“Dress codes were really huge in the ‘60s and ‘70s with these incredible parties and balls where people used to go all out,” says jewelry designer Sabine Getty. “Now it’s making a comeback. People want to make an effort and they want to dream.” And she would know. On her rehearsal invitation read the words “Liaisons Dangereuses,” inspiring guests to put a modern spin on Marie Antoinette-era fashion complete with powdered hair, pearl chokers and corseted period dresses. Getty herself had donned a dress complete with a satin bustle at the back. It was the antithesis of “cocktail attire”. “When you create a dress code you really want people to enter your world,” she says. “It’s a way to invite people in and make them a part of it”—a welcome sentiment when a wedding weekend can often leave guests feeling more like audience members than active participants.
So we’re feeling more festive, more a part of the show and, dare we say it, even looking forward to that next opportunity to dress the part. But it’s important to remember that beyond their ability to inspire and include, dress codes aren’t all fun and games. At their very core, they’re meant to provide direction. “They dictate what the host wants guests to wear,” affirms Rebecca Gardner, founder of event and interior design collective Houses & Parties. Somewhat of a wedding expert (she’s been named one of Vogue’s best wedding planners), she’s quick to point out that, though welcome, creativity can unfortunately breed confusion. “Vague descriptions are of no help. Men need to know whether or not to wear a sportcoat, a suit, or a tuxedo, and women need to know which length of dress to choose. Remember the velvet-blazer-with-stylish-jeans epidemic of 2009?” Enough said.
We can’t discourage couples from coming up with unique spins on conventional codes—and nor should we. We can, however, help you de-code them. Just in time for the start of the summer wedding season, we’ve put together a short list of the dress codes you’re likely to encounter and a guide of what to wear to each.