Does the phrase “dress code” send a shiver down your spine? Us, too.
Dress codes can be a tricky beast. At one point or another, it feels like we’ve all turned up to an event, only to have that sinking feeling that we’re either under or over-dressed for the occasion.
Whether you have an interview, first date, wedding or a festive party coming up, we can hazard a guess that you’re eager to avoid a repeat of that embarrassing and awkward sartorial fail. Not to mention, second guessing whether you’re dressed appropriately can a) overshadow what should be a fun experience, like a friend’s wedding or b) throw you off your game, as in the case of your dream job interview.
Dress code etiquette for different occasions
Figuring out the ins and outs of the different dress codes is no mean feat. And when you work in an event that has a vague dress code into the mix, the task can feel even more overwhelming.
Not to worry — that’s where we come in. If you’ve been wondering what smart casual actually means or you are after some stylish outfit ideas to suit any occasion, we’ve got you covered. We’ve gone into the nitty gritty of the dress codes that crop up most often, such as casual, business formal, black tie and more, to ensure you’re always appropriately dressed for every possible occasion.
Time to banish any lingering outfit anxiety for good…
Dress codes for everyday and work occasions
If you’re in doubt about the dress code for a particular event, and the invitation hasn’t stipulated one, then do your research. Don’t be afraid to ask the organiser if they could be more clear on what you should wear, or, failing that, ask another guest or someone you know who’s been to a similar event what would be appropriate.
Another thing: While formal dressing may not be necessary for many occasions, it’s always a good rule to appear well-groomed, wearing clothes that are neat and clean.
This *almost* indicates that anything goes. While gym gear, pyjamas and lounge-wear are a no-no, your most comfortable pair of jeans, a t-shirt and runners are totally fine (just make sure they aren’t stained or ripped!) You’ll also want to factor in things like the season, location and how dressed up or down other attendees plan on being.
Perfect for: Get-togethers with close friends and family, such as housewarmings, barbeques, picnics, casual dinners and casual Fridays at the office.
2. Smart casual
Alternatively referred to as dressy casual, this is casual dressing with a little something extra added into the mix. While it’s a little more formal than your go-to jeans and t-shirt combo, it’s more relaxed and fashion forward than business casual. The trick with smart casual dressing is to mix in your everyday clothing items with some fancier pieces. When it comes to fabrics, think lightweight, natural fibres, like cotton or linen.
- Smart casual dress code for men: Elevate your look to smart casual with a pair of smart boots or loafers, a well-fitting chambray shirt or collared shirt in a classic pattern or neutral colour, worn with chinos. If you opt for a blazer, then make sure it’s not overly formal. Something like a leather jacket or a bomber would be a good alternative to a blazer.
In the summertime, fitted over-the-knee shorts are another smart-casual wardrobe staple. Accessories are another way to distinguish your outfit from the more casual variety — a brown leather belt, stylish watch and a smart pair of sunglasses will tie your whole look together.
- Smart casual dress code for women: There’s a great deal of versatility in a smart casual dress code for women. In the office, it could mean switching out your go-to pants for a skirt. Or, it could mean stepping things up a bit with some well-chosen accessories, like jewellery and a stylish handbag.
Shirt dresses or wrap dresses in a block colour also work well for smart casual events. Jeans aren’t off the cards, either, so long as they’re the right style. Go with a skinny or slim fitting pair in either indigo, charcoal or black. Wear with a smart blazer, blouse or shirt and a pair of block-heeled ankle boots, sleek flats or pointed mules and consider your outfit complete!
In the colder months, a fine-knit jumper or polo neck also work great. As with the menfolk, a pair of tailored shorts in the warmer months are a great way to rock a smart-casual look. For smart casual dressing, it’s a good idea to play it safe and steer clear of anything too revealing, such as low-cut necklines and short skirts or dresses.
Related: How to Take Care of Your Clothes
Perfect for: Informal client meetings, the office, daytime events, afternoon tea, first dates.
