Wedding dress code: 5 clever ways to tell guests what to wear

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Photo by Violet Marsh Photography
While I'd like my wedding guests to dress up, I need help figuring out a good way to mention that heels, especially stilettos, aren't recommended for our outdoor wedding.

I'd like to be cute about it, but I'm wondering where I should include the information… should it go on our main wedding invitation, a separate card, or somewhere else entirely?

-Kenzie

So you want to tell your guests what to wear, but you don't want to be overbearing, and ideally you'd like to be a little bit clever about it. You're certainly not the first to find ways to artfully explain a dress code to your guests (we have a whole tag archive of posts about wedding dress codes!). Let's review five awesome, non-bossy ways you can give your guests some dress code guidance.

Include a brief PS on your wedding invitations

Ok, first things first: If it's clear from your date and venue name that the wedding will be outdoors, you may not need to say anything. For instance, most American guests at a summer wedding located in a garden will assume that they'll be outdoors and can (probably!) be trusted to dress themselves accordingly. Similarly, if your invitation makes it clear you're getting married on the deck of a sailboat, guests will likely understand that they might want to bring a light sweater.

If clothing comfort factors are not obvious from your venue or wedding date AND your dress code is relatively straight-forward (which yours is), you can include a simple PS on your wedding invitations. Something as basic as PS: The ceremony & reception will be on the lawn; choose your footwear accordingly! would do the trick. I know you said you want to be cute, but cute can be confusing. You want straightforward.

Including a PS on your invitations works best for dress code guidance that is simple and important… heels on a lawn are one example. Outdoor ceremonies during the winter or late summer might be another: "The ceremony will be outside, so make sure you dress for the weather." Your invitations are not the place to get into elaborate discussions about the difference between Steampunk and Renaissance attire.

The location of the PS totally depends on your invitation design. If it's a short line, you could include it at the end of your actual invitation. If you're doing a separate card anyway for directions, you could include your dress code note there.

Address the issue in your wedsite's FAQ

Lots of Offbeat Brides go this route (including me!), using all sorts of adorable wording. Keep in mind that not everyone will read your website, so this isn't a good solution for super urgent dress code stuff like "The ceremony will be outdoors on a ski slope, so don't wear a short dress or you will freeze to death."

FAQs can be a great place, however, to get into the details of creative attire — especially for theme weddings! FAQs can also be the place to get creative. Here are a couple real-life examples from the Offbeat Bride Tribe:

Q What will I wear!?
A The event is semi-formal, but anything you want to wear we are sure will be ok. The bride requests you refrain from wearing a wedding dress, but if that's really all you have to wear, she prefers that to you going naked (a la Betazoid wedding style).
"Our style is going to be Victorian & Tim Burton-esque. Classic Victorian/Steampunk gothic dress is more than welcome (and encouraged!) for the Ceremony. Or if you'd rather keep things simple, semi-formal attire is requested. You know us – we're not uptight. We only ask that you keep it classy for the Ceremony."

Lots more great guidance about what to include on your wedding website's FAQ.

Show them what you mean

If a picture is worth a thousand words, some visual guidance about attire is the best possible way to get the message across. Creating a Pinterest board may be the easiest way to give guests visual cues about wedding attire, but it's certainly not the only way!

At her father's suggestion, Tribesmaid Mari created this adorable visual guide to convey what might be awesome to wear to her "casual lowcountry wedding shindig."

She distributed the image to guests via email and Facebooked to the guests, and by using pop-culture references, she made the dress code super accessible.

This kind of visual guidance can be extra helpful if you're planning a themed wedding, where guests might be seriously confused. Here's how Offbeat Bride reader Jen ensured no one would show up to her Halloween wedding in a "sexy kitty" costume:

Offer incentives

While you can never demand that anyone wear (or not wear) anything to your wedding, some couples have offered amazing incentives to encourage them to dress to theme. My favorite example of this is when one couple encouraged their guests to "outshine the bride":

steph_runway2.jpg
Probably the most "offbeat" aspect of our wedding, aside from our gayness and my burgundy gown (are those things even offbeat anymore? Please!), was our dress code: we specifically instructed our guests to Outshine the Bride. It was right there on our website and in the invitation, and our guests did an amazing job!

The "Outshine the Bride" runway show was easily the high point of the reception! Our friends made great use of the support pole in the center of the room, let's just put it that way. We provided gag gifts (a clip-on veil and a bow tie) for the winners of the runway walk-off. One wore a short, tight, fire-engine red dress, and our gentleman winner wore a full dress kilt! It was great.

Read more about this great idea, and scheme ways that you could offer prizes or incentives to guests to dress up.

