Afternoon Weddings, Evening Receptions

I get a lot of queries from North American brides and grooms about what dress is appropriate for formal weddings that straddle the dividing line between day and evening.  I answer this question in the Guide’s Formal Evening Weddings  page but it’s worth repeating here.

To recap the standard etiquette, if the ceremony and reception take prior to 6:00 PM (give or take an hour) then morning dress is called for.  If both events take place after that time then evening dress is appropriate.

However, when the ceremony is scheduled for the afternoon and the reception for evening then convention dictates that the daytime dress code applies even if it means that morning dress will be worn well into the night. Alternately, the groomsmen can change from morning dress to evening wear between events.  Since wedding guests no longer sport formal day wear in North America invited males may wear the same dark suit to both functions unless “Black Tie” is indicated on the reception invitation.  In that case they too will be required to change into tuxedos before the evening’s festivities.  (Ladies would also be expected to slip into something more formal as it would be déclassé to wear cocktail dresses to a daytime function.)

69 Comments

  1. mike

    so do you feel it is more acceptable to change into evening wear or stay in day wear?

    Reply
    1. Peter Marshall

      If there is an opportunity to change then it is always more appropriate to wear evening wear in the evening.

      Reply
      1. Al

        I am the Groom..12:00 pm Church Ceremony end of June Summer in New Jersey.. I am planning to wear Ivory Jacket and black pants (Bride Ivory Dress)..Is this fine? Reception 6:00 pm.. Is it okay to wear My Ivory jacket the all day an night.? Thank you.

        Reply
        1. Peter Marshall (Post author)

          An ivory dinner jacket is still a dinner jacket which means it’s inappropriate for daytime functions.

          Reply
      2. Suzanne Haviland

        I am attending an evening Wedding Reception At 6:30 at a Country Club and I have a formal black dress the top of the dress is white sequence and my black heels. Is this to formal for this reception?

        Reply
        1. Peter Marshall (Post author)

          My instinct is that yes, sequins are a bit over the top for a country club setting.

          Reply
  2. Demetri J. Mouratis (@dmourati)

    4PM wedding outdoors, 6PM reception indoors, I’m the groom. I like more formal than a lounge suit. Morning dress or black tie? Toss up I’d venture.

    Reply
    1. Peter Marshall

      What time is sunset on the big day?

      Reply
  3. Demetri J. Mouratis (@dmourati)

    6:08 PM

    Reply
    1. Peter Marshall

      If you truly want a traditional wedding then you can’t justify the wearing of evening dress two hours prior to sunset, particularly in an outdoor setting.

      Reply
    2. Marc

      Move your wedding to 5:00. Does that make it close enough to sunset to justify black tie?

      Reply
      1. Peter Marshall

        5:00 would be much more appropriate for tuxedos (assuming the invitations have not yet been sent!)

        Reply
  4. Alison

    I feel that in the name of tradition, if an event is labelled “formal”, day wear should be morning dress and evening wear should be full evening dress(white-tie). If you wear black-tie in the evening, you should wear the “stroller” in the day time. As both are classed as semi formal.

    Reply
    1. Peter Marshall

      Good point but I think you meant to say that the daytime equivalent of white tie is a morning coat, not morning dress. “Morning dress” is an umbrella category like “evening wear” that includes formal and semi-formal iterations.

      Reply
  5. Alison

    I agree that the term “evening wear” is now ambiguous. However, “Morning dress” is the traditional term for formal day wear.

    Reply
  6. Kay Roberts

    I have been invited to a noon wedding and a black tie reception beginning at 4pm. Do I need to change into black tie attire after the ceremony? Must I wear a long dress or is a black cocktail dress ok? If it states BLACK TIE on the invite does my husband have to wear a TUX?

    Reply
    1. Peter Marshall

      Yes, you will need to change into black-tie attire after the ceremony as wearing it during the day would not be appropriate. (The bride & groom are obviously unaware of this rule considering their request for guests to don evening wear at 4:00 in the afternoon.) You can find the definition of the Black Tie dress code on my main web site here and information on appropriate ladies’ attire here.

