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What Should I Wear as a Wedding Guest?

What should a woman or female wear to a wedding? That depends on the dress code selected by the bride and groom. To help you decide what to wear to a wedding, check out our handy dandy guide to what each of the wedding dress codes delineates as correct wedding attire. After all, did you know there’s a difference between Oregon Casual and California Casual? There is! Let us help you figure it out!

Newlyweds in the grove at the Ainsworth House

Hey, Christie!

My friend, Hannah, who is getting married at Ainsworth House & Gardens in October, has told me so many times how amazing you are at answering any questions she or Dallas has about their wedding. She is so grateful for your guidance!

Could you answer one for me? I’m a guest at their wedding.

I found out there are so many different dress codes. Most posts go into long descriptions of what you can and can’t wear and which fabrics are appropriate. Yikes! Now I’m all confused!

Could you give me a short description of each dress code? What should I wear to the wedding???


–Bella, Bewildered in Bellfountain, Oregon

Hey, Bella!

First, if you’re not sure what or if there is a dress code, check out our blog post, “How Do I Find out the Dress Code for a Wedding?”

Now that you know what the dress code is for the wedding, I am happy to help! Let me define the clothing required by each wedding dress code.

There are several wedding dress codes:

  • White Tie

  • Black Tie

  • Black Tie Optional (Formal)

  • Creative Black Tie

  • Semiformal (Cocktail Party)

  • Dressy Casual

Bride holding a wedding invitation
Wedding invitation with bouquet

More wedding dress codes:

  • Casual (Oregon Casual or California Casual) Yes, there is a difference!

  • Beach

  • Traditional

  • Custom or Themed Wedding

  • Garden Party.

I will go into the styles, colors, and fabrics which fall into each dress code. There will be a short description of what is expected for each dress code. 

When you go shopping for your look, ask the sales rep to confirm your outfit complies with code.

(For info on what men should wear for each dress code, please see the next Ainsworth House & Gardens blog post.)

White Tie:

Women should wear a long, formal dress.

Quick tips:

  • Avoid a huge dress because it might be difficult to sit in comfortably.

  • Avoid wearing white or any color which might be confused with white. You don’t want to compete with the bride!

  • In the past, wearing black  to a wedding was discouraged because black is worn by someone in mourning. Today, it’s much more common. Check with the bride first!

  • While heels are preferred, consider your comfort and safety. Opt for shorter heels if the wedding venue is in a garden. Walking on grass in stilettos can be exceedingly difficult!

bridesmaid in pink dress
woman in a purple formal dress

Black Tie:

Think of evening wear and you’ll understand this dress code immediately! For women, this means a long dress or a dressy cocktail dress in muted, pastel colors. Heels are appropriate.


Black Tie Optional (Formal):

While you are welcome to stick to the Black Tie dress code since this is a very safe option, you are offered a little more room for creativity and for being more casual.

A long, formal gown, a chic cocktail dress, or dressy separates in brighter colors or a print shows your flair.


Creative Black Tie:

This is a dress code which gives you permission to just have fun by wearing accessories that highlight your personality such as  jewelry, a handbag, and/or shoes!


Semiformal (Cocktail Party):

Options include a tea-length or knee-length dress,  a jumpsuit, a maxi dress, or separates in a dressy fabric such as chiffon or a silk blend.


Dressy Casual:

Linen or cotton fabrics expressed in the dressy silhouette of trousers, separates, or a dress are preferred. Avoid sequins as this is far too dressy for Dressy Casual.

Asian woman in a peach dress Pixabay
woman in a yellow sundress and hat surrounded by sunflowers


You should clarify with someone who knows about this wedding if this is Oregon casual or California Casual. It depends on the location, time of day, and how casual the bride and groom are.

Oregon Casual:

A sundress with casual flats or sandals is fine.

California Casual:

A more bohemian look is fine.


Check with the couple to find out the vibe: Is this a in Newport Beach, California, vibe or and a Newport, Rhode Island vibe?

The dress code is: Flat sandals with a maxi, midi dress, or knee-length dress.


If you are attending a wedding which is infused with a specific ethnicity or culture, ask what you should wear. For instance, to a traditional Indian wedding, a woman may be asked to wear a sari. Dress respectfully no matter what you wear.


Custom or Themed Wedding:

At Ainsworth House & Gardens, we’ve hosted weddings with a Bridgerton theme and with a Harry Potter vibe.

If the couple states that as a guest  you will be stepping back in time to the early 1800s (think Jane Austen) or flying into the fantasy world of Mr. Potter, consider how your accessories might allow clothing you already own to fit into this theme.



Woman in green traditional Indian outfit

If the theme is inspired by Pinterest board, you could go on a shopping spree for a whole fresh look or check out a high end thrift store such as Junior League. You might find exactly what you need!

If the wedding theme is a location (e.g., California beach or a winery near Italy’s Lake Como), consider an upscale-casual look which is infused with colors of that location. For a beach theme, think of serene greens and blues. For the winery theme, think of the vibrant blue of Lake Como and the rich purple of the grapes for your look’s inspiration.


garden wedding Pixabay


Less formal than black tie, the Garden dress code allows for floral patterns…and encourages them!

A long dress is not required. A suit, a jumpsuit, a midi-dress, or a knee-length dress are all fine. Cheerful prints and florals are fabulous!

Reach out if you have additional questions.


Your friend in the wedding business,

Christie Shyne


The first two images is by Photography by Cambrae and is in the Ainsworth House & Gardens Gallery.

Other images are courtesy of

Images below here are courtesy of Ainsworth House & Gardens.

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