Material makes the difference at wedding

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It's wedding season, and it's easy to feel obligated to have a new dress for each celebration. You can look stylish and save money, however, by buying just two of the right dresses.

Macy's has the Goddess dress by Rachel Roy for $109.   MACY'S
Macy's has the Goddess dress by Rachel Roy for $109.

For black tie and black tie optional events, Emily Post deems a formal floor-length evening gown or a short, dressy cocktail dress appropriate. Formal weddings have a similar dress code: The Knot says a long dress or a cocktail-length dress is appropriate. For these, get a cocktail dress.

The difference is in the material -- think chiffon, silk, satin or taffeta.

On the high end, BCBG has a flattering two-tone black-and-white cocktail dress with a sweetheart neckline. It costs about $318. For a trendier look, try the one-shoulder draped "Goddess" Rachel Roy dress. It costs $109 at Macy's. The only rule in color with cocktail dresses for weddings is to avoid white or off-white.

For beach formal or semiformal or casual weddings, get a formal sundress. A Donna Morgan sleeveless cotton sateen sundress in a light yellow-and-black floral print ($99, Dillard's) is a good buy. It has all-figure flattering details: a sweetheart neckline, belt at the waist and full skirt.

Another cute dress that would work is a purple Max and Cleo wrap dress ($118, Dillard's).

Both are bright enough for daytime weddings and would translate well to a night wedding.

Looking for something cheaper for formal weddings? Don't try to save by choosing a maxi dress or jersey-material dress for a formal wedding -- you'll stick out in the wrong kind of way. Try secondhand or vintage stores. You may find a one-of-a-kind outfit.

For a cheaper option for a dressy sundress, go the secondhand route or update something you have with new accessories. Try a nautical-style rope belt, beaded bracelets, embellished sandals, or for a daytime weddings, a straw fedora.

What to wear

Need to decipher the wedding code? Here's what the experts at The Emily Post Institute and The Knot recommend:

BLACK TIE: Tuxedo and bow tie, with cummerbund or vest; formal gown, cocktail dress

BLACK TIE OPTIONAL: Tuxedo or dark suit with white shirt and conservative tie; long dress or cocktail dress

FORMAL: Suit; long dress or cocktail dress

SEMIFORMAL: Dark suit, white shirt, conservative tie; cocktail dress or dressy skirt and top

BEACH FORMAL/DRESSY CASUAL: Summer suit or blazer and slacks; formal sundress, dressy sandals

CASUAL/BEACH CASUAL: Dress pants and button-up shirt or polo; sundress, skirt or pants outfit

SHOES OPTIONAL: Same as casual for men; sundress, toenail polish for women

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