      Reply
  7. Sp0ngebob

    Searched all day for an answer as to when you should change from Morning Dress to Evening wear, finally came across your website. Thanks for finally answering my question.

    Reply
    1. Peter Marshall (Post author)

      Glad I could help!

      Reply
    2. Ginny Truex

      We are invited to a 2:30 pm wedding in Stanford, CA August 1. The dinner and reception is at 6pm in downtown San Francisco. The reception invitation states “formal dinner.” I am trying to decide if I should wear the sand dress for the wedding and reception. Is it appropriate to wear a black cocktail dress for the afternoon wedding and dinner/reception or should I wear a purple dress for the wedding and change into the black cocktail dress for the evening. My husband plans to wear a black dress suit for both.

      Thank you!

      Ginny

      Reply
      1. Peter Marshall (Post author)

        Save the black for after 6. (Your husband should do the same but that’s a whole other topic!)

        Reply
  8. Katherine

    We are attending a wedding on Easter weekend in Beaufort, sc. The ceremony is at 5pm and the invitation says semi-formal or beach formal. Should this be a dark suit for men or would a tan linen suit work? Thanks!

    Reply
    1. Peter Marshall (Post author)

      My apologies – I thought I had answered your question earlier. Any dress code that includes the word “beach” is distinctly informal so you’re free to wear whatever colour of suit you choose.

      Reply
      1. Katherine

        Many thanks for the reply! We are going with the tan linen suit!

        Reply
  9. Jocelyn

    I’m slow so let me get this straight

    Wedding at 3 pm

    Reception at 6pm

    We need to change clothes in the the United States from Morning Dress to Formal?

    Reply
    1. Peter Marshall (Post author)

      First off, let’s clarify the term “formal”. It does not simply mean a tuxedo. It is a category of clothing that has different components for daytime events – which call for morning dress – and for evening events – which call for evening dress. Furthermore, there are two levels of formality for both times of day. This is all spelled out in great detail in The Black Tie Guide but to summarize very briefly, the most formal type of morning dress requires a morning coat (a type of tailcoat) and the less formal type requires a stroller (a type of suit jacket). For evening dress, the most formal version is an evening tailcoat (aka white tie) and the less formal version is the tuxedo (aka black tie).

      As I mention in the above post, you have two options for your evening reception: keep wearing the formal daytime clothes or change into the equivalent evening clothes. By “equivalent” I mean that a morning coat during the day would be traded for a tailcoat in the evening, while a stroller during the day would be switched to a tuxedo in the evening.

      If you choose to simply wear a suit for the daytime ceremony (which is perfectly fine), you would also wear the suit for the reception.

      Reply
  10. Ellen

    Church ceremony at 2:30 pm, Reception at 5 PM.

    Invite specifies that the attire for both the mass and the reception is black tie. Is it then expected that tuxedo/evening gown are the appropriate attire for both the mass and the reception? It seems inappropriate to wear my formal dress into church at 2:30 PM. Can my guest and I wear morning dress to the church and then make a quick change into our black tie evening attire before the reception?

    Thanks!
    Ellen

    Reply
  11. Peter Marshall (Post author)

    Yes, it is inappropriate to wear a formal dress or tuxedo in broad daylight but I think it’s more important to respect the wishes of the bride and groom than to make a point of being correct.

    Reply
  12. Leo

    Peter would appreciate your advice, heading to a wedding in Northern Ireland in June. Wedding is at a Catholic Church at 12 noon, then tea at 330 and dancing at five for the reception, should I wear morning dress the entire time or should I do dinner jacket all day? As I will be travelling abroad from my home here in America am unable to have more than one formal outfit, so I was thinking Morning Dress, what are your thoughts? Thank you.

    Reply
    1. Peter Marshall (Post author)

      You are correct. Don’t even think of wearing evening dress to a daytime wedding in the UK.

