How To Set the Dress Code for Your Queer Wedding

If you’ve ever frantically googled something along the lines of “cocktail attire???” or “what the fuck is evening wear” or “wedding dress codes explainer,” you are not alone. I was raised in an environment in which one might assume I understand the various nuances of dress codes. Hell, I was forced to do cotillion!!!!!!!! And yet, I am pretty clueless when it comes to these stringent attire rules, which is especially frustrating because I have a lot of anxiety about underdressing for events (and would almost always prefer to overdress!). I think it’s safe to say dress codes, like a lot of etiquette rules made a billion years ago by (probably) straight people, are outdated and often even discriminatory, especially when it comes to gender. (While we’re getting into it: Dress codes implemented at restaurants are also often employed with racist and/or classist motives.)

When it comes to weddings and other similar formal events, dress codes are expected. But sometimes I think even people specifying a dress code don’t really know what they mean! I went to a wedding that specified cocktail attire and turned out to be the most overdressed person there. It was partially a misfire of my own, partially a misdirection on the part of the specified dress code. And look, it wasn’t disastrous — like I said, I’d prefer to overdress anyway, because I’m a showy Gemini who never minds a bevy of compliments. But my lifelong frustration with dress codes meant I was faced with a specific dilemma when planning my own wedding. Would it have a dress code, and if so, how would I communicate it? Here’s a bit of advice I have based on my own wedding planning that might help if you’re also stuck on how to devise and articulate your queer wedding dress codes.

Do you HAVE to have a wedding dress code?

Technically, I think the answer to this is no. I think especially when planning a queer wedding, we have free rein to blow up any rules we don’t vibe with. Don’t want a dress code? No problem. Just don’t provide one when you send out invitations.

I WILL say the one setback with this route is that you are almost 100% guaranteed to receive questions about the dress code. In fact, I am probably one of those people who would ask about a dress code if one isn’t specified! For starters, these sorts of social “rules” are just ingrained in us. But also, it’s understandable that some people might only feel comfortable if they know ahead of time what the general level of casual vs. formal the event will be.

If you don’t want to do a dress code, then I think the best way to avoid an avalanche of inquiries would be to include something about it on the FAQ page of your website. You can say something along the lines of “we just want people to dress comfortably or however they feel best” or something to that effect. But also, at this point, if you’re already having to give guidance, you might as well…develop a dress code. BUT, you don’t have to just stick to the usual heteronormative categories like “black tie” or vague things like “dressy casual,” which brings me to what I think is the best way to do wedding dress codes for specifically queer weddings…

Make your wedding dress code specific, detailed, creative, and FUN!

Yes, we are queering dress codes! We are giving directions that don’t rely on gendered expectations or fussy distinctions between words that all just sort of sound the same (what IS the difference between semi-formal and dressy casual?!). I first realized dress codes can be expansive if you want them to be when listening to a podcast where the hosts shared about going to a gay wedding where the dress code was DRAMA. Drama! Now that’s a dress code I can get behind.

When it came to envisioning the overall vibe and look of my own wedding, I wasn’t fixated so much on how formal/not formal my guests would be. I mostly just wanted to avoid a sea of black and navy. I recently went to a specifically GAY awards ceremony in New York, and almost everyone was in black and navy! At a formal GAY event!!!! I wore what I thought was a very boring, simple dress, but because it was hot pink, I got a MILLION COMPLIMENTS. For doing the bare minimum of wearing color!

My fiancée and I agreed early on that we want our wedding to feel like a big gay party. I wanted to encourage this overall vibe by supplying a wildly specific and over-the-top dress code so people would really understand this isn’t a stuffy event or one to merely adhere to wedding palette trends for. I wanted color; I wanted patterns; I wanted glitter, sequins, pizazz.

The dress code my fiancée invented for the wedding was PEACOCK OUT. This was fitting on several levels: We’re incorporating peacock colors and decor in our wedding design, because we’re getting married in Winter Park, Florida, where peacocks are a significant symbol, as well as a way of incorporating some of my Indian heritage in the event. And PEACOCK OUT gets the message across: We want people to SHOW OFF their wedding looks.

