The Best Wedding Guest Dresses So Good They (Almost) Upstage the Bride

A definitive style guide for every kind of ceremony.

woman wearing a silk dress
(Image credit: Launchmetrics)

Peak wedding season is officially here, which means a slew of invites has likely hit your mailbox. Once you've RSVP'd accordingly, then comes the hard part: what do you wear? Not all nuptials are created equal, so finding the best wedding guest dress for each event is no easy feat. You need a polished gown for your friend's black-tie soirée, a relaxed summer dress for a casual affair, and an in-between style for a semi-formal ceremony. Where's one to begin?

Let’s start by nailing down what not to wear. “It goes without saying that you should steer clear of white unless the dress code explicitly calls for it. I would take it even a step further and recommend avoiding all white-adjacent colors,” says Janelle Llyod, Ready-to-Wear Fashion Director at Bloomingdale's. Wearing shades such as ivory, eggshell, and champagne could potentially communicate that you’re attempting to upstage the bride.

Next up, consider looking toward the fashion trend cycle for style inspiration. Nordstrom’s Associate Fashion Director Linda Cui Zhang tells Marie Claire that free-flowing dresses that “take up space” are poised to rise in popularity this summer. During the Spring 2024 fashion month circuit, leading labels like Altuzarra, Ferragamo, and Jacquemus showcased voluminous silhouettes on their runways. “Styles like this allow for movement, which can come in handy when you’re dancing the night away at a wedding ceremony,” says Zhang.

“Drop-waist dresses are also trending this season,” says Llyod. She shares that this flattering style is bubbling up across social media and even making waves in the celebrity world (style icons like Sofia Richie Grainge, Kendall Jenner, and Rihanna have recently taken this trend for a spin).

With this in mind, Marie Claire created a cohesive edit of the best wedding guest dresses, organized by dress code categories.

Formal Wedding Guest Dresses

woman wearing formal dress

Slinky satin gowns are your best bet for a formal ceremony.

(Image credit: Launchmetrics)

Expect to follow a fairly strict dress code for a black-tie wedding. Llyod shares that gowns or dresses designed with floor-grazing hemlines are the most appropriate. You could also opt for a length slightly above the ankle, but remember that your dress should communicate a level of formality in other ways, like a sophisticated halter neckline or refined pleats.

Regarding color, Zhang notes that a streamlined, solid-colored gown fits a polished black-tie wedding. “Black is a beautiful default, and bolder colors like red and yellow bring celebratory energy to the occasion,” she adds. Lean into eye-catching hues with gowns from L'idee and Alexis Saab or easy minimalist styles from designers like Shona Joy and Reformation.

Semi-Formal Wedding Guest Dresses

woman wearing semi-formal dress

While dressing for a semi-formal wedding, try ankle-length hemlines that feel a bit more casual than floor-grazing gowns.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Although semi-formal dress codes can feel ambiguous, there are a few general guidelines that you can follow as a default. “With less restriction on how fancy you need to dress, you definitely have more freedom to wear something a bit more relaxed,” says Llyod. Slip into fabrics like crepe and brushed cotton, and play with varying hemlines or interesting necklines.

“A shorter maxi dress is a versatile option for a semi-formal wedding,” says Zhang, who agrees that styles that range from ankle-length to knee-length are most suitable. Anthropologie's strapless midi dress and Fleur du Mal’s embroidered slip dress embody both ends of the spectrum.

“The beauty of this dress code is that you can also swap out your shoes and accessories to achieve a more formal or relaxed outfit,” Zhang adds. Depending on your mood, the style expert suggests heeled mules, a sleek clutch for a dressy disposition, minimalist sandals, and a basket bag for a more laid-back look.

Casual Wedding Guest Dresses

woman wearing casual dress

With a casual dress code, feel free to experiment with lightweight fabrics and whimsical floral prints.

(Image credit: Launchmetrics)

“Airy dresses in the season’s favorite florals are an effortless solution to a casual dress code,” explains Zhang. Embrace tiny blossoms with Topshop’s halter-neck slip dress or drape yourself in pronounced prints with Farm Rio’s midi dress. And if you’re not much of a floral type of gal, solid colors are equally welcomed.

Lloyd tells Marie Claire that comfort reigns supreme when dressing for a casual wedding. The fashion director encourages shoppers to go for “lightweight fabrics like linen, cotton, and jersey,” which are guaranteed to keep you nice and cool. “These types of easygoing dresses are also appropriate for a variety of other summer soirées, so you can wear them on repeat this season,” she adds.

To spruce up your look, Lloyd says that striking jewelry like statement earrings and chunky bangle bracelets can “make your casual look feel more festive.”

Meet the Experts

Janelle Lloyd headshot
Janelle Lloyd

You may know Janelle Lloyd from her social media presence as style authority and influencer of @waityouneedthis. Lloyd joins Bloomingdale’s with a diverse background of roles and experiences, including buying, brand management, interior design, sales, and fashion. In fact, she started her career at Bloomingdale’s as an assistant buyer. With an MBA from NYU and experience working at Google, she brings a variety of expertise to the team.

Linda Cui Zhang 
Linda Cui Zhang

Formerly an accountant with a career in merchandise planning, Linda Cui Zhang joined Nordstrom in 2021 as a buyer and is currently the Associate Fashion Director. Originally from North Carolina, Linda resides in New York City.

Lauren Tappan
Fashion Editor

Lauren is the Fashion Editor at Marie Claire, where she writes trend reports, shopping pieces, and celebrity news stories. Prior to Marie Claire, Lauren worked for Harper’s Bazaar and ELLE as a freelance editor with a specific focus on seasonal styles and coveted products. She also worked for Town & Country, where she developed a robust portfolio of fashion roundups and designer profiles.

Lauren graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a bachelor’s degree in communications and a minor in journalism. While attending Penn, Lauren contributed to the university's fashion magazine, The Walk, while also interning for Philadelphia Style Magazine and EveryStylishGirl.

When she’s not exploring the world of fashion, you can find Lauren sharpening her skills as DJ, discovering new restaurants in New York City (she’s a foodie), and spending quality time with friends and family. Follow her along at @laurenktappan.