Decipher The Dress Code


An invitation drops for the letter box for an event. Maybe it’s your cousin’s wedding, a reunion or a fancy party at your husband’s office. Invitations are exciting until you see those dreaded words ‘dress code’. Whatever comes after these words can often seem incomprehensible. What’s the difference between black and white tie? What is cocktail attire? Don’t panic. Decipher the dress code. 

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White Tie
White tie is the most formal style of dress. Unless you’re likely to get invited to a state dinner or win Best Actress at the Academy Awards, most of us don’t attend many events where white tie is required.

Women: Formal, floor-length gowns, with dramatic jewelry.

Men: Tuxedo, with long black jacket with tails, a white vest with a white bow tie. You should wear black shoes, and white or grey gloves would also be appropriate.

Black Tie
Less formal than white tie, black tie is still pretty dressy. You might see this on invitations for evening events, business dinners and even some weddings.

Women: Floor-length evening gown, or a knee-length dress with heels Think your dressiest dress, with some sparkle from jewelry.

Men: Tuxedo with a black bow tie, black cummerbund or vest and black shoes. You could also wear a white dinner jacket instead of a tuxedo jacket.

Black Tie Optional Or Formal
This is a small step down from black tie, and is usually worn at evening parties.

Women: A less formal but still long gown, a knee length dress or even a dressy suit.

Men: Dark suit and tie with dress shoes, or a tuxedo.

This can be used for daytime or evening events, and is a dress level between formal and casual.

Women: Knee-length cocktail dresses, little black dress, or a smart skirt and top. You could also wear slacks and a blouse.

Men: Suit and tie, in a light or dark color, depending on the time of day or the season. You could wear dress pants with a collared shirt and a jacket. Wear with smart leather shoes.

Cocktail Attire
Cocktail attire is more fun than formal, but still smart. You’ll often see this for office parties and other evening party events.

Women: Knee-length dress, or dress pants or skirt with a blouse or shirt.

Men: Jacket and slacks, with or without a tie. You can get away with more color and pattern than more formal attire.

Business Casual
Think casual, but workplace appropriate. You often see this as a code for business events, like dinners or networking.

Women: Dress pants, casual dress, or a skirt with a nice blouse. Stay office appropriate by avoiding low necklines or spaghetti straps.

Men: Khakis or dress pants, with a collared shirt and shoes. Loafers would be acceptable too. Wear with a jacket or a sport coat.

Anything goes, as long as you’re appropriate for the venue or event.

Women: A sundress, or a skirt or pants with a pretty top

Men: Khakis with a polo shirt, a button-down or a sweater.


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