So, you’ve created the perfect imagine of your wedding in your mind, down to the last detail of what everyone is wearing. But how can you politely assure that your guests understand your vision and will dress the part?

Be Clear

Wedding attire customs differ throughout the country. Many etiquette experts may tell you that the time of the wedding is sufficient notice for the appropriate attire. However, regional differences often cause confusion, regardless of commonly understood etiquette. In some areas, morning and afternoon weddings are held as backyard cookouts where guests come dressed casually. In other areas, morning weddings are held at sophisticated brunch halls where guests are required to wear a jacket and tie.

No one way is the correct way, so to be sure that cultural differences don’t leave guests unprepared, let them know the dress code by including it on your invitation. This reference does not have to be anything more than a few words at the bottom corner of the invitation, stating something to the effect of “Black Tie Requested”.

Be Specific

When including a dress code on your invitations, understand that some wording may mean different things to various people. Again, regional differences contribute to different definitions of such vague terms as: Semi-Formal, Dress Casual, etc.

For example, while “Semi-Formal” may mean dark suit to your business acquaintances, your college buddies may take it to mean “nice shirt, tie optional”. You may intend for Dress Casual to mean khakis and polo shirts, while others may mistake it for anything but ripped jeans.

Don’t expect your guests to research what these vague terms mean in your area of the country. Instead, be specific. If you want everyone to come in a dark suit, then say so: “Formal suit required, Black-tie optional.” This lets guests know that while they do not have to wear a tuxedo, they are still expected to dress formally.

If you have a wedding website, you may want to give a more detailed description as to what is expected on it.

Theme Weddings

With theme weddings becoming more prevalent these days, dress codes have expanded to fit the occasion. To encourage your guests to dress in costume, include a specific request on the invitation, such as: “Renaissance garb requested but not required”. Be sure to let guests know that they may still attend even if they do not dress for the theme, otherwise you may alienate those guests who don’t feel comfortable in costume.

Simply suggesting that a costume be worn may not be enough to get the ball rolling. Including information on how guests can make their own costume, or information about costume rentals will guide those who want to participate but are unsure how to do it.

Again, if you have a wedding website, you may want to consider devoting an entire page to costuming ideas and suggestions to help your guests. If you suspect that many guests will be interested in making their own costumes, be sure to inform them of the wedding theme several months prior to sending out the formal invitations, thus giving them plenty of time to purchase fabric and patterns.

Many brides with theme weddings choose to hold costume contests at the wedding in order to get guests to dress up. Ask your wedding party to “judge” different costume categories such as: Best Overall Costume, Most Historically Accurate, Best Dressed Couple, etc. Include a list of the contest categories with your invitations so guests can think ahead and plan for the category they’d like to enter.

Relax and Enjoy 

On the day of the wedding, there is not much more you can do to assure your guests will come properly dressed. If your reception site has certain requirements (for example some ultra fancy restaurants refuse admittance to men without a jacket and tie), be sure to keep some extras of these items on hand for guests who show up unprepared. Coordinate with your ushers ahead of time to politely offer these things to guests who come underdressed.

However, if the site does not have a required dress code, then you may just want to let unprepared guests slide. Rather than embarrassing them and creating ill feelings on the day of the event, just relax and enjoy your day. Remind yourself that at least Uncle Bob came to celebrate this important event with you, and never mind his tan polyester suit with elbow pads

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