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Deciphering Dress Codes

Each wedding is different and so too are the dress codes. While in New Zealand, dress codes are about as common on an invitation as anyone actually seeing a kiwi in a land supposedly ripe with them but there are still a few couples here (and certainly overseas) who do have a preference.

But what does it all mean? - What's the difference between black tie and white tie? What does 'dress to impress' actually consitute? If it's formal does that mean ball gowns or cocktail dresses?

To help you decipher what you're going to need to don, we've broken down the most popular to help steer you in the right direction.

White Tie

Most people associate 'Black Tie' with being the absolute in formality but it's really the penultimate. The white tie wedding is the affai for which you'll need to go all out - think floor length gowns - but nothing in white or bridesmaid tones lest you blend in a little too well.

Black Tie

Black tie-while not the utmost in formality is still most certainly formal attire but you do have a little more freedom in the style allowing you to choose between a full length dress or midi gown.


This is what in New Zealand is referred to as 'Dress to Impress' in most situations. Occasionally that phrase is leant to Black Tie but more often than not, semi formal is the true descriptor. It's important that you look polished and put together and while you can of course wear a longer gown, usually a midi or shorter dress is more appropriate - remember though that elegance never pertained to mini skirts. Knee length at the shortest, midi (mid calf) at the best and full length if you prefer.


Cocktail is effectively the same as semi-formal - most seem to think that this means hem lines can creep WAY up but if you're intent to bring the hem up past your knees, at least opt for a high-low gown (high in the fron, full length at the back) or a high neck dress to balance out the skin-dress ratio.


Think maxi dresses, floaty fabrics, chiffon or crepe with flat sandals or hardy wedges (remember beaches equal sand!)


Casual doesn't really mean casual in the true sense of the word, rather it's more akin to business casual - what you might wear on a first date or on your first casual friday at work before you know how casual people really dress in the office. Anything you'd be happy to run into a client or an ex boyfriend in is a fair call.


A Garden wedding has a similar feel to a beach wedding - they're both outside, they both have unstable ground to walk on and you're bound to be in the wind so dress in something weather appropriate like a business casual or semi formal sundress with wedges and it's okay to go floral - just no all over hydrangea prints lest you blend in with the scenery.

The Specific Request

Some couples plan ahead and will give you the specifics. They may decide they want everyone to wear white in which case they'll tell you this so you can be prepared along withthe formality required.
Others have a specific theme and similarly, they'll instruct you as to how you should dress.

The No Dress Code specified

About 85% of weddings in New Zealand go without specifiying a dress code and so most have adopted a new dress code of 'Wedding attire' which usually translates to somewhere between Smart-casual and semi formal depending on the venue. If it's a venue you know is spectacular, it's safe to assume the attire should be too whereas conversely if you know the venue is a little rustic, you can tone down the formality to suit.
The invitation suite is usually an indicator of formality as well and also hints at the theme to help you plan your attire.

If you’re still unsure about a dress code, the best thing to do is reach out to the bride or a bridesmaid to check in. They'll be flattered you have the forethought to ask!