Resort Casual to Mountain Formal: Your Guide to Niche Dress Codes | Mountainside Bride

Resort Casual to Mountain Formal: Your Guide to Niche Dress Codes

Have you ever received a wedding invitation with a dress code that left you scratching your head? What exactly does “garden party” or “boho glam” attire entail? Inventive dress codes are a fun way to unite guests and create a cohesive theme on your wedding day, which will last a lifetime in photographs.

“Creating a dress code for your wedding is probably the most underutilized secret to getting the best photos,” confirms Monica Garcia of Story Alley Photography.

However, there’s a fine line between “fun” and “confusing” when it comes to niche dress codes. Most people know the difference between black-tie and cocktail attire, but you’ll need to provide some extra context if you request a non-traditional dress code.

Here’s what you need to know if you’re dreaming of a themed dress code.

Consider your ideal look and feel

The dress code is just one piece of your wedding’s look and feel, so it’s wise to work through design ideas with your team of professionals first. Otherwise, you might end up with guest attire that doesn’t quite match the final design results.

“In order to have a niche dress code, you need to have a very thoughtful design plan for your entire wedding,” explains Loni Peterson of LP Creative Events. “Think big picture about what you want your wedding images to look like and how your guests play a role.”

Since design ideas can change, wait until your wedding team has begun planning and production before sharing the dress code with guests. That way, you’ll feel confident that “mountain chic” or “western casual” will align with your wedding vision.

Photo by Mandee Johnson Photography | @mandeephoto

Prioritize your guests’ comfort

While guest attire plays a significant role in your wedding aesthetic, a dress code that leaves people uncomfortable is not worth enforcing. Consider your guests’ physical well-being and how to ensure everyone enjoys their experience.

For starters, Tonya Hoopes of Hoopes Events urges couples to ensure their dress code works for the wedding’s location. “If you are thinking of having a stilettos and cowboy boots theme and your guests are going to walk in grass or on gravel to the ceremony site, you might want to reconsider the stilettos,” she says.

Likewise, if your wedding is outdoors, factor in the weather for your wedding’s season. Let guests know if they should bring extra layers to stay warm after the sun goes down or wear hats and sunglasses to combat the midday sun. It might not play into your vision, but frostbite and sunburns probably don’t either!

In addition to physical comfort, be mindful of financial constraints when requesting guests to adhere to a niche dress code. “Make sure your guests don’t feel pressured into having to buy a new outfit or accessories,” Garcia encourages. “Be considerate and suggest alternatives. Explain that there are easy ways to fit in with your theme, like wearing a certain color.”

When communicating with guests, use softer language instead of “dress code,” which might seem rigid to some. Here are a few examples of gentle phrasing:

  • Suggested attire
  • Guests are encouraged to wear…
  • Dress in your best…
  • Please join us in…

In the end, expect that some guests will wear what they want without thought to your wedding’s dress code. Remember that their comfort matters most, and don’t worry about photos — they’ll come out beautifully regardless!

Notify guests as soon as possible

While some guests might eschew an inventive dress code, most will relish the opportunity to express their creativity and have fun with the theme. However, no guest wants to feel rushed when trying to curate the perfect ‘fit!

Hoopes pushes couples to give guests the dress code with plenty of time to choose their outfits. “There is nothing worse than finding out at the last minute you need a new outfit or that the outfit you have planned for an event is not going to work,” she says.

Dress codes are usually revealed on the wedding invitation, which traditionally goes out six to eight weeks before the big day. However, it might be worth bumping it up a few weeks if you’re requesting themed attire that involves careful planning (think masquerade or Bridgerton-esque!). Work with your planner to determine the best timing for invitations so guests can prepare accordingly.

Provide plenty of context

While invitations typically include a brief description of a wedding’s dress code, you can go into much more detail on your wedding website — so don’t hold back! With niche dress codes, guests may need guidance to plan and shop for their outfits.

Kawania Wooten of Howerton+Wooten Events recommends getting granular when describing suggested attire, especially if it’s more offbeat than traditional dress codes. 

“Break down the definition of a dress code,” Wooten encourages. “When you say ‘mountain formal,’ add a description, such as, ‘For formal attire, guests commonly choose cocktail dresses and dark suits. Stylish fabrics and textures, such as suede, leather, and high-quality cowboy boots are also encouraged.’”

While clear descriptions are essential, Jen Sulak of Weirdo Weddings also recommends offering visual guidance. “A visual expression will cut to the chase of your dreams and desires for the day,” she assures. “Put together a loose mood board of images that give the vibes and feel for everything you are envisioning.”

Here are a few ideas for providing visual guidance:

  • Create a Pinterest board with style inspiration
  • Share a slide deck of outfit ideas with guests
  • Post inspirational pictures on your wedding website
  • Incorporate thematic elements in your invitation
  • Provide links to brands or products that align with your theme

However, Wooten cautions couples against going overboard. “Keep the information light,” she says. “You don’t want to intimidate your guests to the point that they decide not to attend your wedding.”

Niche dress codes can give your wedding a unique and memorable look, creating aesthetic consistency and visual appeal — both on the day and in the photographs you’ll cherish forever. Effective communication can ensure that your themed dress code adds to your wedding experience rather than causing confusion or discomfort. 

Your ultimate goal is for everyone to enjoy the day and make beautiful memories, so be sure to set clear expectations and prioritize guest comfort over aesthetics. The rest will fall into place!

Meghan Ely is the owner of wedding PR and wedding marketing firm OFD Consulting. Ely is a sought-after speaker, adjunct professor in the field of public relations, and a self-professed royal wedding enthusiast.