Finally: Encourage, don't enforce

Above all, remember this: while you can offer encouragement to your guests, it's just not going to feel very good to enforce. You've got enough to do at your wedding without stepping into the role of fashion police. Ultimately, your guests will dress themselves.

Did you offer guidance to guests about what to wear?

  1. For our outdoor ceremony we just said 'wedding and reception to be held in the grass, so dress for comfort and for class'

    69 agree
    • I like the rhyming. It's clever and subtle, and it doesn't sound forced.

      14 agree
    • Dont know about this comment. It implies your guests dont usually dress classy! I would just say 'dress code: formal' or 'semi-formal' and at the end of invitation something like " our wedding will be outside so please make sure you are dressed comfortably."

      8 agree
      • I wish people would stop freaking out about "implications" of what guests MIGHT think. I highly doubt ANYONE thought it meant that they don't dress nice most of the time, they probably all just had a chuckle and moved on. Seriously the uptightness of some people on bridal web forums has made this process so exhausting.

        74 agree
  2. We just have a FAQ page with all that info on it. Hopefully people explore the site when they rsvp! (and hopefully they DO rsvp…)

    1 agrees
    • Feeling the SAME way. We have a few specifics we want people to know! Hoping they read and read again as we will post and update.

      0 agree
  3. I decided to put the dress code on my website

    "What to Wear:"
    "This is a picnic style wedding in a beach/wooded area so dress for the weather and the terrain.

    No stiletto heels unless you want to sink in the grass and fall down! If you really wanna wear them then bring on the heels extra entertainment for us :-)"

    11 agree
  4. This is what we put:

    "Too often, shopping for wedding clothes is a stressful and expensive affair. We don't want a single one of you to have to worry about that! So the dress code is as follows: Wear whatever you feel the most beautiful and comfortable in. Is that a tuxedo? A prom dress? Linen slacks? Excessive amounts of glitter? A plaid shirt and jeans? Drag? There is NO wrong way to dress. Our loved ones are a diverse, creative, gorgeous bunch of people, and we want you to be your diverse, creative, gorgeous selves! And yes – you can absolutely wear white. The bride won't be!"

    78 agree
    • I LOVE this! Dressing up is so fun for me, I would totally wear an old prom dress.

      5 agree
    • Sounds great, so relaxed and friendly! Too bad i cant use it because I will be in white, haha :-)

      1 agrees
    • A million times this! I am going to have to be a total thief and steal this wording

      0 agree
  5. A friend of mine at work (who is getting married the week before I am!) told me about these little miraculous inventions that allow women to walk in grass and on uneven surfaces easily with heels.

    http://thesolemates.com/our-products/

    My joy hit the damn floor! Now my choice of bridal shoes for my outdoor wedding is no longer limited, and I can recommend these to my guests if they feel the need to wear heels. :) Best of all, they're super uber affordable, so I can get some for my bridal party too.

    11 agree
    • Hey, that's a great idea, but do they work? Let us know when you've tried them out!

      0 agree
  6. We put a very short line at the bottom of our invitations stating the dress code (for the older/computer-illiterate folks) and then posted a longer description in the FAQ on our wedsite:

    "We are calling our dress code 'wedding flexible'. This means you should come in whatever makes you feel comfortable and fabulous. You may want to wear shoes that are easy to walk in, as the ranch has a mixture of paved floors, gravel and dirt paths…and we expect everyone to dance!"

    5 agree
  7. Our FAQ
    "What should I wear?: We are not terribly fancy people, and are therefore not having a "formal" affair. That being said, the Chart House is a nicer restaurant… so… don't come naked."

    and
    "The ceremony is on the beach? But, I'll get sand in my shoes!
    Don't worry, we will have a shoe area. You can be barefoot!!! YAY."

    Personally I don't really care if people come in shorts and flip flops… it is the beach… my mom will be horrified I'm sure. LOL

    4 agree
  8. We got married in an art museum with concrete floors. Instead of advising guests against wearing high heels, we put out a box of flip flops in a variety of sizes and a rainbow of colors ($1 per pair at Old Navy) and labeled them "Sandals of Relief." They were incredibly popular; by the end of the evening there was only one unclaimed pair.

    26 agree
    • This might be the most brilliant idea I've ever heard. Cheers to "sandals of relief"

      1 agrees
  9. This is what I have on my wedsite FAQ:

    What should I wear? Are they doing one of those fancy theme weddings where I have to come in costume?

