Formal Evening Weddings
Evening Wedding Dress Codes
When used in the context of
a wedding, formal, semi-formal and informal are not just dress codes
but umbrella categories for all aspects of a wedding’s formality.
In this regard, the attire
for the wedding party (and guests) is derived from the event’s
overall formality and not vice versa.
Wedding attire is further dictated by time of day with
evening weddings requiring a higher standard of dress than
weddings and receptions are usually held during the day so evening dress codes
rarely apply. In North
America the interpretation of dress code terminology for evening
weddings has changed over the years just as it has for other types
of special occasions. However,
the hierarchy of male attire is the same regardless of the terminology
applied to it:
"ultra-formal", "very formal"
White-tie attire is appropriate for the men in the wedding
party only at the most formal type of
wedding which will typically feature engraved invitations written in the
third person, a ceremony in a cathedral or prestigious house of
worship and a lavish reception at a country club or other upscale
venue. Typically there
are 200 or more guests.
The bride’s dress will
usually have a train for which the long skirt of a tailcoat
is the perfect compliment.
Needless to say, these types of weddings are extremely rare
If a bride and groom wish the groomsmen and fathers to
dress in black tie then their wedding does not require
white-tie levels of opulence but tradition dictates that it should
still be suitably formal.
The invitations should be conservative, the ceremony should
be held in a place of worship or upscale banquet hall and the
reception should be an elegant sit-down dinner.
Guests usually number between 100 and 200.
If there are less than 100 guests and the invitations, ceremony
and reception are all relatively informal then dark suits will
suffice. Formal attire would
be incongruous in this context.
Young Attendant Attire
While it has become common to dress ring bearers
similar to the rest of the groomsmen this practice – like the trend of
matching ushers’ bow ties to bridesmaids’ dresses – suggests an
ignorance of the sophistication, elegance and maturity that formal
wear is meant to imbue.
Emily Post's Etiquette prescribes
white Eton jackets with short pants for very young ring bearers,
train bearers and pages and navy blue suits when they are older.
Only junior ushers should wear the same clothing as their adult
Male Guest Attire
Some traditional authorities
expect guests to know the appropriate dress based on the
context of the wedding’s overall formality.
However, many people today are unfamiliar with conventional dress
protocol. Furthermore, there is conflicting advice on whether
to dress at the same level of formality as the wedding party or one
level below. In light of these circumstances, most
authorities now advise that if a bride and groom want their guests
to show up in tailcoats or tuxedos they should specifically note
“white tie” or “black tie” on the invitations.
If there are separate ceremony and reception invitations then
the dress code appears only on the latter. (Due to their
subjectivity, the terms "formal", "semi-formal" and "informal"
should never be used on invitations.) This consideration is particularly important for evening weddings
in England since guests typically wear morning dress to weddings
Only the traditional form of black tie
should be worn to a wedding; both conventional and modern
authorities agree that this is not an appropriate time to be
creative. This is also not the time to wear a boutonniere as
these are reserved for the men in the wedding party.
Time of Year
When tuxedos are required at tropical weddings or summer
weddings in warmer climes then a white dinner jacket is a popular –
and correct – alternative.
See Warm-Weather Black Tie
for complete details.
There is no warm-weather
equivalent of the tailcoat because ultra-formal white-tie affairs
are held only in winter when sunset arrives early.
Traditionally, they are also held only in the city because it
is intrinsically more urbane than a rural setting.
Time of Day
As explained in
Etiquette: Formal Tradition, black tie and white tie are categories of
evening wear and evening wear is not meant to be worn before six
o’clock or before dark, whichever comes first.
Therefore, formal weddings that take place during the day
traditionally require morning dress, the daytime equivalent of
evening wear. Since this
attire is virtually extinct in North America, dark suits are an
Convention dictates that the daytime dress codes apply to any
wedding that takes place prior to 6 or 7 o’clock even if it means
that morning dress will be worn well into the evening at the
reception. However, some
contemporary American authorities recognize that the majority of
U.S. weddings straddle the dividing line and allow for tuxedos for a
4 or 5 p.m. ceremony if the reception will end late at night.
While the betrothed (or
their actively involved mothers) have some leeway
in deciding how far up they want to move the black-tie start time,
there is not much flexibility in moving it back.
Conventionally any wedding starting after 6 or 7 p.m. is
considered very formal which means only white tie is acceptable.
Grooms-to-be have often asked the Guide how they can stand out from their groomsmen
in a traditional way. Well, traditionally speaking, the groom is not supposed to
Formal weddings call for
formal dress and conventional evening dress is intended to allow the
women to take center stage in their elaborate finery while their men
provide an elegantly understated and uniform backdrop. That is why
historically the sole nod to the groom’s special role is his unique
boutonniere, preferably a flower from the bride’s bouquet.
Other than that, tradition assumes that guests don’t require
help identifying the groom – he’ll be the one marrying the bride.
However, should a groom be
determined to express his individuality more emphatically, black tie
offers a number of acceptable variations that can be used to his
When renting the wedding party’s tuxedos he may want to consider the
more formal single-breasted jacket
less formal double-breasted jacket
more formal peaked lapel
less formal shawl collar
more formal wing collar shirt*
less formal turndown collar shirt
more formal white waistcoat
traditional black waistcoat
mother-of-pearl studs and links
opal or gold jewelry
black jacket at warm-weather wedding
white jacket at warm-weather wedding
*If opting for a wing collar
ensure that it is the traditional stiff, tall, preferably detached
version. If it’s the
flaccid, miniscule modern style your bride may ask your
better-dressed best man to stand in for you.
What’s not acceptable under any circumstances is the mixing
of a white-tie tailcoat with black-tie accessories. Wearing a
white bow tie with a tuxedo has been an equally grave faux pas since
the black-tie dress code was finalized in the 1920s but it has been an
admittedly common practice for grooms around the world ever
since then. At the risk of committing formal heresy
the Guide endorses this option provided it is confined to a wedding
context, limited to the groom and executed impeccably with a proper
full-dress shirt and waistcoat (which are both perfectly acceptable
with black tie). In these circumstances it provides an elegant
matrimonial touch to the groom's formal wardrobe in a manner that is
deliberately respectful of convention rather than ignorantly
oblivious to it.
"Friends Don't Let Friends Match the Bridesmaids"
Your bride is obviously an absolutely wonderful woman or you
would not be committing to her for the rest of your natural life. And your wedding day is likely something that she
has dreamed of for a long time so it is both gracious and
mature of you to defer to her preferences for everything from
invitation wording to cake flavor. However, your
formal attire is the exception to the rule. No
matter how little interest you have in clothing in general, remember
that your clothing reflects who you are as a man and carefully consider the implications of allowing your fiancée
to base your outfit on the color of the bridesmaids' dresses. At
best you will be on par with a little girl's dressed-up puppy and at worst you will be reduced to the status of a
matching handbag. She may resent your independence in the
short term but in the long run your marriage will benefit from your
refusal to begin it as a sartorial eunuch.