Of course, we couldn’t just slap PEACOCK OUT on something and call it a day. The best dress codes are the ones that require a paragraph of detail. So this is the language I ended up putting on our website:

Peacock Out! We want our guests to be colorful, glamorous, and fun with their looks! Color! Sparkles! Patterns! If you feel like it’s “too much,” it’s JUST RIGHT. This is a GAY WEDDING. Bring the fashion and drama! If in doubt, text us your look 👀

I’ve stressed to multiple inquiring guests worried their looks are indeed “too much” that there is simply no way to outdo me. I’m going full desi bride with my first look of the evening (yes, I have two), so I’ll be decked out in costume jewelry, shiny embroidery, tassels, and color! No plain white dress to be found! There’s literally no way to outdo me, and if someone tries, hell I can’t be mad because it’ll be impressive.

If you want to go the creative dress code route, basically just envision how you’d like the overall vibe of your wedding to look and feel and go from there. Want to have an ethereal, almost witchy vibe? Tell people the dress code is COVEN CHIC. Want a floral-filled pastel dreamland? Tell people the dress code is GARDEN TEA PARTY. You’re welcome to steal my dress code! Or go with DRAMA, which I still think is an iconic choice. Of course, you’ll want to expand upon what you mean on your website or by some other means of communication, but don’t feel like you’re burdening people by providing them with a LOT of details about what to wear! People like a genuinely interesting prompt way more than vague and outdate terminology.

Your wedding should look and feel like you. A personalized dress code is the perfect way to inject a bit of yourself, your weirdness, and your style into the big day.

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Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is the managing editor of Autostraddle and a lesbian writer of essays, short stories, and pop culture criticism living in Orlando. She is the assistant managing editor of TriQuarterly, and her short stories appear or are forthcoming in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, Joyland, Catapult, The Offing, and more. Some of her pop culture writing can be found at The A.V. Club, Vulture, The Cut, and others. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram and learn more about her work on her website.

Kayla has written 767 articles for us.

23 Comments

      • This one an actuality makes sense to me haha. It’s like button ups without a tie, a nice pair of slacks and oxfords without a suit jacket. Or a jumpsuit with fancy shoes, or a dress you could wear to a dinner out with a nice heel. It’s the foundational elements of dressing smart but without any extra accoutrements.

  1. I love this! I definitely need more directions than the typical dress code. What a good idea to choose a theme or vibe for a dress code. And I bet the looks at your wedding will be amazing.

    I just learned that the dress code for my (straight) nibling’s wedding is dressy casual, which is my least favorite dress code because it’s so vague. (So I’m just going to wear my favorite queer aunt regalia and not worry too much about where it falls on the spectrum of dressy and casual)

  2. i love this, and truly cannot wait to see pics from your big day! i’ve seen some peacock themed weddings that have leaned too far into the theme, but i know yours will be amazing and festive!

  3. Oh hey! I was also forced to do cotillion (in seventh grade)! I hated it so much that my parents didn’t make any of my younger siblings do it, even though one probably would have actually enjoyed it.

  4. I didn’t have a dress code for my wedding and I did in fact have to answer a lot of questions about it. I’m not sure I would change it though, cause then I could answer those questions with those people in mind. My mom? You don’t have to wear a dress or uncomfortable heels, wear whatever you want. My anxious queer friend? Literally anything you pick will be fine, the main thing I want is clean, as in unstained and not stinky. I think most people will dress in the same formality vein as your pink jumpsuit.
    We might have said something about wearing comfortable shoes, but I don’t think we even did that cause we specified the wedding was going to be outside and we are outdoorsy.

    I think if I had to create a dress code for an event I might do it with pictures and outline the borders of what are acceptable (someone in a hoop skirt ball gown – fine if you don’t want to dance, you will take up too much space. Someone in a lavishly sequined full length dress – perfect, no such thing as too much here. A white dress – no thank you, we are respecting the tradition that only the pair should wear white. A polo and nice jeans, absolutely fine. A t shirt from a 5k and not nice jeans – we would prefer a little more fancy. Remember we will be dancing and eating, so wear something that will be comfortable for that, and something you’ll be proud or at least happy to be photographed in.

  5. Love this idea! PEACOCK OUT is such a fabulous and meaningful dress code. It’s a fantastic way to break away from the norm and embrace the uniqueness of your wedding. Plus, who doesn’t want an excuse to bring out all the colors, sparkles, and patterns? Definitely stealing this for my future event planning adventures. morse code translator

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