Fall Wedding Guest Dresses

With every new season comes the onslaught of requests for mother-of-the-bride/groom and wedding guest dresses, so today I’m updating my annual post on what to wear to a fall wedding! I’ve rounded up a bunch of new fall wedding guest dresses for your shopping inspiration.


There are lots of dress codes and varying levels of formality for wedding guest attire, but for the sake of simplicity, I condensed them into three: formal/black tie, semi-formal/cocktail, and dressy casual. That pretty much covers the bases, but of course, there are all kinds of made-up dress codes for weddings these days.

When in doubt, I always ask around and see what other attendees are wearing, but hopefully this gives you a place to start.

What Colors Are Best for Fall?

I’m sure it goes without saying, but never wear white to a wedding unless it is requested, and I would include cream and pale shades of blush. There are very few rules of etiquette that aren’t considered antiquated these days, but that is one of them. In fact, it’s trendy for brides these days to wear white to all of their wedding-related events, and it is generally understood that no one else should.

As far as what color you should wear, fall wedding guest dresses in autumnal tones are appropriate, but not required. Jewel tones are nice too, and having a moment in the fashion world these days. I love a rich burgundy or emerald green this time of year, navy is always safe for a wedding, and black is fine if it’s a more formal event.

Heavier fabrics are generally preferred in the fall, like a sleek scuba fabric or a rich satin or brocade. Velvet is okay, but I would wait to wear that a little later in the season. I consider velvet more of a winter fabric, but it depends on the weight and style of the dress. Lace and chiffon tend to look more summery, but again, it depends on the dress. Use your best judgement. Satin is having a moment in the fashion world at the moment, so that’s a safe bet, and I included a bunch of those options in this post.

Also, I usually stick to solid color dresses for formal and semi-formal events, but when you get down to the dressy casual category, it is fine to wear a print.

Formal/Black Tie Wedding Guest Dresses for Fall

photo credit: Nordstrom

For most of us, black tie is as dressy as it gets, although white tie is technically dressier than black tie. White tie definitely dictates a ball gown for the ladies, but black tie gives you a little more leeway. If in doubt, wear a floor-length gown when the invitation says black tie. Black tie optional is a little more permissive.

You can certainly wear a floor-length gown to a black tie optional wedding, but it isn’t necessarily required. If you do opt for a dress that is not floor-length, it should be a dressy cocktail dress. If in doubt, ask around to see what others are wearing.

Once you choose your dress, be sure to think through the rest of your ensemble. Your shoes, accessories, and especially your handbag should match your dress in style and formality. This is not the time to grab your everyday leather tote, or the nylon crossbody you took to Disney World.

And since fall can be chilly in a lot of areas, you also want to remember an appropriate wrap. If you don’t have all of the necessary accoutrements, ask around. Oftentimes you can find a friend who is happy to lend you a beaded clutch or a silky wrap for the evening.

Here are some formal wedding guest dresses to shop:

Semi-Formal/Cocktail Dresses for Fall Weddings

photo credit: Amazon

Cocktail attire indicates a semi-formal event, so you’re looking for fall wedding guest dresses in knee or midi lengths that are dressier than what you might wear to work or church or out to dinner with friends. Basically, it’s a formal dress with a shorter hemline, and it will have a dramatic detail or some sparkle and shine.

For a daytime semi-formal wedding, you can go a little less glam, but feel free to wear more embellishments and dramatic details if the wedding is in the evening.

Just like with the black tie wedding attire, you want to make sure your accessories match the formality of the event, and try to incorporate a mix of textures. For example, if the dress is sparkly or has sequins, go with a suede or satin shoe. Or vice versa.

You’ll notice some overlap in the shopping widgets, since there is a range of options for each level of formality.

Here are some semi-formal/cocktail dresses to shop:

Dressy-Casual Wedding Guest Dresses for Fall

photo credit: Ann Taylor

Typcially a daytime wedding or an event in a more casual location is a dressy casual affair. You still want to dress up, but you don’t need a cocktail dress. It’s more like something you would wear out to a nice dinner at a fancy restaurant.

It could even be a dress you would wear to work or church, but in that case, add accessories that are more festive than something you would wear to the office. You might also wear a jumpsuit. Prints are fine in this category, but I’d stick with solids for formal and semi-formal events.

When picking accessories for a dressy/casual wedding, you don’t want anything too glitzy, but you definitely don’t want to overlook this part of your outfit either. And while you don’t need a fancy clutch for a daytime event, you also don’t want to carry your everyday shoulder bag. A small crossbody bag that has some shiny hardware is a nice choice.

Here are some dressy-casual wedding guest dresses to shop:

Complete the Look

If you want to look polished and put-together, be sure to complete the look with appropriate shoes and accessories. That can take some time, so start early and plan ahead. There’s nothing worse than getting to the day of an event and realizing you don’t have a key component of your outfit, so it’s a good idea to give it a test run a few weeks before. Put the whole outfit on together, undergarments included, to make sure everything works together and you aren’t missing anything.

Yes, the cost of a wedding guest ensemble adds up, but the good news is you can often wear the undergarments and accessories again. As for the dress, you can probably sell it afterwards and recoup some of your investment, or consider Rent The Runway. I know a lot of people who have had good experiences with that, but if you are shopping for a dress, hopefully this post will help!

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4 Responses

  1. Just want to say THANK YOU FOR INCLUDING SLEEVES in some of these options. Not everyone is thin, toned, or lives in a warm climate. Here in MA, I had a formal evening wedding in CT last January MLK weekend. I had a heck of a time finding ANYTHING with sleeves. I still froze with my pumps and winter coat, but at least I wasn’t totally exposed. I don’t know why sleeves are so underrepresented, but brrrrrrr.

  2. I don’t have any weddings to attend to but it’s helpful for ideas. As a guest I will pick a dress I will wear again. I agree with your reader’s comment thanking you for showing dresses with sleeves.

  3. I recently purchased this dress in navy for an awards dinner. I think it would also be lovely for a wedding. It is fully lined and comes in a variety of colors. For me it ran small in the waist. I sized up and am having it altered for a perfect fit.

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