What To Wear To A Wedding If The Dress Code Is Black Tie, Barnyard Chic, & Everything In Between

By Kara McGrath

Ah, wedding season. With all the time and energy (and money) that goes into having to attend multiple nuptials, one bright side tends to be forgotten: the excuse to buy new clothes. Now that wedding dress codes are getting more and more creative (and not because "Creative Black Tie" is a thing), figuring out what to wear can incite a brief moment of panic for the guests — especially if you find yourself with a wedding that calls for Cocktail attire one Saturday night and a Beach Formal affair the following Sunday.

Instead of spiraling into a ball of stress, consider these wide-ranging dress codes a blessing. Sure, there are plenty of things to keep in mind when picking a White Tie outfit versus one for Barnyard Chic — and we'll have more advice on that later. The truth is, a lot of these guidelines lend themselves to flexibility, which means you should focus on buying a dress or suit or any other ensemble that makes you feel great and is easy to boogie around in on the the dance floor. And if you can't swing buying a new outfit for every single reception you RSVP yes to (who can?!), accessories can be your best friend. It's amazing how different a flowy black wrap dress can look depending on the shoes, jewelry, and makeup you pair it with.

To jumpstart your wedding shopping journey, here are some outfit suggestions for 11 of the most common dress codes you'll see on invites this season.


Dress: Mara Hoffman | Earrings: Oscar De La Renta | Shoes: Tory Burch

This pretty much just means "I'm getting married on a beach, but I still want you to look kinda fancy in photos." Bright colors and flowy fabrics will look great in all your Instagram photos, plus keep you cool in case the ceremony takes place under the blazing sun. If the wedding is inside at a resort, you can definitely rock a fun pair of heels, but if it's literally out in the sand, "no heels on the beach. Ever, ever, ever," Bustle's Senior Fashion Market Editor, Gabby Prescod says, since you'd definitely sink down into the ground. If you're not into dresses, you could go with a full linen suit and nice sandals.


All Clothing & Shoes: Alexander Wang

In 2017, GQ reported that "a wedding with a Brooklyn Formal dress code is just the time to embrace your inner fashion snob." Fashion snob doesn't have to be a bad thing in this case: The focus should be on looking ultra-trendy, but otherwise pretty much anything goes. If you're itching for a really standout look, whip out your fanciest gown, but layer it over your favorite pair of straight leg jeans. You can get creative with your accessories too: Try throwing a dramatic earring in just one ear, or wear every single ring you own.


Dress: Johanna Ortiz | Shoes: Manolo Blahnik

"At a barn, you wear flats," Prescod says. She explains that your host probably doesn't want you to wear denim shorts or a cowboy hat, but "you can have a little fun with the theme." Plaid and checkered print are great options, or go for a plain red sundress and some patterned shoes.


Dress: Caroline Costas | Shoes: Aquazzura

Cocktail is the fanciest casual option for dress codes. You can show a little skin, wear a fun pattern, and apply makeup that makes you smile. There's more flexibility with the fabric, too — even a nice cotton dress can be cocktail appropriate if you wear heels.


Jumpsuit: Cushnie Et Ochs | Earrings: Kate Spade New York | Shoes: Manolo Blahnik

Formal is a less common dress code, and it's definitely a little more vague. "It's right on the cusp of being a little more casual, so it's definitely not as fancy as black tie," Prescod explains.

If you see formal on the invite, it's a good time to get creative with the type of outfit you're wearing. "People expect dresses or suits at all levels of Black Tie," Prescod says. But for Formal, you can go with a jumpsuit, or even pants or a skirt with a nice top.


Yellow Dress: Maria Lucia Hohan Courtesy of Shopbop.com

Red Dress: Stella McCartney

"The fabric is what really makes the difference between a Semi Formal and a Formal outfit," Prescod says. Instead of silk-based materials (like chiffon), you can look for cotton blends (such as velvet and cotton-based satin). Think what you wore for prom and homecoming — but with a more adult, current-day spin, of course.


Dress: Salvatore Ferragamo | Earrings: Oscar De La Renta | Shoes: Aquazzura

Plopping "Creative" in front of "Black Tie" gives guests the opportunity to go for less of a traditional look. Bright colors and patterns are encouraged, as are super fun accessories. "You can be a little more expressive," Prescod says "Try feathers! Rhinestones! Fun hemlines!" If you're going the tux route, try a brightly colored bow tie or pocket square.


Dress: Oscar De La Renta

"This is what you wear to a wedding you have to go to on New Year's," Prescod says. Generally, you'll want to think "Creative Black Tie, but with sequins or metallic colors." If the venue is more casual — which you can usually gauge by checking out the event space's tagged photos on Instagram or its website — you can lean more Cocktail level. Either way, a little dramatic makeup helps, too.


Dress: ASOS | Earrings: Oscar De La Renta | Shoes: Manolo Blahnik

The "optional" here is more for people who want to wear suits — this time, they have a choice between a tux and something more casual. People who aren't wearing a tux or a suit can stick to the same guidelines as regular Black Tie (more on that below).


Dress: Nili Lotan Courtesy Of Shopbop.com | Shoes: Aquazzura

This is a more common version of ultra-fancy, and it gives you slightly more flexibility. If you're going to wear a suit, it needs to be a tuxedo. "You don't have to wear a gown, but a longer dress is advised," Prescod explains. "And the fabric should be nicer," like silk or chiffon.


Dress: Brandon Maxwell | Shoes: Manolo Blahnik

This is the fanciest of the fanciest when it comes to dress codes. You'll need to wear a gown or tuxedo, and most people there will probably be wearing designer. Prescod specifically recommends looking for a long dress that has a train, like this orange number.

If you're not trying to drop thousands of dollars for one event, Rent The Runway is an excellent option for finding designer duds. The Unlimited subscription offers much more flexibility than the traditional — you can have up to four pieces at a time and keep it for as long as you want — which makes it worth the $159 monthly fee ($99 for your first month), especially if you have several functions in a season.

Photographer: Lauren Perlstein | Stylist: Gabby Prescod | Makeup: Joy Fennell Using MAC Cosmetics | Hair: Mia Santiago at See Management | Manicure: Elizabeth Garcia Using CHANEL Le Vernis | Art Director: Becky Brown | Bookings Manager: Guillermo Perez | Photo Editor: Clare Thigpen | Director of Features and Brand Initiatives: Margaret Wheeler Johnson