The Golden State holds a lot of allure–sunshine, beaches, mountains, deserts, forests…you find it all in California! Not to mention the vineyards and Silicone Valley. So naturally, it’s a little confusing to know how to dress for a wedding being held there. Try not to worry; I’m here to help you decide on that perfect outfit.
So, what to wear to a California wedding? For a formal wedding in California, men are requested to wear tuxes, while women wear ball gowns. If the invite says dressy casual, men are expected to wear a nice shirt and khakis, maybe with a blazer, and women can wear cocktail, knee, tea, or full-length dresses. For casual wear, men can opt for jeans and a shirt, and women can wear a dress, skirt, or even jeans so long as they’re paired with a very nice blouse. If it’s California casual, anything goes.
Below you’ll find more information about various different dress codes, dos, and don’ts, as well as specific ideas for outfits–both for men and women.
What To Wear To A California Wedding
California weddings are as varied as the California landscape–ranging from deserts to beaches, forests, and mountains.
The main things to consider are:
- It’s a wedding, so even if it’s casual, you need to put in an effort and
- What it says on the wedding invite.
Some California weddings are very casual, some very creative, others very formal, and yet others somewhere in the middle. So read that invite!
With this in mind, let’s go through some outfits for different types of dress codes you might encounter at a California wedding.
California Wedding Outfit Ideas For Female Guests
For A California Beach Wedding
For a California beach wedding (and let’s face it–it’s the perfect place for those!) that doesn’t hint at the dress code, you will want to wear a sundress or maxi dress, or a nice knee or tea-length dress, or simply a cocktail dress.
In other words, it doesn’t require a full-blown ball gown. It’s much more relaxed but not too casual.
Definitely fancy enough for a wedding (in fact, it’s called “Mother of the Bride Dress” though sisters and friends of the bride would look just as gorgeous in it!).
Another option would be this two-piece floral prom gown. Absolutely stunning, and the floral print is perfect for a day at the beach.
If you’re looking for a cocktail dress, this short glittering number may be just what you’re looking for.
Of course, if the invite says cocktail attire, then it means a cocktail dress is required!
Prefer jumpsuits to dresses? How about this very colorful number, either in yellow or orange? It would work well both for a fall and summer wedding.
For something a bit less eyepopping but still very pretty, this floral jumpsuit would be wonderful, especially for spring, summer, or beach weddings.
California Formal and Beach Formal
If the invite says it’s California formal (and this is a dress code, so it can apply to a wedding in Arizona, or New York, too), it means you should wear a knee, tea, or full-length dress (so not a skimpy cocktail dress) that would work well on a beach.
If it says beach formal, the same goes.
In other words, the dresses mentioned above would work really well, save for the cocktail dresses.
Semi-formal or Dressy Casual
Semi-formal or dressy casual is basically the same as the above (i.e., California formal), but considering the event may take place somewhere other than the beach.
Meaning the dresses above would work well, save from the sundresses and the floral prints if it’s in the midst of winter.
For semi-formal or dressy casual, you can also consider dresses such as this tea-length dress. It’s formal, but not a full-blown ball gown.
And you can have fun with shorter but very dressy dresses (yeah, that’s a mouthful, but you get what I mean!), such as this pretty number.
While a full ball gown is not required for a semi-formal or dressy casual wedding, a full-length dress such as this one that can pass both as a nice dress and a ball gown will work perfectly well.
Basically, long dresses like this one and the ones mentioned above that don’t scream “ball gown” will work.
Black Tie Optional
If it says black tie optional on the invite, then it’s full-length dresses, tea-length dresses, and ball gowns. Pantsuits are also welcome.
Basically, you want to look as dressed up as possible, and if you don’t have access to a full-blown ball gown, you go for the next best thing.
The above dresses that fall into those categories would work, but also consider this figure-hugging ball gown with lovely embroidery.
Another figure-hugging option, but with long sleeves and a nice stretch material (no worries–you will be able to eat at the wedding!), is this dress by Dylan & Dylan.
And as a variation on a theme, something a bit less figure-hugging but in the same vein is this wrap dress.
For something spectacular yet modest, this long-sleeve pleated dress is a great option. It will certainly make you stand out in a crowd, yet it fits nicely for a wedding where you might not want to wear something showing too much skin.
