A Guest’s Guide to Destination Wedding Attire
You’ve just received an invitation to a destination wedding. The first thing you think about is how happy you are for the wedding couple, and how excited you are to go on vacation with a group of your friends. Then, you start to panic. What are you going to wear?
For the newly engaged pair, the decision is easy. But for guests, destination wedding attire can be tricky. And it only gets more complicated if a particular dress code has been requested.
Well, have no fear! With our guide, you can pick your wedding outfit with confidence.
Wedding Dress Codes, Explained
In order to choose the best attire for a destination wedding, it helps to understand the different types of dress codes that may be noted on an invitation.
- Black-Tie: Aside from white-tie—which is typically reserved for state balls, banquets, and ceremonies—black-tie is the most sophisticated dress code. Think floor-length gowns in shimmering fabrics, closed-toe heels, tuxedos, and bow ties.
- Formal: While slightly less fancy than black-tie, guests will still be expected to wear nice dresses and suits with appropriate accessories.
- Cocktail (Semi-Formal): This dress code gives guests additional options to choose from. Women can consider knee-length or midi dresses; men can consider alternative suit colors.
- Casual: Usually reserved for outdoor weddings, casual dress can be largely determined by the location and weather. That said, guests shouldn’t be too relaxed. For example, wedges and heeled sandals are A-okay, but flip-flops and sneakers are not.
What to Wear to a Destination Wedding
Guests should try their best to follow the above rules, but they can take some liberties to feel appropriately dressed for the location and venue. Since most destination weddings are held in the Caribbean, playing around with fabrics, colors, and patterns is highly encouraged.
Now, let’s discuss how you can adapt your style for beachfront ceremonies and receptions.
Destination Wedding Attire for Women and Female-Identifying Guests
Silhouettes and Fabrics
The shape and length of your beach wedding attire should primarily be based on the recommended dress code. But you can also look at the resort’s event space for guidance. If formal wear has been requested (or the reception is being held on a rooftop terrace), opt for full-length skirts and jumpsuits. If the wedding couple is exchanging vows on the shore, you can likely get away with shorter hemlines and rompers.
Fabric should be determined by the destination itself. Chances are you’ve been invited to an exotic locale with a humid climate (it’s why couples choose to get married far from home), so try to find something in a lightweight, breathable material that still looks luxurious. Chiffon, organza, and tulle are all great options.*
Colors and Prints
A tropical wedding is the perfect excuse to wear bright, bold colors. Magenta, aquamarine, and other neon hues will pop against a white-sand beach. Cocktail and casual dress codes also allow for prints, including large florals, stripes, and polka dots.
For formal destination weddings, take things down a notch. While you should avoid onyx, navy, and other dark shades, couples that ask you to dress in black-tie will likely expect you to arrive in solid (more subdued) colors and subtle prints.
Shoes and Accessories
Destination wedding guests need to pack practical footwear. One moment, you could be walking along the coast; the next, you could be standing in a lush garden. Mules, wedges, and other shoes with low, block heels will ensure you’re steady (and that your feet don’t get too sore for dancing). That said, if the party will primarily be inside an all-inclusive resort, you can consider stilettos.
For accessories, simple is best. Unless you’re trying to follow a black-tie or formal dress code, resist putting on your most sparkly pieces. Beach weddings are ideal for donning jewelry and purses made with rattan and other natural materials.
Destination Wedding Attire for Men and Male-Identifying Guests
Fits and Fabrics
From patch pockets and notch lapels to heavy breaks, there are a lot of technical considerations to make when buying a suit.** Some of these features do impact the level of formality, but dressing for a destination wedding really comes down to finding a comfortable fit in a moisture-wicking fabric. Linen, for instance, is great for combatting high temperatures.
Black-tie and cocktail dress codes require you to wear a jacket, pants, and a tie, while casual weddings allow you to be a bit more…well, casual. Particularly if you’re traveling to Mexico, Aruba, or a similar destination, you can likely get away with wearing chino shorts and a guayabera (a type of short-sleeved button-down shirt).
Colors and Patterns
When it comes to colors and patterns, men should apply the same rules as women. Stick with basic hues (blue, gray, brown) if attending a formal affair; experiment with unconventional colors (pink, green, orange), and patterned suits if attending a casual beach wedding.
Depending on the dress code, you can even go for a mismatched look. As long as you’re not upstaging the wedding couple, there’s no harm in wearing a statement jacket with a neutral pant.
Shoes and Accessories
It may seem odd to wear dress shoes on the beach, but that’s exactly what you’ll need to do if attending a black-tie or formal wedding in a destination like the Dominican Republic. Oxfords, derbies, and wingtips will work best in this situation. For other dress codes, you can complete your look with a loafer or deck shoe.
You can accessorize your outfit with a number of items, including pocket squares and ties, suspenders, and cufflinks. Any combination will do, as long as you match the dress code (i.e. don’t wear a diamond-encrusted watch to a casual wedding).
It can be difficult to decide what to wear to a destination wedding. Hopefully, the above advice will help you not only look, but feel like your best self. Now start packing—or learn what you can expect to see, do, and experience in some of the most popular places for destination weddings.
*SMP Contributor, ‘The 7 Best Fabrics for Summer Brides and Bridesmaids,’ Style Me Pretty, 2018.
**The GQ Editors, ‘The GQ Guide to Suits,’ GQ, 2021.