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Exactly What to Wear to a "Cocktail Formal" Wedding

Plus, how to dress for every other wedding

By Glamour Magazine Oct 15, 2012 9:18PM
by Kim Fusaro, Glamour Magazine

While we were chatting in the comments of this post yesterday, Save the Date reader Lauren_F mentioned that she once got a wedding invitation that indicated guests' attire should be "cocktail formal." Her reaction: "Well, what the hell is that?! I know what formal is, I know what cocktail is, but I don't know what cocktail formal is, so I just showed up in jeans and a t-shirt."

Kidding! "Okay, I actually wore a dress."

I agree that "cocktail formal" is a little bizarre! I would take a simple chiffon cocktail dress and jazz it up with some sparkly accessories, like this. (I can't decide if I love or hate the belt. Thoughts?!) And I think I'd try to fashion my hair in some sort of updo. (I'd probably fail, but I'd try!)

Related: 10 Wardrobe Essentials Every Woman Should Own

Forget Me Knot With Straps from Ivy & Aster, $297. ASOS Bug Buckle Metal Waist Belt, $21.11. Faceted Triple Drop Earrings from New York & Co., $14.95. Lulu Townsend Pump from DSW, $49.95.

Regardless of the attire, if you're in your 20s it's hard to go wrong with a pretty chiffon dress in a muted color. The dress above would work for almost any wedding (except black or white tie) and it has a removable belt and removable straps, which make it extra versatile.

Related: 15 Gorgeous Hair Updates to Try

Here are the rest of my "How to Dress for a Wedding" guidelines. I've shared these before, but they're worth repeating!

White tie is the most clear-cut—and the one you’re least likely to see. This is the only time, as a woman, I’d feel obligated to wear a long dress. Guys wear tuxes with white shirts, ties and vests.

For a black-tie wedding, I’m OK with wearing a dressy cocktail dress and nice shoes. (Rory would wear his tux, which—trust me—is super-cute.) The old rules of etiquette said women should wear long dresses, but as long as you’re in the friends-of-the-bride-and-groom group—as opposed to the friends-of-the-parents group—I think a respectable, not-too-short short dress is fine.

There’s also creative black tie, which means guys are still expected to wear tuxes but they can have fun with their tie selection. (If it’s possible to have fun with tie selection ...) Girls can pair whatever they’d wear to a black tie wedding with funky shoes or a bold bag.

Black tie optional means the guys are free to wear a dark suit or tux. Ladies should just wear what they’d wear to a black tie wedding.

Our wedding invites said formalwear, which naturally confused people. Just because our wedding was outside and started in the late afternoon, we didn’t want our guests showing up in dress shorts and button-downs or sundresses. But we couldn’t say “black tie optional” when the groom and his guys would be wearing suits.

My friend’s mother-in-law somehow slipped casual elegance onto their invites. She wanted guys in suits, but didn’t think ties were necessary. After much deliberation, I wore a cotton Banana Republic dress with dressy heels. Variations on this: afternoon elegant, semiformal or Sunday best.

You might also see cocktail attire, which to me means a suit (dark or light) for the guys with ties optional and a fun cocktail dress for the ladies. While I wouldn’t wear something mini to a black-tie wedding, I’d be comfortable going short if the invite side “cocktail attire.”

For a wedding that fell near the winter holidays, I got an invite that said festive attire. I translated that as “something sparkly.” Thankfully, I have a closet full of “something sparkly.” Rory wore a suit and tie.

I’ve also received invites that said shorts & sundresses and beach casual. (Gotta love a New England wedding!) I wore sundresses—and packed flip-flops—for both.

Oh, and a quick word of advice from Miss Manners: “A wedding guest would of course not dream of wearing a long dress in the afternoon.” Something else to consider.

What’s the weirdest attire request you’ve ever seen on the bottom of a wedding invitation?

Photo: Courtesy of Glamour

More from Glamour:
14 Lies Men Tell Women
35 New Ways to Wear Your Jeans
35 Truths About Marriage (According to Guys)

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