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Dress Code Guide: What Does Beach Formal Mean?

Happy bride and groom at the beach surrounded by people dressed up
Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock

As we work our way up toward the more formal side of dress codes, you’ll run into some confusing possibilities, like “beach formal.” However, this dress code is easier to navigate than it might sound.

Unlike business casual or dressy casual, beach formal is a reasonably uncommon dress code. However, it is popular for beach weddings, and other parties or ceremonies that take place on the beach or outdoors.

If summer might bring you to a fancy beach event, you’ll want to know what to wear—so let’s dive in!

Beach Formal: A Definition

Beach formal means you need to look great, but within limits imposed by sun and sand.

If the invitation simply said “formal,” guests might show up in stilettos and full black suits, which would make hanging out on the beach difficult. Because you’ll be out in nature, you can’t go as formal as you would for an indoor event. You’re expected to put in the effort needed to look elegant, but also stay comfortable.

The good news about beach formal is that it’s not a dress code you’ll usually see at stressful events, like work functions. Without the pressure to impress a boss or interviewer, you can relax and have some fun with your outfit. Still, there are a few things to avoid, like wearing shorts with a blazer.

When to Dress Beach Formal

Dress codes like “dressy resort” and “island chic” are effectively the same as beach formal. Beach formal attire works well for many outside events:

  • Beach weddings
  • Outdoor weddings
  • Fancy beach parties
  • Garden parties

If you’re attending an event on the beach (or outside) and it seems like a classy function, you should opt for beach formal wear. Your goal is to look nice while avoiding sweat and navigating sand easily. You can also dig into the beach theme with flowy fabrics and tropical colors or prints if you want.

Opt for this comfortable, outdoors-friendly style for other fancy outside functions like weddings, parties, and luncheons, too.

Beach Formal Ideas for Women

Women should show up to beach formal events in clothes like these:

  • Jumpsuits
  • Dresses

It’s hard to find a women’s evening suit that’s not too stiff and heavy for the beach, so if you want to wear pants, jumpsuits are ideal. A skirt or romper tends to look too casual for beach formal events, but dresses in just about any length (aside from super-short) will work.

Avoid stiff fabrics and extremely fitted silhouettes, and go flowy instead. Bright or light colors tend to look better than dark colors. Choose low wedges or flat sandals (not flip-flops), and make sure your feet are clean with the nails well cared for. A light jacket or wrap is a good idea for when the sun sets and the breeze cools.

When it comes to accessories and jewelry, just about anything goes, as long as it looks nice with your outfit. The same applies to makeup, but you might want to avoid heavy makeup that won’t feel comfortable if you’re sweating.

Beach Formal Ideas for Men

Men should arrive at a formal beach event in these kinds of clothes:

  • Summer suits
  • Linen pants
  • Khakis
  • Light dress shirts in linen or cotton

Avoid shorts and short-sleeved shirts, which will look too casual. Instead, opt for light-colored clothes, and roll up your shirt sleeves if you’d like. A linen or seersucker suit in a light color works perfectly. You can also do linen pants or khakis with a light-colored dress shirt and a blazer or sportcoat. Ties aren’t necessary.

Although it’s the beach, sandals typically aren’t ideal for a men’s beach formal look. Instead, wear nice but casual closed-toe shoes, like loafers, and a belt that matches. If the other guests take off their shoes and go barefoot, you can join them.

Both men and women should come prepared for sun, sand, and sweat. Pack extra deodorant and sunscreen, and make sure your clothes won’t show sweat stains or get damaged by water. Beach formal attire is usually found at fun summer events, so show up comfortable and ready to enjoy yourself!

Elyse Hauser Elyse Hauser
Elyse Hauser is a Seattle-based writer and editor with a Master's in Writing Studies from Saint Joseph's University. Her work has appeared in publications like Racked, Vine Leaves Literary Journal, and Rum Punch Press. She was awarded a 2017 Writing Between the Vines residency.  Read Full Bio »

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