3. Business casual
Similarly to smart casual, business casual straddles the line between casual everyday clothing and more formal attire. Otherwise known as business informal, business casual can be a difficult dress code to decipher as it means something different across industries and age groups.
Speaking generally, however, it usually means chinos or trousers with a collared shirt and blazer for both men and women. In general, busy prints and flashy colours are to be avoided when following a business-casual dress code. However, colours can be on the less formal side of things, i.e. brown or light blue.
- Business casual for men: Ties are optional. You can also substitute a blazer with with a jumper or cardigan layered over either a short or long-sleeved button-up shirt. Tailored pants, chinos or dark, straight-legged jeans with dark socks and lace-up leather shoes also make for appropriate business casual attire.
- Business casual for women: Aside from the ubiquitous trousers-and-shirt combo, pencil dresses or skirts in a conservative length, paired with a blouse and tights are another business casual go-to for women. On your feet, throw on a pair of pumps or kitten heels and you’re all set!
Perfect for: Business casual-compliant offices, client meetings, interviews.
4. Business formal
For men and women alike, business formal attire means a fully-matching tailored suit. For men, this means full suit with tie and dress shirt included. Accessories like cufflinks can inject a little bit of your own personality into an otherwise staid look. When it comes to colours, neutral hues, such as black, navy and grey are ideal.
Note: Business formals suit can easily double up as funeral wear.
Women can either go with a traditional trouser suit or a skirt or dress with matching blazer for an equally professional look. It’s generally best to stick to closed-toe shoe styles as these tend to be more appropriate for corporate offices.
Perfect for: Conservative offices, corporate meetings, professional interviews.
What to wear to an interview: business casual or business formal?
Which exactly is right for your interview attire depends on the company — are they a start up in the tech space or operate on the more corporate end of things?
If in doubt, do some digging on the company’s social media pages and see if you can find real pictures of employees at work. Take your cue from the types of outfits they’re wearing. You’ll want to be physically comfortable and feel your best, so there’s no need to force yourself to wear a stuffy suit that you can’t wait to take off as soon as the interview is over.
Dress codes for parties and special occasions
Sometimes referred to as cocktail attire, semi-formal attire is dressier than something you’d wear to work but not quite as fancy as what you’d wear to a black-tie gala. While women have a whole slew of outfit choices, it’s not exactly a case of anything goes, either. LBDs, knee-length or midi dresses, structured jumpsuits and dressy separates in satin, silk or velvet finishes can all work well.
Men can never go too far wrong with a classic suit jacket and matching trousers, paired with a tie and light shirt for a semi-formal occasion.
With so many options for semi-formal shopping, it be a minefield of confusion, indecision, and doubt for even the most assured and self-confident of dressers. so start online to get a vision of what you want first. The evening dress section on Very is a great place to begin your search.
Perfect for: Weddings, festive parties, fine dining restaurants.
- Black tie: If images of a tuxedo-clad James Bond spring to mind, guys, you’re on the right track. While black-tie dress codes are a little less stringent for women, a full-length dress is a good idea. Dressy cocktail attire are increasingly acceptable options, so long as you elevate things with the right jewellery and accessories.
Sidenote: Knowing where to buy occasion wear is half the battle, and not everyone’s recommendations will fit your idea of what’s affordable. The easiest and least expensive option is to browse what online retailers like Very have to offer.
- White tie: Otherwise known as full evening dress, white tie is where things get really fancy-shmancy. Think galas, fundraisers, movie premieres — basically, any occasions suitable for royalty. For men, tailcoats and white bow ties are usually required, while floor-length gowns, jewels, an up-do and white gloves are the go-to look for women. Of course, not many of us have a ball gown hanging in the wardrobe. There are lots of companies that let you rent special occasion wear for a fraction of the price.
Need outfit inspiration for every occasion, from work to special events? We’ve got you covered with free shipping and returns on the latest occasion and workwear clothing at Very!