Recently I was at a conference where the dress code for each function was different. The first night was Cocktail with the next night Casual. The day sessions were Business Casual. The third night was Lounge Suit and the final night was Black-tie. Apart from having to travel abroad with a huge suitcase to fulfil this wardrobe I stressed about the dress standard for each occasion. Being underdressed for “Black-tie” or “Cocktail” would be a faux pas but then so would being too overdressed for “Casual”.
Casual is like “come as you are” but the key is dressing suitably for the event and the company you are with. Nice shorts or jeans teamed with a blouse or t-shirt, a sundress, or a skirt with t-shirts would be appropriate for women. Casual button-down shirts, polo shirts or t-shirts with jeans, long khakis, cargo shorts or khaki shorts would be apt for men. Even with the “come as you are” look casual clothes should not be torn, dirty or have holes.
Smart Casual is probably the most prevalent party dress code but it can be the most confusing. Nice tops or blouses with jeans, pants or skirts or even sundresses are generally safe choices. A blazer is a handy “accessory”. It can basically dress-up your whole outfit. Wear it with the sleeves pushed-up during the day or down for evening. For guys, chinos are a combination of both smart and casual. Dark well-fitted jeans can also be suitable with a button-down shirt. Smart casual shorts are mostly tailored, fitted and above the knee. Again, a blazer for guys will really spruce-up your look.
Business Casual for girls can vary but traditionally sheath style dresses, or dark shaded pants or skirts, in black, grey or navy have been the safest choices. Teaming these with coloured blouses, scarves or belts add a little personality to your outfit. The casual businessman needs a collared shirts but no tie is required. Crisply ironed pants and a tailored jacket will complete the look.
Lounge suit is usually the dress code intended for people to attend events straight after work. Conservative is the look required. Girls, a smart dress or business-like attire (think working in a bank) teamed with heels is appropriate. Guys, if possible change from the suit you have worn that day into a fresh, dark-coloured suit, but you can lose the tie if you wish. A jacket or blazer is vital. Jeans are definitely not appropriate.
Cocktail is a little dress with a knee, or just above, hem length for mademoiselles. Your LBD is a safe bet. Some tailored pants or skirt suit matched with a nice blouse will also work. Choose your accessories with a bit of bling and great shoes. A nice pair of tailored pants and a shirt would be sufficient for gentlemen. Top it off with a blazer or jacket for a more polished look.
Semi-Formal is similar to cocktail dress code. A cocktail dress or tea length dress is quite fitting for ladies. Men should wear tailored pants and jacket with a crisp shirt, tie and jacket.
Black-tie requires a formal gown for women. Generally it should be long enough to touch the floor and should cover enough of your cleavage that some is still left to the imagination. Men should wear a tuxedo or dinner jacket with matching trousers and bow tie.
Formal or White-tie is as formal as you can go. Ladies, a full length ball gown is a necessity. Long white gloves are discretionary. However, your best jewellery and high heels are a must (think Cinderella). Gentlemen, the event necessitates a tail coat, preferably black, with matching trousers. Shirt studs and cufflinks teamed with a white vest and a white bow tie are required. Only black shoes and socks will suffice.
Conforming to dress codes also requires thought about the location. For example, a semi-formal beach wedding would be more relaxed than a semi-formal wedding at a country club. The host and other guests invited also comes into play. Is it a work function with employers, that you need to impress or are you with your old friends?
One important key is to always wear clothes that fit you well. This will constantly look more presentable than ill-fitting clothes that are too tight, too loose, too short or too long.
“A smile is the prettiest thing you can wear” – Unknown