light fabrics; linen goes a long way as does a pocket square for perspiration.
For the lady: Flowy, lightweight fabric like tulle. Footwear is everything along with a wrap for the ocean breeze.
Here is some Red Carpet Inspiration: