Skip to main content

What to Wear to a Formal Wedding: Dress Codes Explained

What to Wear to a Formal Wedding

Have you received an invitation to a wedding and the dress code on the invitation left you confused? Between "Formal" and "Black Tie optional" it can be tricky to interpret the bride's wishes.

In this blog, we will decode what the "Formal" dress code really means. We have already covered the black tie dress code, so if you would like to know more, click here for our in depth explanation.

Formal Dress Code

Full Length Gowns

Traditionally women are expected to wear a floor length evening dress to a formal wedding. Often a sophisticated and dressy cocktail dress is also appropriate, however if the bride is traditional we recommend a floor length dress.

A full length dress means that the ankle is not visible. However, we have more leeway with this in modern times. It is not uncommon these days for the formal hem to fall one to three inches above the ankle. In addition, formal dresses can now have slits up the side or asymettrical hems where the front is shorter than the back. Summer or even a spring weddings may cancel the formality of full-length dresses and a shorter dress certainly becomes acceptable due to the heat.


If your formal wedding invitation states that the dress code is "Black Tie Optional", this is also considered "Formal". This does not mean you have to wear black. All colours are acceptable for black tie and formal events, but in this case we would advise to stay away from white or silver dresses (we don't want to steal the bride's limelight).


Formal weddings are your perfect excuse to get fancy. So go all out! Sequins, sparkles, bows, and trains are all acceptable extras on a formal dress. Enormous puff sleeves are also coming back into style, especially if they are off-the-shoulder.

If the wedding is an evening affair, choose a dark coloured, form-fitting dress with lots of sparkles. If the wedding takes place during the day, then florals, lace, and pleats take the cake for formal attire.


One of the most important elements of formal wedding attire is the material it is made from. A dress can be floor length and covered in sequins, but if it’s made of cotton knit, it's not formal.

The most formal fabrics are taffeta, satin, and lace. Silk and chiffon are also great choices. If you are on a budget, manufactured fibres like rayon and polyester can mimic the feel and texture of these fine materials.

An important key to remember is that fabrics with rough textures tend to look more casual. For example, cotton, linen and knitwear are difficult to pass off as formal, regardless of the style.

What to Wear to a Formal Wedding

Formal Wedding Guest Dresses

NOOKIE Vera Velvet Gown (Wine Red)- RRP 9,Dress for a Night
NOOKIE Vera Velvet Gown (Wine Red)- RRP 9,Dress for a Night

Nookie Vera Velvet Gown

The Nookie Vera Velvet Gown is a gorgeous velvet halter gown with wide supportive straps and a thigh high leg split. This dress hugs and flatters the figure in all the right ways. This full-length velvet gown makes the perfect formal dress as it exudes elegance and class, perfect as a formal wedding guest outfit.

This ball gown is available in colours fuschia pink, wine red, teal blue and black.

Nookie Valentina Dress

The Nookie Valentina Dress is a stunning strapless gown made from Nookie's famous stretch sequin. In a gorgeous mint green this dress is guaranteed to make jaws drop. This stunning formal dress hugs and flatters the figure, making you feel sexy and confident. This is the perfect dress for if you are wanting to add a bit of sparkle to your wedding guest outfit.

This style is also available in the colours sapphire blue, rose gold, black and pink.

Aje Serendipity Reflection Midi Dress

The Aje Serendipity Reflection Midi Dress is a mid-length dress with a corset inspired waist, made from a glossy linen material. This style is perfect for those who want more coverage in a formal dress. This gorgeous dress is perfect formal wedding attire as it elegant and classy but still practical for a night full of walking and dancing. We love this style and know you will too with its flattering and comfortable fit.

This style is available in colours blush, champagne and navy.

L'idee Renaissance Split Gown

The L'idee Renaissance Split Gown in bright green, is the perfect dress for formal events. The Renaissance is having its moment this year and we can't get enough! With the famous L'idee pleating in the umbrella skirt and halter, you will be looking sleek and elegant with this dress. Green not your colour? No worries! We have plenty of different colours in this dress, so the choice is yours. The L'idee Renaissance Gown, for a look with no split, comes in colours sea green, sky blue, chocolate, dusty rose, floss pink, hot pink and ballet pink.  

We think this style makes the perfect wedding guest dress for a daytime formal wedding.

House Of CB Adrienne Corset Maxi Dress

The House of CB Adrienne Corset Maxi Dress is cut from a high quality satin that drapes across the body. The built in corset allows for a flattering hourglass silhouette. This dress is all about luxury and we know you'll love this style as your next formal wedding guest dress. This design makes this style more than your ordinary black dress, and if black is too boring for you but you love this style, add a pop of colour to your accessories to elevate your look.

Nookie Liana Lace Gown

The Nookie Liana Lace Gown is a beautiful formal gown that has frill and lace detailing. This gown is extremely flattering, comfortable, and features Nookie's famous stretch fabric to make this dress bump friendly. It also has adjustable straps with a structured bra cup with underwire for extra comfort and support. The flattering Nookie Liana Lace Gown is available in colours, white, red and navy blue for your formal events, though a white gown should be avoided as a wedding guest.

Lia Stublla Celine Gown

The Lia Stubbla Celine Gown is the perfect wedding guest dress for those who want something extra. This strapless corset gown features a thigh high split and a long dramatic train. If you want to make a statement at your next formal wedding, this dress is made for doing just that. With the cinch at the waist, the corset does everything it is supposed to do to give that hourglass figure. Everyone is obsessed with Lia Stubbla and we know you will be too.

This style is also available in red and cobalt blue.

House Of CB Charmaine Corset Gown

The House of CB Charmaine Corset Gown is one we know you will recognise. Made from a lustrous silk satin, this dress features a beautifully draped cowl neckline with a corset bodice to cinch the figure. The Charmaine Gown makes the perfect formal dress as it is the perfect maxi length and can be dressed up or down. This House of CB dress is the dress of the season, we know you will adore this style as much as we do.

This style is also available in chocolate, black and pink.

Finding Your Fit

Now that we have decoded the formal dress code and shown you our favourite formal wedding guest dresses, it is now up to you to decide which option is right for you. You can hire all these gorgeous dresses from Dress for a Night, because purchasing a formal dress is expensive, especially if you only wear it once. Renting a dress is also ideal for getting high-quality fabric at a fraction of the price, so why not look classy and luxurious for an affordable price?


Be the first to comment.
All comments are moderated before being published.