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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 for a Wedding

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 asymetrical 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 (you 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, satin 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.

Formal Wedding Guest Dresses


Albina Dyla Classica Gown

The Albina Dyla Classica Gown is a glamorous formal wedding guest dress which we know you will fall in love with. This formal dress features a low cut corset bodice which is complemented by glass gemstone couture detailing. In a soft stretch knit that forms to the body, this dress gives the ultimate flattering fit. This stunning formal dress is guaranteed to make a statement at your next event. A classic black formal dress has never looked so good.

Lia Stublla Eviana Gown

The Lia Stublla Eviana Gown is a beautiful strapless gown featuring an asymmetric neckline with a corset bodice. This dress gives a stunning hourglass silhouette so you cannot go wrong with this style for a formal event. Whether you are a wedding guest or attending your school formal, this dress will be sure to turn heads and leave you feeling glamorous.

This style is available in emerald, red and black.


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, especially with the length falling just above the ankle. 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.

Lexi Samira Dress

The Lexi Samira Dress is a fan favourite style for all formal and black tie occasions. A glamorous floor-length, one shoulder style made from a stretch satin. This style is extremely flattering and elegant, and makes the perfect formal wedding guest dress for those who want a classic style. Although this style has a thigh high split, you can easily use double sided fashion tape to close the two pieces of fabric together. This promising hack, makes this dress an effortless style for a formal wedding.

This style is available in burgundy, orion blue, black and white, and pacific blue diamante.


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 satin dress. If you think you need more wow factor, add some bold accessories to elevate the look.


This style is available in black, sage and red.

Lia Stublla Macie Gown

The Lia Stublla Macie Gown will make any occasion special. It features a full-boned corset bodice, lace-up back, and voluminous full-circle ball gown skirt featuring a thigh-high leg split exude luxury and charm. A style that is perfect for those who want an A-line fit. This true princess style gown will have you feeling glamorous for your next formal event.

Rebecca Vallance Chloe Gown

The Rebecca Vallance Chloe Gown is a gorgeous full length gown crafted from a combination of luxurious crepe and taffeta fabrics. The neckline adds a touch of femininity and sophistication which is what the formal dress code is all about. This gown offers both style and comfort which is all you want in a wedding guest dress. A modest style that suits all ages, you cannot go wrong with this stunning dress for a formal event.


Lia Stublla Lillia Gown

The Lia Stublla Lillia Gown is one we know you will love. This stunning gown is crafted from the highest quality satin in the most beautiful emerald green that complements all skin tones and hair colours. This dress features intricate pleates and a corset bodice that give a flattering hourglass silhouette. Whether you're looking for a show-stopping wedding guest dress or a simply breathtaking formal gown, the Lillia is sure to turn heads.

This style is available in emerald and red.

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?


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