What to Wear When There’s No Dress Code

Mr. Buttons, our in-house, house-broken style expert, fetches answers to the most challenging formalwear queries. He never barks up the wrong tree.

Dear Mr. Buttons,

I was recently invited to a wedding, but there was no dress code listed on the invitation. What do I wear? I want to avoid looking underdressed… or even worse, overdressed.

Can’t Crack the Code


Illustration by Christopher Delorenzo

Dear CCtC,

First things first: I’m assuming that since you’re reaching out to me—a cartoon dog—with this question, you don’t know the bride and groom well enough to just ask them what to wear. If that’s not the case, then you should probably call them up. Or ask someone in the wedding party to find out how the couple is expecting people to dress. Go straight to the source, you know?

Maybe you’re the plus-one of a distant cousin, or a random co-worker from five years ago who doesn’t know anyone closely associated with the wedding planning. In that case—get out your trench coat and your magnifying glass, cuz you’re gonna have to do some detective work, Benedict Cumberbatch!

Start with Exhibit A: the invitation. Does the design look chill and friendly, or super freakin’ fancy and expensive? This is your first clue about what level of formality these people are expecting from you. Does the invite include an address for the couple’s wedding website? Get online and see if there’s any additional info about the dress code.

Still no answers? Let’s look at the other clues. Here’s what you do know: the date, time, and location of the wedding.

The Season

Summer weddings tend to be a little more casual than winter weddings. And by “casual,” I don’t mean jeans and a t-shirt with holes in it. It’s a special day—you should look like you made some effort. No matter the season, you should probably play it safe and wear some form of a suit—but during the summer you’re more likely to be able to get away with style moves like going tie-less, sock-less, and wearing a light-colored suit, or breezy fabrics like linen. For winter weddings, stick to more traditional formal dress—sport a tie or bow tie, classic footwear (with socks, please!), and a dark-colored wool suit.

The Venue

Look up the venue online. Does it look crazy elegant? Rustic? Or maybe it’s a small backyard ceremony? All of this will help you solve the mystery of what the heck you’re supposed to wear to this thing. You can pretty much assume that anything really fancy and/or indoors is going to be on the more formal side, while outdoors usually means chill suit vibes.

The Time of Day

This one’s super important in determining color palette. Daytime weddings usually call for lighter-colored suits—like medium gray, blue, or tan—while darker shades like black, navy, or charcoal are better for evening affairs. Want to play with pops of color? Leave the bright stuff for daytime, and go with richer, jewel tones for night.

After examining the above clues, I’m hoping that you’ve at least somewhat deduced what you should wear to this no-dress-code wedding. But if you’re still feeling in the dark, I’ll leave you with this: When in doubt, keep it classic. A no dress code situation is not the time to wear neon sneakers with a suit or experiment with top hats. It’s also probably not the time to go full-on black tie and wear a tuxedo. While everyone knows I love a good 007 look, you don’t want to overdress, and end up being the only guy in a tux. It’s just too risky. Approach dressing for this wedding with the same mentality you would dressing for a job interview—inoffensive, with just enough personality to not be totally boring—and you’ll be just fine.

Case. Closed.

Mr. Buttons

Have a life or style question for Mr. Buttons? Send it to support@theblacktux.com. And for more information on formal dress codes, check out our Style Guide.