Your Ultimate Guide To Wedding Dress Codes

One of the most terrifying moments of my life was when I opened up an invite for a friend's nuptials and saw that the wedding's dress code was "Black Tie Optional." I was fairly certain that my daily uniform of black jeans, a T-shirt, and sneakers weren't appropriate, but did I have to buy a ballgown? And why was the black tie optional? Did that not imply guests could wear literally whatever they were feeling that day? A sense of dread washed over me as the contents of my closet, dressed on terrifying dolls with shifty googley eyes, started to dance behind my eyeballs, taunting me in their atheleisure and ripped denim.

After talking to several other confused invite-receivers, I went on a somewhat selfish quest to find out what on earth the wide range of wedding dress code phrases mean. While dress codes were originally created to make sure everyone else knew how rich you and your fancy party guests were, these days it seems more about making sure everyone looks cohesive enough on the wedding's Instagram hashtag. Below are some of the most common dress code phrases you're likely to see pop up on your next round of invites (though there are many other terms particularly creative party throwers have invented recently) and what type of dress works best for each and every one.

1. Black Tie

TBH, you're probably not going to get many of these for a twenty or thirtysomething's wedding day. But these extra fancy events do pop up from time to time, in which case I'd personally recommend renting a designer gown or suit, rather than splurging for an outfit you'll only wear once or twice.

2. Black Tie Optional

Think prom, but for classy adults.

3. Cocktail Attire

This one's prevalent on wedding invites, as well as office soirees.

4. Festive

Is your friend getting married in December? They may want seasonally festive attire at their wedding.

5. Beach Formal/Garden Attire

Alternatively, if they're getting married outside in the summer (or at a location with summertime temps) fun beach formal may be in order.

6. Dressy Casual

Good news! There's a wedding dress code that basically means "wear your favorite outfit" — this is it.

Now get out there, send back those RSVP cards, and get to dress hunting.

Images: Caroline Wurtzel/Bustle