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22 wedding guest outfit ideas for every dress code

(CNN) —  

After a year of cancellations, postponements and Zoom celebrations, wedding season is officially back. Sure, that means most of our summer weekends may be spent celebrating happy new couples, but it also means decoding the always tricky wedding dress code.

Sometimes the couple makes it easy for you by writing it on the invitation. But if the invitation hasn’t explicitly specified a dress code, there are a few clues to decipher it, says Micaela Erlanger, a celebrity stylist who’s worked with Lupita Nyong’o, Diane Kruger and Meryl Streep.

First, look at the style of the invitation: Does it come with a sheet of protective tissue paper and a delicate wax seal? Was it sent via email? Is the font particularly casual or formal? Second, look at the day of the week as well as the time: Is it on a Saturday night at 7 p.m., or a Sunday luncheon at three in the afternoon? Lastly, take a look at the venue: Does it have a proper ballroom, or is it more of a banquet hall? If there’s a wedding website you can visit with more details, that’ll help decipher the dress code too.

Ahead, find out what to wear to every wedding depending on the dress code.

Casual wedding guest outfits

There are a few ways to know a wedding will be casual: It usually starts in the morning or midday, and oftentimes it might be at somebody’s home or a restaurant. Still, the invitation or wedding website, if they have one, should specifically mention that casual dress is welcomed. Either way, you should still rule out light-wash jeans, shorts or anything that wouldn’t be appropriate in an office setting.

“Fabric choice would be top of mind in this scenario,” says fashion editor Leah Faye Cooper. “I’d opt for a dress in a lightweight cotton like gingham, seersucker or a standard nonstretch weave. For shoes I’d go with a flatform sandal, and I’d stash my essentials in an understated mini bag or small clutch.”

Christopher John Rogers Mixed Stripe Short-Sleeve Dress ($55; target.com)

Christopher John Rogers Mixed Stripe Short-Sleeve Dress
Christopher John Rogers Mixed Stripe Short-Sleeve Dress

Easy, breezy and with — wait for it — hidden pockets on the side, this is a fantastic lightweight dress fit for a bright and sunny wedding, no matter the location. We’ve tried it ourselves and can attest to the quality. Best of all, it’s available up to a size 30.

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Long Shirtdress in Eyelet ($157.99, originally $248; jcrew.com)

Long Shirtdress in Eyelet
Long Shirtdress in Eyelet

With its elegant A-line silhouette and pretty eyelet fabric (available in this blue or a bright and sunny yellow), this is the ultimate summer wedding guest outfit. It’s top rated on the J.Crew site too.

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Rachel Comey Delirium Dress ($495; shopbop.com)

Rachel Comey Delirium Dress
Rachel Comey Delirium Dress

Cooper picked out this black-and-blue gingham dress, which is available in sizes 00 to 14.

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BHLDN x Free People Lanna Dress ($300; bhldn.com)

BHLDN x Free People Lanna Dress
BHLDN x Free People Lanna Dress

Take your pick between a sunny yellow floral, delicate blue or gorgeous hot pink in this lovely and perfectly casual one-shoulder dress.

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Christopher John Rogers Tie Strap High-Low Babydoll Dress ($55; target.com)

Christopher John Rogers Tie Strap High-Low Babydoll Dress
Christopher John Rogers Tie Strap High-Low Babydoll Dress

Available in sizes XXS to 4X, this high-low dress with tie straps is as adorable as it gets. The lime green color is super on-trend, and yes, there are pockets in this one too.

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Rhode Emma Dress ($425; shopbop.com)

Rhode Emma Dress
Rhode Emma Dress

This brightly colored dress — also one of Cooper’s picks — is a midweight, nonstretch fabric that’s perfect for a casual outdoor celebration.

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BHLDN x Free People Elyssa Jumpsuit ($220; bhldn.com)

BHLDN x Free People Elyssa Jumpsuit
BHLDN x Free People Elyssa Jumpsuit

Now, what about a wedding jumpsuit? This one has gorgeous retro detailing, a belt and even a corseted bodice. Because of the built-in corset, it can be worn as a strapless number as well, and you’ll definitely be able to wear this lots of places other than a wedding.

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Goodthreads Standard Fit Short-Sleeve Seersucker Shirt (starting at $25; amazon.com)

Goodthreads Standard Fit Short-Sleeve Seersucker Shirt
Goodthreads Standard Fit Short-Sleeve Seersucker Shirt

Seersucker works for men too. Pair these with khakis or chinos in a complementary tone.

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J.Crew Wallace & Barnes Slim Fit Blazer ($150; jcrew.com)

J.Crew Wallace & Barnes Slim Fit Blazer
J.Crew Wallace & Barnes Slim Fit Blazer

Men can get away with a more casual shirt if it’s topped with a suit jacket in a less formal color and fabric, like khaki or light blue linen.

Cocktail attire wedding guest outfits

The most common of wedding dress codes, “cocktail attire says it all,” says Erlanger. That usually means an evening-appropriate cocktail dress and heels for her, as well as a dark-colored suit for him, she says. “Wear a party dress, and dress it up with heels and fun jewelry,” she continues. “You can also opt for a fun jumpsuit or chic pantsuit. This is the chance to really have fun.”

For the men, this typically means jacket and tie. While a floor-length gown isn’t a requirement, it’s better to err on the side of formal than casual for a cocktail wedding.

Mango Pleated Short Dress ($59.99; mango.com)

Mango Pleated Short Dress
Mango Pleated Short Dress

A short dress in a crepe-like fabric can easily be dressed up with a pair of heels.

