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.)

30 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. 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

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