Ultimate wedding & party destination since 2009

Dear ESB: How do I tell my guests what to wear?

August 23, 2011

We can so relate to this one! You want to give your guests some direction, but standard attire descriptors don’t always make sense for every event. Let’s see what East Side Bride has to say.


I’ve included a photo of my dress, perhaps as a brag, or perhaps just as a reference to my style and the style of our wedding— I love it to say the least (not those shoes though, I still have almost a year to figure those out).

I am writing, however, to get your input on guest attire specifications during the invitation process. My dearest and I will be getting married next summer in an arboretum in the Pacific Northwest. It’s a small, afternoon wedding, with dinner in the picnic pavilion and dancing on site. There is a 1/3 or 1/2 mile walk between the ceremony site and the reception site. As noted, I am wearing a fairly alternative wedding dress and my FH will most likely be wearing an olive/brown suit. We want everyone to look their finest but not overdressed nor uncomfortable in the setting. 

As we write our invitations, do we A) just assume that people will read the place and time in the invitation and make their own choices about what is appropriate to wear or B) write some notes about what to wear on the invitation? If B, what kind of language do we use? I don’t think it is really cocktail or garden-party or semi-casual, or is it? Any ideas? Do people want to be told how fancy the wedding is in advance?

Attire Adjectives Needed


Here’s what you need to tell people, either on the invitation or on your wedding website:

There will be dinner in the (OUTDOOR?) picnic pavilion. There will be dancing. There will be a HALF-MILE WALK.

None of that Cocktail or Garden-Party or Semi-Casual Attire stuff is ever actually helpful. (Is it??) Everybody has a different idea about what semi-casual means.

BUT. The fanciness of your invitation should, to a certain extent, match the fanciness of the wedding. I.E. This doesn’t feel to me like a 5-piece letterpressed/caligraphed invitation kind of wedding, you feel me? If you sent something like that out, your guests would definitely turn up overdressed.

In the end, you really can’t control what people wear. Someone will wear a weird/fabulous vintage sequined grandma top she bought at Goodwill and someone else will wear Tevas. (Whoops, that was my wedding in the Pacific Northwest. Whatever, you get the idea.)