January 2, 2020 | Tips & Style

The 5 Most Common Dress-Codes and What They Actually Mean

If you just can’t bring yourself to enjoy the ice, snow and slush, at least winter is the season for social, corporate and charity events where you get your chance to show off the full range of your wardrobe, from blazers and cocktail dresses to tailcoats and silk gloves (you do have a tailcoat, don’t you?!).

what are the different types of dress codes

What Different Dress Codes Mean

To make sure you don’t show up at a black-tie event wearing a white tie, we’ve put together the following guidelines for the five dress-codes you’re most likely to come across this social season. They’re in order from most formal to most casual.

1. White Tie – The main difference between the more formal dress codes and semi-formal and casual codes is that, in most cases of formal wear, there are no substitutions. In other words, for men especially, there’s no “expressing your personality” at a white-tie event. It must be a white bow tie, white vest, white dress shirt and a black tailcoat.

Women can positively let their creativity go wild in comparison, but only with a floor-length formal gown, gloves and hair in a formal “up” style.


2. Black Tie – Nope, sorry guys, you can’t just swap ties and head to a black-tie event on the heels of a white-tie affair. As a step down a rung on the formal dress ladder, black-tie is the domain of black tuxedo jackets (no tails) and a black bow tie. The white shirt can stay.

For women’s wear, your gown can be a little less formal, but must still touch the floor. You don’t need the gloves and you can be a little more creative with your hairstyle.


3. Lounge Suit – You may only ever see this term as the dress code on an invitation. For men, it’s a business formal suit and tie, and the ladies get yet another opportunity to wear a formal, floor-length gown, but could also opt for a formal pantsuit.


4. Cocktail – This is where women can sport their “little black dresses” or other cocktail dresses with hems up to just above the knee, but definitely no higher. Men can free themselves of a tie under a suit jacket. And a blazer offers welcome relief from a full suit.

Blazers also give gentlemen the versatility to mix and match a couple of well-chosen options with complementary pants to create enough different looks to get you through the entire season without anyone noticing you did it with only two jackets!


5. Smart Casual – This is the candy store for choosing an outfit for the party. Just about anything goes, but the ‘smart’ part of it is crucial. In other words, there are virtually no limits to what you can wear, but you need some poise and polish in your choices. You should look smart. Here’s a situation for both men and women where a blazer will help – even if it’s over a high-end t-shirt and jeans. 

If you enjoyed this post, check out our recent article about what to wear to a networking event.

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