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Biscayne Ruffle Wrap Dress ($275; bhldn.com)

Biscayne Ruffle Wrap Dress
Biscayne Ruffle Wrap Dress

A wrap dress is always a crowd-pleaser, and this one that’s available in this rose gold color as well as sage green and dark navy is one that can take you from wedding to wedding to holiday parties and more, and it can even be worn as a formal gown at fancier events with the right shoes.

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Harper Rose Scarf Neck Crepe Jumpsuit ($87.90, originally $138; nordstrom.com)

Harper Rose Scarf Neck Crepe Jumpsuit
Harper Rose Scarf Neck Crepe Jumpsuit

A jumpsuit is inherently more casual than a dress, but this all-black style is perfect for a cocktail-attire wedding.

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Lauren Ralph Lauren Ruffle-Trim Metallic Cocktail Dress ($175; macys.com)

Lauren Ralph Lauren Ruffle-Trim Metallic Cocktail Dress
Lauren Ralph Lauren Ruffle-Trim Metallic Cocktail Dress

The metallic sheen of this cocktail dress makes it feel even fancier.

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Peter Millar Flynn Plaid Wool Suit ($507, originally $845; nordstrom.com)

Peter Millar Flynn Plaid Wool Suit
Peter Millar Flynn Plaid Wool Suit

A dark suit is a great choice for a wedding that calls for cocktail attire.

Formal wedding guest outfits

A formal wedding is usually another name for “black tie optional” — which means that gowns and tuxedos aren’t required, but a long or midi-length dress in an evening-appropriate hue and a bow tie are never a bad idea.

“With ‘black tie optional,’ you can wear anything from a fancy cocktail dress to a gown. I tend to find that people err on the side of getting more dressed up,” Erlanger says. “For men typically you should wear a jacket and tie, more elevated than a cocktail look, but not a full black tie.”

Nightway Cold-Shoulder Keyhole Gown ($99; macys.com)

Nightway Cold-Shoulder Keyhole Gown
Nightway Cold-Shoulder Keyhole Gown

The plum hue of this gown keeps it from falling into true black-tie territory, but it’s still fancy enough to match a date in a bow tie.

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Cali Satin Charmeuse Midi Dress ($168; bhldn.com)

Cali Satin Charmeuse Midi Dress
Cali Satin Charmeuse Midi Dress

With a whopping 16 color options and a size range of 0 to 26, this satin charmeuse number is incredibly versatile. Able to take you from cocktail hour to a black-tie affair with the right accessories, it even comes in white, so it could be an affordable wedding dress option too.

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Camilla Tiered Georgette-Paneled Embellished Silk Crepe de Chine Dress ($436, originally $949; theoutnet.com)

Camilla Tiered Georgette-Paneled Embellished Silk Crepe de Chine Dress
The Outnet
Camilla Tiered Georgette-Paneled Embellished Silk Crepe de Chine Dress

Look like you’re literally dancing amongst the stars all night long in this stunning dress that’s dark enough to not draw attention from the bride but comes with some extremely gorgeous embellishment for a little flair.

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Adrianna Papell Embellished Sheath Dress ($189; macys.com)

Adrianna Papell Embellished Sheath Dress
Adrianna Papell Embellished Sheath Dress

An above-the-knee dress works too, as long as it’s in an elevated fabric like this embellished gold style.

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Kenneth Cole Reaction Men’s Ready Flex Solid Black Slim Fit Suit ($395; macys.com)

Kenneth Cole Reaction Men's Ready Flex Solid Black Slim Fit Suit
Kenneth Cole Reaction Men’s Ready Flex Solid Black Slim Fit Suit

A black suit is a great option for a formal wedding that doesn’t call for a tuxedo. Just swap out the tie for a bow tie if you’d like.

Black-tie wedding guest outfits

Save for “white tie,” which is usually reserved for events like the Oscars or State of the Union dinners, black tie is the most formal of common wedding dress codes.

“My fashion advice is always the same: Wear what makes you feel the most amazing,” says Cooper, who wore a tulle skirt over a black bodysuit with a fur shrug to the last black-tie affair she attended. “So, if a wedding is black tie optional, I’d suggest an elevated version of whatever that is. If you love pants, consider a beaded, lace or silk-chiffon jumpsuit, or a sleek tuxedo — maybe in a bright color, or velvet or both. If you prefer dresses, here’s an opportunity to wear one in taffeta or tulle, or covered in a million beads or sequins.”

She should wear a long, formal gown — or take a note from Cooper and go for separates — and he should wear a tuxedo with a bow tie or cummerbund. “I love a black-tie wedding and I think that it sets the tone for what is supposed to be a really special and memorable event,” Erlanger adds.

Calvin Klein High-Low A-Line Gown ($299; macys.com)

Calvin Klein High-Low A-Line Gown
Calvin Klein High-Low A-Line Gown

This high-low gown’s A-line silhouette lends a black-tie-appropriate vibe.

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Aqua Off-the-Shoulder Gown ($228; bloomingdales.com)

Aqua Off-the-Shoulder Gown
Bloomingdales
Aqua Off-the-Shoulder Gown

Save for true black, the fire-engine red hue of this dress is as formal as it gets.

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Suitsupply Slim Fit Velveteen 3-Piece Tuxedo ($699; nordstrom.com)

Suitsupply Slim Fit Velveteen 3-Piece Tuxedo
Suitsupply Slim Fit Velveteen 3-Piece Tuxedo

A lustrous velvet three-piece tuxedo is the perfect choice for a black-tie affair.

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