      Reply
  13. Hil

    Hi, going to a Chinese wedding in Toronto next weekend. Ceremony at 10am, reception is at 4pm at a different location. Should I wear two different dresses? It does not state black tie on the invite. Thanks for your advise.

    Reply
    1. Peter Marshall (Post author)

      There is far more latitude for ladies’ attire, especially when no specific dress code is stated. I would say that the decision is purely a personal one.

      Reply
  14. LHK

    We have an August wedding at 3pm, reception at 6pm. The reception invitation says, Formal Attire Invited. My husband intends to wear a suit and tie to the wedding – does it matter if the color is dark or light? I’ll wear a (non-cocktail) dress. We intend to change into cocktail dress and black tie tux for the reception. Is this appropriate? Thank you!

    Reply
    1. Peter Marshall (Post author)

      Your husband’s decision to wear a suit covers the “formal” requirement nicely. The colour of that suit is pretty much at his discretion.

      As for the reception, I’m sure you’ll be two of the best dressed guests in attendance!

      Reply
      1. Richard

        Dear black tie guide,

        I am getting married in January in New Orleans. Catholic ceremony at 3pm in a large cathedral. cocktail hour from 4-5pm. Reception from 5-8. Sunset, according to meteorlogist is 5:23 pm. Invitations do not indicate formal.

        The wedding coordinator at the cathedral said not to wear morning attire. What is your recommendation? I have a tuxedo, a black suit, or any other color suit.

        Reply
        1. Peter Marshall (Post author)

          I would like to know the reasoning behind the coordinator’s advice to not wear morning attire. If the coordinator is just trying to spare you the effort of tracking down hard-to-find rentals then that’s fine. But if the coordinator is implying that it is inappropriate, that is factually incorrect from both a secular and sacred perspective. From the secular view, the tradition of morning dress for a formal daytime wedding (which yours seems to be) is inarguable as I explain at length in the Black Tie Guide. And unless Louisiana Catholicism is different than the Catholicism I was brought up with, morning dress is a most respectable choice for a cathedral wedding, particularly in light of the fact the cleavage and thigh-exposing dresses worn by some brides in churches these days.

          However, should you decide to forgo morning dress then a suit is the only appropriate choice for this daytime event. In that regard, any dark colour is technically correct but I would strongly advise steering away from black for aesthetic reasons that I also outline in the Guide (i.e. in broad daylight its lack of colour looks “dead” and gives fair-skinned faces an ashen pall – thus its popularity among funeral directors).

          Reply
  15. Kelly

    My fiancé and I are attending a wedding in NYC at the end of September. The invitation requests Black-Tie, even though the ceremony is at 2pm and the reception is at 5pm. Based on your advice above I will change into an evening gown and my fiancé into tux after the ceremony. I was just wondering if I should wear a dark colored dress to the ceremony just in case other people show up in Black-Tie? (The 2pm Black-Tie is throwing me!)

    Reply
    1. Peter Marshall (Post author)

      Better to dress in harmony with your husband’s daytime attire than try to second guess what everyone else will be doing. Anyone who might think you were underdressed will realize the error of their thinking when you show up at the reception in your gown.

      Reply
  16. Karen

    We have a 2:00 wedding in Newport, RI. Following at 5:00 are cocktails, reception at 6:00 at the Eisenhower House. Should I change dresses for the reception or wear my daytime dress from wedding?

    Reply
    1. Peter Marshall (Post author)

      Sorry for the late reply. I’m not as familiar with levels of formality in women’s attire but my hunch is that unless the reception specifically calls for black tie, changing for the evening is entirely at your discretion. Personally, if it’s not too inconvenient to change I’d recommend taking the high road and doing so. You won’t feel out of place being the only woman who changed for the evening (in fact your refined sensibilities will likely be admired) but you’ll most likely feel out of place being the only lady that didn’t change.

      Reply
  17. Brittany

    I have a wedding to attend at a country club wedding at 4 reception to follow I bought I long dress is it appropriate to wear around this time? Please help been racking my brain. And this is my first wedding I’m attending.