    The wedding does not have a particular theme, other than "An Eclectic Hodge Podge of Happiness," and you are welcome to wear whatever you would like. It is being held in a backyard in August, so it is suggested you dress comfortably, and avoid spiky high heels. Heather is describing her attire as "punk rock fairy princess" and Lorne is describing his as "steampunk without the gears." Check out Heather's blog (http://rewondered.wordpress.com), as she will be posting pictures there as she completes items and attire for the wedding. If you really want to wear a costume, by all means go ahead!

    7 agree
    • Of course, our wedding is pretty laid back and we have a very wide variety of friends and family, so the whole thing will be pretty eclectic. :)

      0 agree
    • "An Eclectic Hodge Podge of Happiness." That sounds so incredibly fantastic.

      13 agree
  10. Our invitation made it obvious the wedding would be a country-side thing, but the information was more detailed in the website (it is in Portuguese and English). In the home page, there are signs indicating grass, no shoes and no ties. If you click on the signs, it takes you to a page explaining everything. This was my husband's idea, and it is funny and lighthearted. The explanations go like:

    "Grass

    The wedding will happen on a grass field.
    High grass is known to attract velociraptors.

    Avoiding the velociraptors

    Velociraptors have no manners and are known party bullies.

    It should be every guest's mission to avoid them at all costs.
    For instance it is not beyond them to raid a party, drink all the beer, eat all the food, the guests and puke everywhere. All that without using a single napkin.

    No high heels

    Velociraptors have very large toeclaws.
    It is very likely for them to mistake high heels for a competitor toeclaw.

    No ties

    Velociraptors, or Nature's Bolsheviks as they are also known, have an intrinsic hate against the capitalist oppressors.
    Wearing a tie might mark you as one of the enemy of the proletariat.

    Last but not least Do not use GOTO on your programs.
    Be safe"

    All that with signs and stuff.

    (The last bit was both a very geeky programmer reference and an xkcd reference.)

    29 agree
    • OMG that's awesome! I loved the "Do not use GOTO on your programs." As a programmer, that shit drives me CRAZY. Love spaghetti, hate spaghetti code.

      5 agree
  11. Our theme was polka dots, and on our invite we mentioned "the theme is polka dots, so if you have 'em, 'wear 'em!" then we went into detail on our weddin website, letting people know we didn't want them to go put and buy a new outfit, and they could wear polka dots on accessories, jewelry, etc. A lot of people got really into it, and found very creative ways to throw dots in. Several people even found it an excuse to go shopping! It was very fun, and nobody felt pressured.

    3 agree
  12. I'm not one for dressing up…I'm the ultimate jeans and t-shirt girl, but I have been known to spiff it up for special occasions. And this is the most special of occasions so I am obviously dressing to the nines, I may turn it up to eleven! I'd like our guests to do the same, so I put on the back of our invites "We gotta dress up…you gotta dress up" (No jeans please!)

    9 agree
  13. Our wedding was guerilla style at the Welcome to Las Vegas sign. For the most part our guests got it just fine. Our wedsite FAQ said: "Whatever you think is appropriate. Las Vegas is definitely all about the glitz and glamour and this is a wedding at sundown on the Strip just when everything is all lite up. The only thing we strongly suggest is getting shoes you can walk in. Vegas is notorious for over top and larger than life so everything is much much further than it appears. We'd hate for you to get a blister on our account!

    In case you are inquiring about what we will be wearing Brad will not be wearing a tux. Instead suede shoes (black not blue – though Missy tried), slacks, a colored button-down shirt and a fantastic tie. And Missy's dress is a very skin flattering shade of ivory but knee length and most definitely not a big puffy wedding dress. With lots of rhinestones! Perfect for Las Vegas!"

    3 agree
  14. I'm having kind of a uh.. hillbilly chic(?) wedding. So we're trying to keep it casual and cute. And because I love to be barefoot, I'd love for my guests to join that with me. At the bottom of my invitations I just had a little star and next to it said "Casual dress and bare feet encouraged!" It got quite a few smiles and laughs from people and I hope many will show up without shoes :]

    3 agree
  15. We're getting married in an old fort, so when you open our invitations the main wording is the right page and on the bottom of the left I added this

    Venue information
    The venue is a Napoleonic fort. It has uneven floors and an incline from the entrance to the bar, ceremony and reception area. Flat shoes are the best and safest option.
    Although we are having fires and additional heating, due to being November, you may want a jacket, wrap or sweater to keep warm when you aren't dancing.
    Indoor plumbing wasn't big when the fort was built so the toilets are located to the right of the entrance (or left if you're coming out)
    After a long day of us getting ready, getting married and partying with loved ones, the fort is closed so please leave by 12am or you'll turn into a pumpkin (possibly)

    which hopefully covers everything! Then on our site I have started (I've only just set it up) to give info about the venue (with pictures, so they can see the incline) and the style that we will be wearing too :)

    0 agree
  16. I wanted smart casual and my interpretation of that went on the the back of our invitations, in the format:

    Where to go
    …(map)…

    What to wear
    Shirt and Tie for the Gentlemen
    Hats or Fascinators for the Ladies

    2 agree
  17. Here's what we did for our "funky formal" dress code. This text is on our wedsite, along with an outrageous picture I found of a dress covered in flare:
    Funky Formal/Be Your Awesomest Self!

