Decoding The Dress Codes: Your Complete Guide To Every Event

Say dress code and you think, restrictive, stifled, and boring. For those who had to abide by the strict rules of school uniforms and the arbitrary skirt lengths, this concept could make them feel extremely stifled as an adult. However, dress code is something that has existed since centuries.
Dress codes were made out to be a big deal in the earlier centuries thanks to their themed parties and balls. People went all out and glammed up with their coiffed hair, corseted period dresses, exquisite pearl necklaces, and powdered faces. Dress etiquette was taken seriously, and not following it for parties or events was frowned upon.
Folks of yore were so particular about following the dress code that many would gasp in utter horror at its casual treatment today. But, not all is lost when it comes to dress codes. There are still few holdovers from the Golden Age that are alive and kicking. Dress code, technically speaking, is a way of inviting people into your world and welcoming them to be a part of it. It also serves the purpose of providing direction to the guests of any events. This is the host’s way of telling the guests what they would prefer them to wear.
Cut to the future; the extravagant ballroom parties might have fled today’s party scenes. However, the dress code tradition has been kept alive thanks to the themed weddings that require guests to follow certain wedding protocols which include what they can wear and not wear. But, at times creativity could also breed confusion for the invitees.
This ancient system can be confusing to decode in terms of what you can wear and what is strictly forbidden when you get an invite specifying a dress code. And, sometimes the vague descriptions are of little or no help at all. While we cannot help the unique spin each host or couple decides to give the conventional dress codes, we can help you decode the popular ones.
Here’s a list of the various dress codes and a guide on what you are expected to wear for each of them.

Formal/Black Tie/Black Tie Optional

This dress code indicates the event you are invited to is a strictly formal affair. Hence, the dressing has to match that tone. Considering this is the epitome of a formal event, women are expected to wear a formal, floor-length gown, while men should be all suited up in a dark suit or a tuxedo without tails, paired with a white shirt and tie or a bow tie with or without the vest and cummerbund. If it is a black tie optional, women could go in for a dressy cocktail dress, a tux-style pantsuit, or LBD paired with fancy jewellery to elevate the look.

Creative Black Tie

This is where you abide by the formal dress code rule, but with a smudge of playfulness thrown into it. Women can opt for a long gown, a short cocktail dress, or snazzy separates, and pair it with unique and fun accessories. Men can incorporate the trending prints and mix fabrics with their shirt and blazer to create an interesting look.

Business Formal

Imagine your attire if you were asked to give an important presentation at work. It is usually required for daytime semi-formal events like work lunches and conferences. Women are required to wear a well tailored, polished dress with a blazer or pantsuit, and should be styled with appropriate heels. Men should suit up with a shirt, suit, and tie.

Business Casual

This calls for you to keep your look professional without being overly dressy. It is something you could wear to work and also to grab a work drink. Women could do skirts, dress pants or khakis with a formal top. A casual dress with flats is also an option, which you can dress up with heels or any other accessories if you so desire. Men can choose to wear a pair of khakis teamed with a polo shirt or other collared shirt. Patterned collar shirts are also an option. It could also be layered with a v-neck sweater, blazer, or sport coat, with tie being optional.

Dressy/Smart Casual

This is a dressier version of your casual look. Women should avoid wearing cotton tees or tennis shoes. Instead, they could do silk or dress pants or a skirt. Wear a dressy blouse and dress up your pants with heels or a fun pair of ankle boots. Flats are acceptable as long as they are not overtly casual. Men could go for trousers and a dress shirt paired with a blazer and sport coat and leather loafers, oxfords, or slip-on shoes.


As the name suggests this event is meant to be primarily a social and enjoyable one. So, you can have fun dressing up for this event. Women could opt for short party dresses. If in doubt, opt for the little classic black dress. Women also have the choice of dressing up their outfit with fun accessories that shows their personality. Men have the option of wearing a dark suit, coat, and tie. Dark jeans teamed up with a jacket and tie are also acceptable at some cocktail events, depending on how casual the environment is.


This is one of the most popular dress code that pops up on invitations when the holidays roll around. This is similar to the cocktail attire but with the holiday spirit infused into it. For women, they have the option of going all sparkly and glitzy with their dressing. A sparkly sequin dress or a sequinned skirt are choices that women could opt for. Men could opt to wear a suit and holiday themed tie or could also stick to smart casuals with holiday themed colours.

White Tie

This could be considered as the most extravagant of all dress codes. This is where the women get to flaunt their exquisite ball-gowns and deck up in their fine jewellery. For women a floor-length gown is a must and can be accessorised with opera length gloves, glamorous jewellery, and up-do hairstyles. Men could opt for a short or waist length black tailcoats, white bow tie, white shirt and cummerbund which is optional, paired with high quality black pants.
Once you have the dress code sorted out, assembling the outfit would be easy, not to forget fun, too! So, next time you are invited to an event with a dress code, you know what to pull out from your closet, and how to be the star of the party!