    Reply
    1. Peter Marshall (Post author)

      I’m sorry but I’m not that familiar with the current etiquette regarding dress length.

      Reply
  18. Bruce

    Thank you for providing some of the most clear-cut, authoritative, and rational attire advice on the Internet.

    We have another complicating variation of the afternoon-wedding-followed-by-six-o’clock-BTO-reception: the bride and groom are providing shuttle service immediately after the ceremony, direct to the reception. Although I was looking forward to wearing a tuxedo for the evening, I feel it ill-advised for my wife and I to be changing into our evening wear in a moving vehicle, surrounded by our fellow guests as we barrel down the highway. Do you concur that our only realistic option is for me to wear a dark suit to both (and for my wife to wear appropriate matching attire)?

    Reply
    1. Peter Marshall (Post author)

      If by “BTO” you mean Black Tie Only, then you have only one choice: wear a tuxedo. It’s more important to honour the couple’s wishes than to draw attention to the inappropriateness of their request. I also imagine everyone else will be doing the same.

      Reply
      1. Bruce

        Black Tie *Optional*. But thank your for responding.

        Reply
  19. J.O.

    Hi Peter,

    I am the groom and I would like to wear my tailored navy tuxedo at my wedding.

    The wedding is in Denmark in August, and The church ceremony will be around 14.00 followed by the reception with wedding cake in the afternoon. This will be followed by dinner at 18.00.

    How can I pull-of wearing my tux? Should I wear a suit during the day, and change into my tux before dinner?

    Reply
    1. Peter Marshall (Post author)

      Yes.

      Reply
  20. Joanne

    Good evening Peter,
    My son (who is also called Peter) is getting married in December 2017 to his Japanese fiancée here in the UK. There ceremony is in a church at 4pm (sundown is usually just before or after), to be followed by dinner & dancing in a manor house next to the church. They would both like the dress code to be ‘black tie’. Would this be acceptable as the sun will have set before they leave the church?
    Kind regards,
    Joanne

    Reply
    1. Joanne

      Sorry that should have read ‘their’ not ‘there’. I was having a bit of a blonde moment!

      Reply
    2. Peter Marshall (Post author)

      I think that would be quite acceptable.

      Reply
  21. Shelly

    12:30 civil ceremony in Rome with small attendance of family-only. 3pm luncheon. Do they have to wear morning suits, or because this is small and destination, can they simply wear nice dark suits?

    Reply
    1. Peter Marshall (Post author)

      Suits are correct for this type of informal wedding.

      Reply
  22. Shelly

    Oh, and it is in May.

    Reply
  23. Megan

    Hello. Wedding is in early May. 1:30 wedding ceremony and it states on the bottom of that invite “black tie”. Then there is a separate card that says The Celebration Continues stating the reception starts at 5:30 – no store indication on that one. So…Black tux and tie to both ceremony and reception for my husband. Long gown for me to both- the same one? Thank you!

    Reply
    1. Peter Marshall (Post author)

      It’s always a tough call when the bride and groom call for donning evening wear in broad daylight. However, I think there’s a practical compromise here: wear a suit and nice dress for the ceremony then change into evening wear for the reception which is likely the only time the misinformed couple will actually notice you.

      If you don’t mind following up afterwards, I’d be really curious to know what guests actually wear that day!

      Reply
  24. Ana

    My son is getting married in Houston in June. The bride wanted an outdoor informal wedding, but are getting married in a Catholic church instead at 2PM and reception after at a country club. She wants him and the groomsmen to wear a tan vest and pants with pink tie. We were thinking of buying the outfits for all the guys today. They were leaning towards linen because of the heat in Houston. Would that be proper attire for the wedding party for an afternoon church wedding? If so, I will go ahead and purchase.

    Reply
    1. Peter Marshall (Post author)

      That all sounds fine, provided they’re wearing jackets as well. A vest is not a substitute for a jacket.

