What to Wear to an Evening Wedding

Candles, moonlight, stars… An evening wedding is the ultimate in romance and feels like something straight out of a fairytale. Since it usually takes place after 5 p.m., it’s more formal than a daytime wedding, which may leave you wondering how to dress if you’re a guest.

Here’s a rundown of the various dress codes, from semi-formal to formal for an evening wedding, and what you should wear for each. I’m including both men and women to help you visualize because what the woman wears needs to be in sync with the formality of what the man is wearing.

What to wear to an evening wedding party
What to wear to an evening wedding party


Evening Semi-Formal

How you should look: Dressy, Party, but still classy.

Gentlemen: Dark suit

Ladies: Black or colorful cocktail dress to the knee, or just above the knee in chiffon, silk, or taffeta with minimal or no beading. Your other choice –  wear dressy separates like a dressy taffeta skirt and blouse or a flowy chiffon pantsuit.

If your wedding invitation does not specify one of these codes, then err on the side of being overdressed, or call the bride and ask to clarify. It’s important that you feel comfortable and confident so you can enjoy yourself at the wedding.

What to wear to an evening wedding reception - Black off the shoulder
What to wear to an evening wedding reception – Black off the shoulder

Black Tie Optional -Formal

How you should look: Dressy, Sophisticated, Chic, and a little more festive than a formal black tie. Most weddings are like this.

Gentlemen: Tux or Dark suit ( I find most men wear dark suits)

Ladies: You have two choices. You can wear a long floor-length dress that is more formal than a cocktail dress but not as structured or fancy as a ballgown. Any color is acceptable.

Or, you can wear a cocktail dress with luxurious detail like sequins, beading, or some texture. It can be a little black dress or a colored dress. Make sure the black dress is not somber-looking. Add some bold or colorful jewelry and heels.

Black Sheer Sleeve Gown on what to wear to an evening wedding party
Black Sheer Sleeve Gown on what to wear to an evening wedding party


Black Tie – Very Formal

How You should look: Formal, Upscale, and Luxurious like you are a famous person or socialite going to a fancy charity ball or special ceremony. Black Tie is usually the most formal we get in North America.

Gentlemen: Tux with Black Bow Tie

Ladies: Long floor-length gown in a dark color such as black, navy, or brown, and a luxe fabric that is formal enough to complement a tuxedo. Or a formal cocktail dress that is dark and luxurious. It should be exquisite, meaning it doesn’t reveal too much skin and is no shorter than just above the knee. Think Classic Beauty, not Sexy Siren.

White Tie – Extremely Formal

How you should look: Picture the Royal family in their finest clothes, or Hollywood Stars on the red carpet at the Oscars, or even a visit to a Grand Ball at Downton Abbey, and you’ll understand that a White tie is the ultimate in dressing up! White tie Dressing is Rare. If you are lucky enough to be invited to a White tie wedding, it is a grand affair you will never forget, so be sure to look dazzling!

Gentlemen: Tux with Tails, white bow tie, vest, white gloves

Ladies: Full Length, structured ballgown ( not just a dress)  with sparkle or jewels and glamorous hair and make-up. Most women wear bare arms and long gloves. Sometimes Tiaras are worn!

Finally, when in doubt about what the dress code is, ask! There’s no point fretting your head off, wondering if you will be over or undressed for such a special and joyful occasion. Confidence is key to feeling beautiful and having a good time.

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6 thoughts on “What to Wear to an Evening Wedding

  1. Hi, I am attending a 5 pm “black tie optional wedding.” It’s mid-September in North Carolina. What do you suggest I wear on my legs if I opt for a fancy cocktail dress? Pantyhose are not “in style.” Are bare legs appropriate?

    1. Honestly, Trish, I would wear the sheerest pantyhose you can find if you are self-conscious about your legs. I would suggest NUDES by Donna Karan. They are the sheerest I have seen, and they have perfect colors.
      Here is a link: If you are wearing open-toe shoes, be sure to buy seamless toe!

  2. Hi, Deborah!

    I’ have been invited to a cousin’s wedding in May. The ceremony is at 5:00 PM. I have a beautiful solid cobalt blue wrap dress to wear, but I can’t decide what shoes would be appropriate. I have a pair of sparkly silver heels, but I wonder if nude or black heels would be better choices. The invitation didn’t specify how formal the wedding would be. What do you think?

    Thank you!
    -Ginny M.

    1. Hi Ginny, All three would work. A 5 p.m. wedding generally means more formal. Therefore, you could do sparkly heels if you like. (Think about the invitation’s formality and the reception’s location to give you clues about how formal the wedding will be). Another approach… what color are your hair and eyes? If they are dark, you could bookend your look and wear black shoes, but if you are fair, then nude is more balanced. The sparkly shoe will be if you want to look a little more glam. I hope that helps. Have fun!

      1. Hi, Deb!

        Thanks so much for your ideas! The dress has a silver and crystal-studded accent at the waist. Would that mean I should wear silver shoes? I want to wear nude shoes, but I don’t know what kind of purse to pair them with. Thanks so much for your help! :)

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