Then there are the California weddings that require formal wear, black tie, or white tie. Here you want to go for the full ball gown.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have California casual. If the invite specifies that the dress code is California casual, it means anything goes.
You can rock up in shorts and a t-shirt so long as it’s clear you made an effort to look nice.
If you want to wear a dress, though, you can literally choose whatever you like, though you’d do best to stay away from something too formal. The sundresses and jumpsuits above will work.
If the invite just says “casual,” it means a bit more dressy–you can still wear a jeans skirt, but it should be matched with a nice blouse.
Florida casual also referred to as resort casual, is one step up above casual.
Meaning a nice dress for the ladies and khaki or linen pants for the men. No jeans.
You can wear the maxi dresses and sundresses above, as well as a cocktail dress that doesn’t look too dressy.
California Wedding Outfit Ideas for Male Guests
For men, it tends to be a bit easier than for women. Well, at least some of the dress codes!
Suppose it’s California casual; just as for the ladies, anything goes. If you want to show up in jeans or shorts, you can.
If you want to wear a cool or quirky suit, you can. A top hat and tux with tails, on the other hand, would make you look out of place.
Casual is a tad more traditional than California casual. You’ll want to wear something like a nice pair of jeans, or khakis with a shirt. You can even wear a blazer.
Dressy Casual or Semi-Formal
Dressy casual, semi-formal, Florida casual (resort casual) means you forego the jeans and opt for a nice pair of khakis or linen trousers and a shirt.
A blazer will also work well. This nice linen suit will also do the trick–especially for a summer wedding.
Cocktail attire means a dark suit and light shirt, as well as a tie. This outfit would be perfect, apart from the shoes–you’d need a pair of dark shoes, too.
Formal or Optional Black-Tie
When it gets to formal or optional-black tie, it’s also recommended you wear a dark suit and tie or bow tie, or a tux (if you need a tux, this is the one to buy). A three-piece suit like this is also welcome.
What Not To Wear To A California Wedding
There is nothing per se you shouldn’t wear to a California wedding–rather, you need to look at that invite and figure out what the dress code is.
As you can see above, you should not show up in jeans for a formal or even semi-formal wedding.
Likewise, you shouldn’t show up in a tux if it’s California casual or even California formal.
Lastly, consider the theme. If it says you need to dress in accordance with the theme, then do so.
That might require Harry Potter outfits for a Harry Potter-themed wedding!
Many times dressing in accordance with the theme isn’t necessary, though, but if it’s a ranch wedding, wearing ranch-inspired clothes makes sense.
Showing up dressed as a cowboy/cowgirl, on the other hand, does not unless the invite specifies you should dress in accordance with the theme.
In short, you’ll want to read the invite and if it’s unclear–contact someone at the wedding party to confirm what it means.
Other California Wedding Outfit Considerations
Consider The Season
California may be known for its sunshine, but there’s June gloom, El Niño, and ice-cold desert nights to consider.
You will even encounter snow in many places in winter, and let’s not even get started on foggy and rainy San Francisco days.
You need to dress in an outfit that will keep you as cool or warm as required. If you aren’t a California native, ask about the typical temperatures at day and night in the place you’re attending the wedding.
To be on the safe side-dress in layers.
Jackets or coats, wraps, scarves, and pashminas–there are many ways to add layers of warmth and protection from the sun.
The sun is another thing to bear in mind. If you’re going to an outdoor wedding, a hat may not be amiss so long as it’s not too windy.
Sunblock is also necessary if you have sensitive skin and it’s in the midst of summer. If you wear a sleeveless dress, a pashmina or scarves might be necessary to protect your neck and shoulders.
Consider Your Colors
As many parts of California get a lot of sunshine, the palette for many weddings tends to be a bit more colorful than the average wedding.
Showing up in dark, drab colors are, therefore, usually not recommended unless it’s a forest wedding in winter.
To be honest, the best way to figure out what to wear or not to wear is to read the invite and chat with the bride and groom.
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Hey, I’m Allison – a recent bride, an expectant mother and the chief editor here at Everlasting Occasion. Here I document all the knowledge and experience I accumulated while researching and planning my dream wedding and ahead of our new baby. Here, I try to answer those many questions couples have when planning their dream wedding, while equally, helping expectant parents ahead of their new arrival!