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Wedding Dress Code Guide: What to Wear to a Formal Wedding

You've been invited to a wedding, and the invitation requests a formal dress code. But what does "formal" really mean?

Fashion standards have changed quickly over the past few years. It's easy to find outdated information restricting you to dresses your grandmother might have worn “back in her day”. Other unhelpful sources may claim it's okay to wear anything! If you want a modern, accurate guide for what to wear to a formal wedding, keep reading.

Full Length

Typically, a formal dress is floor length. This 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 "high low" hems that are shorter in the front. It is acceptable for the front of the dress to be tea-length or knee-length as long as the back is long - note that a summer or even a spring wedding may cancel this formality and a shorter dress is certainly acceptable. 

Dresses intended for formal wedding attire can either be form-hugging or feature extremely full skirts. Our JADORE Scandal gown is a perfect example of a modern, full skirt that waterfalls down to formal length.

Sequins and Other Extras

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. Our NOOKIE Fantasy gown in mint green is a chic, glittering dream.

The sleeves of the formal gown are often one-sleeve or sleeveless. Enormous poofy sleeves are also coming back into style, especially if they are off-the-shoulder. 

A large bow of fabric in the back that trails into your train is an elegant touch. Dresses that are covered in intricate seed beads or faceted rhinestones have a charming 1930s flair for the flamboyant. 

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 flowers, lace, and pleats take the cake.


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.

Renting a dress is also ideal for getting high-quality fabric at a fraction of the price. Check out our TINAHOLLY Lucille gown for an example of elegant formal fabric. 

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

Try to find out the wedding colours before you pick your dress. You don't want your guest wedding attire to clash with the bridesmaids' dresses. You also don't want to look like you're part of the wedding party when you're not. 

Finally, always avoid white or ivory. You don't want to get mistaken for the bride!


A small clutch is ideal for your formal purse. Try to find one that matches your dress in colour and fabric texture. Make sure you have room for tissues, money, your phone, and a little makeup in case you need a quick touch-up during the ceremony. 

Heels are recommended for formal, but they don't have to be stilettos. Kitten heels or classy wedges are also fine. Whatever shoes you choose, make sure they are comfortable enough for walking and dancing.

Jewellery should be fine and sparkly. Feel free to get glamorous! Skip the chunky plastic fashion jewellery and instead opt for silver, gold, and faceted stones.

A single large drop pearl on a fine chain is always elegant. Match with pearl earrings and a ring for the perfect wedding-themed touch to your outfit.

Consider if the wedding is all-day or evening. If it is, you may want to consider a wrap or shawl in case the night gets chilly. Faux-fur, silk, or flowing layers of chiffon can coordinate with your gown without detracting from its formality.

You might also consider your facemask as an accessory, and have fun with it. There are some fabulous wedding-worthy formal facemasks out there. Find one that matches your gown, and comes in a luxurious fabric.

Think Outside the Dress

Dresses are generally standard for formal wedding guest attire. And you don't want to show up to a wedding in a business suit. This could look like you're attending the joyous occasion only to network!

However, there is an alternative to business suits and dresses: the jumpsuit! When made of a formal fabric and glitzy extras, this outfit can be perfectly acceptable for formal weddings. 

We offer a gorgeous sequined jumpsuit that you can rent from Dress For A Night. You'll be comfortable the whole ceremony while also adhering to the formal wedding dress code. You'll also be ready to show off your moves on the dance floor.

What to Wear to a Formal Wedding

A formal wedding is your excuse to enjoy luxurious fabrics and gorgeous accessories. While the dresses tend to be floor length, there is a multitude of modern additions you can choose from to express your style. 

Now that you know what to wear to a formal wedding, consider renting a dress from Dress For A Night. Perfect for one-time formal events, we offer a multitude of gorgeous fabrics, colours, and styles. 

Read more about how it works and start browsing our wedding collection for your next dress!



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