How to Decipher Event Dress Codes

I don’t know about you, but it seems that with every new invite I receive, event dress codes become more cryptic “dress to impress”, “dress stylish”, “dress for the season”.

What do they actually mean?

I know a lot of event organisers are trying to move away from traditionally styled events, which is great, but people have enough trouble with the conventional dress options, so why confuse matters more? 

When requesting appropriate dress from your guests, stick with traditional. It’ll be a lot easier for your guests to decipher, and you won’t have to deal with numerous phone calls from attendees wondering what “stylish” means.

If you’re puzzled as to what each of the dress codes are for your event (or indeed if you are a guest yourself) here are a few of the traditional dress attires, and what they mean to most people:

(Remember that you are not telling your guests exactly what to wear, you are just giving them a guideline to help them)

Business/Smart Casual

These work for events during the day, when your guests are most likely popping out of work to attend, or after work. If you want a more relaxed event, but still want to keep a professional tone, then this is a good choice.

This dress code encourages attendees to project a professional  image while enjoying the advantage of more casual and relaxed clothing. If there is a lot of corporate attendees, then your guests will thank you for keeping them right on the dress code, especially when there is networking involved.

E.g. In this case, jeans are acceptable, but worn with a smart jacket to still keep a professional edge. 

Business (or Professional)

Not all business events will require a dress code, however if you’re running a conference or event that has photographers for press, then pop a note on the invite for a business, or professional dress code. 

E.g. Suits and ties for men, suits and dressy business attire for women.

Cocktail

If you are going for a glamorous, party feel for your event, then a cocktail dress code is a great option. 

E.g. Elegant dresses, usually shorter lengths, or suits for women and dark suits for men. 

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Formal

This usually means the same as black tie, but can also mean cocktail, long dresses or dressy evening separates for women and tuxedos without ties for men. 

Black tie

Black tie imparts a unique elegance and traditional uniformity. You will have no doubt, put a a tremendous amount of effort into making the evening exceptional, and are relying on your guests to respect this, so be clear in their invitation. Be aware that some guests may still misinterpret and go for formal wear. 

E.g. The appearance of black tie on an invitation unequivocally asks for formal dress. Men wear tuxedos, women wear cocktail, long dresses or dressy evening separates.

White tie

This means ultra-formal; the highest level of formal dress. You’re event will be expensive, and you will have pulled out all the stops, and scheduled press photography, so, someone rocking up in jeans, just won’t cut it (It’s not rebellious, it’s just rude). 

E.g. Typically, long gowns for women and tuxedos for men. White tie can seem a little outdated, so don’t be concerned if your guests don’t stick entirely to it. In fact, who says women can’t wear a tux?

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When deciding on a dress code for your event, consider the tone and theme of the day, and then match it with one of the dress codes above. If you have a very specific theme, e.g. ’Geek Chic’ then the above rules won’t apply, but make sure to provide a short explanation of your chosen theme to help your guests out. 

If you are holding a workshop or meet up, then the dress code is optional, so you don’t have to pop it on the invite. 

Hopefully that helps you with some of the more traditional dress codes for events, so you think twice about your ‘Glamarama meets Steam Punk’ dress code for your next event.  If you have come across any unusual dress codes, please do share them below!