Dress Codes for the Occasion
Navigating dress codes can be tricky. What separates white tie from black tie? Are pencil skirts business professional or business casual? What does one wear to a cocktail party? With this guide, you won't have to be standing in your closet and scratching your head any longer. Here is a breakdown of common dress codes and what they mean.
Casual is basically a non-dress code, and you can wear comfortable clothing. Anything goes with a casual dress code, so feel free to dress comfortably. Unlike other dress codes, you might want to consciously avoid over-dressing lest you risk standing out. That said, it is still wise to make sure your clothes are clean, functional, matching and fit properly.
For Him: Think Homer Simpson. Tee shirt, jeans and sneakers are appropriate. You may also opt to step it up a notch with khakis, cargos, a polo shirt or henley and still fit in just fine. Tip: Avoid inflammatory or otherwise offensive graphic tees!
For Her: Pull out your favorite jeans! You can opt for a comfortable tee or dress things up a bit with a stylish top, jewelry or even a blazer. Depending on the nature of the event, your footwear can range safely from sneakers to heels to boots. Tip: For outdoor events, sneakers are better as heels can sink into soft ground.
Business Casual is what many people would typically wear to work at the office. Business casual is perhaps the most common dress code in corporate workplaces and intended to be functional yet formal. For both men and women, it is more defined by what is not allowed than what is: no sandals, sneakers, jeans, tank tops, graphic t-shirts, etc. For men, a typical business casual outfit might mean slacks and a collared shirt. For women, it's neutral-colored pants and blouses. Both men and women can complete their business casual looks with a blazer.
For Him: Wear a pair of nice khakis paired with a polo shirt or other collared shirt. Dress shoes or loafers are appropriate. Tip: Avoid the wrinkles; iron your shirt and pants! Patterned collared shirts are a nice option for a less dressy feel than their solid counterparts.
For Her: Dress pants or khakis with a fashionable top is appropriate. A casual skirt is also an option. Feel free to dress up your outfit with heels, jewelry and/or accessories if desired. Tip: Wear your hair in your everyday style, and avoid overdoing it with makeup or perfume.
Smart Casual is basically a combination of casual, business casual, and business dress codes, where you can combine them into a "smart" ensemble. Also known as "casual dressy" or "dressy casual," this dress code is a more dressed-up version of common casual looks. For men, this can mean trousers or nice, dark jeans with a button-up shirt. For women, wear dark jeans or a knee-length skirt with a nice top. Common items to avoid when dressing smart casual include shorts, short skirts, T-shirts and old jeans.
For Him: This is your opportunity to pair denim with a sport coat. Khakis, trousers, vests, and ties are other great options to bring into the mix. Tip: If opting for jeans, your denim should look somewhat dressy, fresh and sharp with no wear or holes.
For Her: It's safest to go with nice slacks or a skirt, though you could also wear a nice pair of dark jeans dressed up with a collared or otherwise dressy top. Throw on a blazer for an extra touch of class. Tip: For Smart Casual, you should look sharp, stylish, and neatly put together.
Informal attire may be a misnomer as it does call for a bit of formality (not to be confused with Casual attire). Business and Informal attire is more sophisticated than Smart Casual, often signaling the need for suits, ties and dresses.
For Him: Wear a business suit with tie. You may also opt for nice slacks with a sports jacket and tie.
For Her: Wear a business suit or business style dress with heels (high or low).
Tip: For Business Formal/Informal dress codes, stick to business colors: black, navy blue, gray or brown.
Semi-formal attire is more fancy than business attire but just a notch below formal tuxedos and fancy gowns.Semi-formal/cocktail party concept typically refers to a dressy-but-fun event in which the primary purpose is to celebrate and socialize, rather than to conduct more formal affairs. For men, this is yet another event in which a suit and tie is always a safe bet, and while a black color scheme is always safe, you can go a lighter route with your outfit at a cocktail party. You can also have a bit more fun and choose more funky colors and even wear fun, but not distracting, patterns. Women attending a cocktail event should wear a short, typically above-the-knee, semi-formal party dress. Always keep it classy, but cocktail parties are also a place to explore some fun dress options as well. Don't be afraid of frill.
For Him: Wear a dark suit with long tie. Tip: The more formal the dress code, the less expression you are allowed in determining your attire options; this is particularly true for men.
For Her: This is the perfect time to break out that little black dress. Most women will wear a classy short evening dress, though you may also opt for dressy separates. Tip: Ladies should avoid very short dresses and skirts that are shorter than 1 inch above the knee.
"Formal / Black Tie / Black Tie Optional"
Formal, Black Tie and Black Tie Optional events are among the most fancy of all dress codes, and you will likely be surrounded by a crowd full of tuxedos and floor-length gowns.
If you're a guy, this is an easy one -- for black tie events, just turn to a black tuxedo, and you're good to go. However, for the ladies, attending a black tie event can require some complicated decoding to ensure you meet the standard. Though black tie is not as formal as white tie, you still might want to opt for wearing a long, formal ball gown. However, a short, classy cocktail dress will also fit the dress code criteria for black tie events.
Let's be real here, "black tie optional" kind of sounds like it was purposely made to be confusing. Is it black tie? Is it more casual? What will everyone else be wearing? For once, it's the men who have to do more of the guessing. For black-tie optional events, women should follow the same guidelines of black-tie -- a long, formal gown or a classy cocktail dress. Men, on the other hand, have the option to wear a tuxedo like they would for black tie events, or they can choose to wear a suit, tie and shoe outfit. The safest bet when choosing to go the suit route is to stick to dark colors such as black or dark blues.
For Him: Wear a tuxedo with all the frills (vest/cummerbund, cufflinks, etc.) For Black Tie Optional, you may also opt to wear a black suit with white shirt and conservative tie. Tip: A Black Tie dress code does not necessarily limit you to only "black" ties, but you may opt for a black tux with any matching tie/cummerbund color of your choosing.
For Her: You are safest wearing a long, floor-length evening dress. A very fancy dress that is not floor-length may also be appropriate. Tip: Wear your hear in an elegant updo or partial updo, and put on fancy jewelry for this occasion.
White Tie Events:
For a white tie event, you need to bring your A game. White tie is the most formal dress code there is, and it's important that you try to look your fanciest. Examples of these select social events are Prestige, Presidential and Royal ceremonies, Debutante balls & Doctoral conferments, some formal high society weddings. Some Notable international recurring white tie events include the Nobel Prize Ceremony in Sweden, and the Vienna Opera Ball in Austria, State Banquets and certain balls at Oxford,Cambridge,Durham, and St. Andrews Universities. International Debutante Ball in New York City and the Veiled Prophet Ball in St. Louis.
For Her: break out your most beautiful, floor-length ball gowns, bonus points for accessorizing with long, classy gloves.
For Him: This dress code requires work from the men too. You don't just throw on a tux. A good bet for men is to wear a dressy tailcoat with matching pants, a collared white shirt and accessorize with a bow tie and cuff links.