    The dress code for our wedding will be "Funky Formal". This means wear something you feel fabulous in! No jeans or sweats but the rest is up to you. We have no colour theme but if you feel like honouring our favourite colours, Annie loves red and Stuart loves blue.

    If you're feeling at a loss and need some inspiration, Stu's outfit is Steampunk inspired (think edgy Victorian) and Annie's is whimsical (think faeries and priestesses).

    The most important thing to us is that you feel comfortable and like yourself! Hate dresses? Don't wear one. Hate ties? Don't wear one of those either. Love tutus, bows, sequins, neon, lace, velour, ruffles, or powder blue tuxes? Be our guest. If you can find a way to wear all those things at once, we will have to award you some kind of prize. (Maybe a really great hug.)
    —-
    Having space on the wedsite instead of having to cram all this onto a paper invitation definitely helps!

    6 agree
  18. I had a "Further Details" portion on the backside of my invitations. I included details about it being potlucks, kids being allowed, and that the wedding was outdoor. It said something like, "There will be fun and games, so feel free to dress casually or bring a change of clothes. In case of rain, please bring an umbrella or raincoat for the short, outdoor ceremony."

    0 agree
  19. One of my friends is getting married on a farm so she just straight up said on their site that heels probably aren't a good idea unless you like being stuck in dirt. On the invitation it just said that it's on a farm, semi formal to sorta casual, use common sense.

    I think most people appreciate being given some sort of guidelines. For example, I know I have two formal weddings and a farm wedding in the next couple of months, so I got an idea of what to wear from the invites, then bought one outfit to convert appropriately for each.

    0 agree
  20. On our site we created a page called Registry & Style so that people were subconsciously nudged to check it as they were already there without us affronting them with demands. Even more importantly, my parents' friends still expect me to dress like I did in high school, so their expectations are a bit skewed. So I just pulled non-specific but related items from the pinterest we've been sharing with bridesmaids and the friend designing our invitations to create something for guests. Easy Peasy. The site text reads: "Curious about wedding attire and style? Expecting black tulle and flames? Paranoid about being the only clown in a mime conference? Please feel free to visit our design board for ideas: "

    8 agree
    • I did something similar as well! I put in something lighthearted about the suggested dress code and then linked to a Pinterest board that I created specifically for guests (Wedding: What To Wear), I've been putting suggestions in there as I've come across things that I'm pinning along with a image I found of plain squares that show our colour palette as I love the idea of everyone dressing within that scheme (which is pretty much peacock themed so they've got TONS of choices). I figured having a series of visual cues was easier than trying to describe a vision in my head.

      0 agree
  21. I did the wedsite FAQ thing as well. My wording was as follows:
    "What should I wear???
    We would like you to be comfortable. If weather permits, most activities will take place outside so please be aware of the weather conditions and dress appropriately. We suggest that you bring a layer or two in case it gets cool in the evening. We also want you to look pretty. Below is a picture-aid to help guide your fashion decisions."
    There are three photos from movies that show "underdressed" (Fubar), "overdressed" (Elizabeth) and "lovely" (Away We Go).
    So far everyone seems to love it!
    On the invitations it mentions that it takes place in a barn.

    4 agree
  22. We put a page on our wedsite asking folks to dress in Indian chic (read: sari, salwar kameez, lehenga, sherwani, kurta pyjama) or 1950s doll/daddy-O (read: pencil skirt, swing skirt, cardigans, suits). However, we made it clear it was not mandatory.

    1 agrees
  23. We are asking our guests to dress in red, black and/or white (a single color, or any mixture of the three hues). I included one simple sentence in the invitation that said, "We encourage you to dress in red, black and/or white to add to the ambience of the celebration." On my wed-site, I went the more humorous route, saying something to the effect of, "Yes, people, there is a dress code: please wear any combination of the colors red, black and/or white. We don't care if it's polka-dotted bikini or an old prom gown, we just want you to be there and to enjoy the festivities!"

