What Should Guests Wear to a Beach Wedding?

These are the fabrics, silhouettes, accessories, and shoes that work best for any beachfront affair.

outdoor wedding ceremony on beach
Photo: KT Crabb

While brides and grooms planning beachfront weddings often have stylists, shopping assistants, and tailors making sure every stitch and seam is perfect, nailing the dress code as a wedding guest is usually entirely up to you. Figuring out the formality and exact location of the event (Will you be barefoot in the sand, or is the event black tie?) is key to choosing the right attire, says bridal stylist Gabrielle Hurwitz. "Generally speaking, I think the fashion aesthetic for a beach wedding is effortless, light, and flowing," she says. "But, there are nuances to the dress code, and you can still have varying degrees of formality, even if the wedding is in the sand." Ahead, Hurwitz breaks down what attendees need to keep in mind as they shop for oceanfront event attire.

Understand the difference between a cocktail and formal beach dress code.

Most beach weddings will suggest either a "cocktail" or "formal" dress code. For women attending a cocktail event, says Hurwitz, "I love a knee-length or midi dress in a breezy fabric or fun print. To keep it from being too formal, you can even do a fun maxi dress and add some fun accessories, like a statement earring. A jumpsuit is a great option, too." Men on the guest list should look for a linen suit in a pale color—think beige, light blue, or pale green. "With that dress code, you can also get away with leaving the tie at home," says Hurwitz. But don't get too relaxed: "The wedding might be on the beach, but now is not the time to pull out shorts—unless you're in Bermuda, where Bermuda shorts are customary for a formal event," she says.

A request for formal attire at a beach wedding doesn't usually mean ball gowns and tuxedos, says Hurwitz, though you'll want to upgrade your cocktail look. "Being on the beach automatically takes away some of the formality of, for example, an indoor ballroom wedding, but if the dress code is formal, dress up a midi dress with chic accessories, or find a beautiful floor-length gown with a slimmer skirt to match the setting," she says. "For men, if the dress code is 'Beach Formal,' I'd recommend a linen-blend suit in a darker color like black, dark gray, or navy."

Consider fabrics and colors.

The festive summery atmosphere of a beach wedding should discourage you from heavy knits and dull colors, while the specific destination in which the wedding is taking place might also influence the color palette and prints that are appropriate. "I would avoid anything too dark and moody," says Hurwitz. "Depending on the setting, I think you can get away with bright jewel tones in a tropical destination like Hawaii or the Caribbean and softer, pastel hues on the coasts like in Nantucket or Santa Barbara. Look for lightweight fabrics that will blow in the breeze—think chiffon, organza, and natural fibers."

Add colorful accessories.

If you prefer a more muted color for your outfit, choosing bright jewelry and accessories can add a celebratory vibe. "I do think that being on the beach gives you the freedom to have a little more fun with accessories," says Hurwitz. "Add a pop of color to your look with a statement piece of jewelry or a fun clutch. A beach wedding is also the perfect opportunity to pull out a fabulous pair of sunglasses—just make sure to remove them for any formal portraits." Men's accessories should also fall in line with the formality of the wedding. "If you're attending a wedding in Nantucket or Cape Cod, and the dress code reads cocktail attire, nautical-inspired accessories, like a whale-print belt or a tie with anchors on it, are appropriate when paired with a nice blue suit," says Hurwitz. But don't invest in a Hawaiian print tie for a formal affair: "If the wedding is black tie or black-tie optional, I'd avoid accessories that feel too thematic."

Choose the right shoes.

Before you choose your footwear, try to find out where exactly the ceremony and reception will take place—on the sand, on a platform, or inside. "If the ceremony is in the sand and the couple isn't putting a platform down of some sort, you'll probably want to be barefoot or in flat sandals, because even a block heel will sink," says Hurwitz. "If the wedding is beach-adjacent, look for a strappy sandal in whatever heel height is most comfortable for you."

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