      Reply
  25. Eric

    Hello. My fiancé and I are planning on having an October wedding at 5PM, with the cocktail hour and reception to follow. Sunset isn’t until around 7PM. Would it be more appropriate to wear a morning suit for the entirety of the event, as there will not be an opportunity to change? Or should we plan on wearing evening formal attire, given that the reception will likely end around 10-11PM? Thank you for the advice!

    Reply
    1. Peter Marshall (Post author)

      I think 5pm is close enough to evening to wear a tuxedo.

      Reply
  26. Issam

    Hi Peter,

    I’m getting married in Italy in an outdoor setting near the Mediterranean (near a beach, but not on a beach). The ceremony starts at 4:15pm and sunset is at 5:14pm. In your opinion, what would be the most appropriate attire for me (the groom)? Is it too early for full evening dress? Would full morning dress (with tails) be appropriate? Thanks very much.

    Reply
    1. Peter Marshall (Post author)

      I think you could get away with a tuxedo in these circumstances.

      Reply
  27. Joe Ho

    My wedding is in Boston Masachusetts on November 11th
    First look and pictures are at 12 due to early sunset. Catholic church ceremony at 3pm. 5pm cocktail hour 6 pm dinner. By then the sun will set around or before 5pm.

    I overheard my fiance use the word “black tie”.
    I think she just likes the word and is disregarding her guests and the groomsmen having to bring two outfits, especially since her and the bridesmaids are not changing.

    She thinks we should wear tuxes at the ceremony and isnt listennig to her well rounded brother/my best man when he says tuxedos are only for after su ndown. We do not want to detract from the class of the function but certainly do not want to put hundreds of guests through the hardships and financial burden of buying two outfits.
    I think ideals and vision are getting in the way of practicality with her.

    What do you think the boys should wear? What phrasing should we use for attire on the invite?

    Thank you.

    Reply
    1. Peter Marshall (Post author)

      If the bride isn’t concerned about the faux pas of guests wearing evening wear during broad daylight then she should indicate “black tie” on the invite. I’m not sure I understand the “financial burden” associated with dual outfits, though. Wouldn’t the male guests already own a suit? If so, their only financial outlay would be relatively low cost of renting the tuxedo they would wear to dinner (in which case, only the reception would be labelled as black tie). Personally, I would just stick to “business formal” and have the guests wear a smart suit to the ceremony and reception. That way the groomsmen could impress the hell out of them when they stride into the reception newly decked out in elegant evening wear, as if dressing for dinner was a regular habit for them.

      Reply
      1. Joe ho

        Thank you! Can you help define what a smart suit is?

        I googled it and couldnt find much. I may be misunderstanding and maybe you meant it was acceptable for the guests to wear suits and the groomsmen to change for night.

        Reply
        1. Peter Marshall (Post author)

          Yes, I was indeed saying it was acceptable for guests to wear regular suits and the groomsmen to change into tuxedos for the evening.

          Reply
  28. Heather Murphy

    I am attending a 3:30pm Catholic wedding. With cocktail hour starting at 6p, and a sit down dinner reception. After the reception, there is a “snack hour” (not sure what to call it), starting at 11:15p. What should I wear? My husband is in the wedding and they are wearing gray tuxes with modern tails.

    Reply
    1. Peter Marshall (Post author)

      I’m afraid I’m not much of an expert on women’s wedding attire so I don’t know if you can get away with a cocktail dress at both functions. I am intrigued by your reference to a tux with “modern tails”, though. What exactly does that mean?

      Reply
  29. Shannon

    Hi, the wedding i am attending is in Chicago in July. The wedding is in a Catholic church at 2:30 p.m. Cocktail hour is at 5:30 p.m. at the country club.

    What would be appropriate to wear to both? This will be the first wedding i’ve attended and i have no clue where to start.

    Thanks for any help!

    Reply
    1. Peter Marshall (Post author)

      Unless the invitation specifies Black Tie, a dark suit will be perfectly acceptable at both functions.

      Reply

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