    Our big day is months away, but already family and friends have been more than eager to tell us what they are thinking of wearing. Hope this helps!

    2 agree
  24. This is what we put in our Hallowedding FAQ. We're getting married the Friday before Halloween and normally someone in our group of friends would organize a Halloween party, but since we're getting married, the party is on us this year. :D

    • What should I wear?
    Casual/cocktail wear. What's that? That's like… a cute dress, slacks and a nice button-down shirt or blouse, a skirt and top. Basically not too fancy, but not jeans. Since it's a Hallowedding (Halloween wedding) guests are also welcome to come in costume or bring one with to put on during the party. We would LOVE for people to participate in making this a Hallowedding!

    You can read our whole FAQ here:
    http://www.mywedding.com/stevanandleslie/custom.html

    0 agree
  25. Ugh, I have to admit, I totally didn't realize that an outdoor wedding meant walking on grass, and that high heels and grass don't mix. I remember sinking into the grass every few feet and feeling horribly embarassed by it all. To top it all off, it was on an island with lots of horses and no cars, so we had to walk everywhere, and horse droppings were also everywhere. I wish someone had warned me…

    In any case, if you want to be cute about it, you can mention something like "The grass doesn't need to be aerated, so please leave your heels at home, thanks!"

    9 agree
  26. went to a wedding on sunday, was glad to not be the only pierced/tattoo individual

    0 agree
  27. hi ladies, i need some help on what should i put as dress code for our elementary school themed wedding, any help will be greatly appreciated! :)

    0 agree
  28. I'm having a pirate themed wedding, and we've tried to make the dress code clear in a few ways. Our Save-the-date cards had the words "Pirate Attire Expected," our website has an entire page showing people how easy a pirate costume is to throw together, and we have also made it known that the bar will not allow "land-lubbers," so if they want to drink, they will play the part! I also used visual aids to help people stay away from anything too cheesy or lewd (theres a bajillion sexy pirate costumes out there, not what we are going for).

    0 agree
  29. I just read a question posted on Facebook about this very same subject today. The responses varied as to how to address this issue varied. I can appreciate how you were able to make the request polite and not make the guest feel stupid.

    0 agree
  30. The wedding that I was MOH in was outside in late October, in Ohio. The bride tried to tell her guests to dress casual, warmly, and wear boots. Several family members didn't listen and were miserable on the chilly damp day. They left early and the rest of us partied by the campfire!

    2 agree
  31. This wording took me a little while to come up with but it may help inspire someone who wants creative wording. I've put this on our wedding website but will have to come up with something short & sweet for the invitations….

    What to wear?

    We want our day to be fun & relaxed, guys in slacks & girls in flats. Wear what you are comfortable in, but we don't want to see any heels end up in the bin. We will be on grass all day long, so there is no need to dress like we are going to a prom. We are not requesting ties or suits, if you wish to venture, maybe wear boots.

    As we reach the end of the day, an extra layer mightn't go astray. We want everyone to feel just right all through the day and well into the night.

    Outdoor fun is what we are aiming for. If you need further info, please ask for more.

    5 agree
  32. I was very curious about this after attending a cousin's wedding– she and her husband to be were quite young (20 and 19 respectively) but they worked very hard to plan a *formal* church wedding (this wedding was certainly not intended to be "off beat" in any way)… I was appalled when half her extended family and a quarter of her friends show up in base-ball caps, ripped jeans, flip-flops and over-sized graphic tee-shirts, some of which were advertising beer or potentially offensive rap lyrics.

    The wedding party graciously over-looked their disrespectful attire, so I tried to as well– then a few weeks later the photos came out– nearly all of their reception photos looked like some terrible high-school dance gone wrong because so many people were dressed like slobs. The invites clearly stated "formal attire"… personally I feel that the ushers should have been given leave to turn "guests" away at the door if they couldn't be bothered to try.

    9 agree
  33. I'm helping with an outdoor wedding. My suggestion was simple and effective.

    "Our wedding is an outdoor event, and your comfort is important to us.
    Please dress accordingly"

    5 agree
  34. We had a mad hatter's tea party, and we wanted every guest to wear a headpiece ( fascinator or hat, or flowers etc) and so i put "you are required to wear a headress, if this doesn't suit, don't attend, by order of the Red Queen" So i could get my way, and have it fit in with our theme!

    3 agree
  35. Our wedding is at a state park with very uneven ground. And there will be some walkin' on said uneven ground between the ceremony and reception. We included an insert in the invite that had some extra info, including "Wear your finest picnic attire and some comfy shoes."

    0 agree
  36. How can I ask my guests to dress up for a rockabilly theme wedding?

    0 agree

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