Every Dress Code Type Explained!

Many invitations arrive with dress code types that leave me totally confused! And when I reach out to a friend to find out what she’s wearing, I learn I am not alone! Because dress codes come with some expectations behind them, and we don’t want you feeling out of place at any event, we’ve broken down the codes for you one by one. Even the ones that are absolute contradictions like “dressy casual”. Hello!?!?!? Aren’t those opposites? Please comment below if there is something we’ve missed! It’s always fun to see what hosts come up with for their invitations. 

White Tie

White Tie AttireThis is the dressiest of the dressy. As formal as you can get! For men white tie is very specific; black dress coat (often with tails), crisp white shirt, white bow-tie, white vest, often white gloves and black patent leather shoes. Sometimes men will also wear a top hat. For women, think long evening gowns or ball gowns, often full length gloves and no holds barred accessories. This is an opportunity to break out the tiara you’ve always wanted to wear--or if you have the connections, borrow that diamond necklace from Harry Winston. Cheerio!

Black Tie

Black Tie AttireBlack tie for men is crystal clear... wear a tux! For women, not so much. Technically you can wear anything from a long dress, to a full-on gown, to great separates, to a formal cocktail dress. We say, wear what you feel most comfortable and beautiful in. If you've always wanted that Cinderella gown, now is your chance to go all out! And don't shy away from color; just because it says "Black" tie doesn't mean red is off the table.

Black Tie Optional

Black tie OptionalAnything that says optional is cause for confusion. Is it really optional? For men, black tie optional means you can either wear a tux or wear a dark suit and a tie. You have the “option” to wear a tux, but it's not imperative. For women, it means you can wear a long dress if you’d like, but a ball gown is probably over the top. You can also wear a cocktail dress with some great accessories that give it a more formal bend. The “optional” part means you can kinda do as you like… but within a more formal framework (hence the “black tie” portion of the code).

Creative Black Tie

Black Tie CreativeThis dress code allows you to fully express yourself in a formal way. For men, you can wear a white tux, black shirt and a red bow tie if you’d like (and everything in between). For women, this dress code allows you to take risks with your fancy-self. Get glammed up but add a punch of rock-n-roll to the mix… or add that crazy accessory you’ve never been able to wear because you just didn’t have any place to wear it. Still confused? I read somewhere that creative black tie can be considered trendy black tie. So it’s formal, but not stuffy.


CocktailSemi-formal or cocktail attire continues to be the most popular dress code for many events. Why? Because it's easy and incorporates a lot. For men, you’ll want to wear a dark suit with a tie. For women, a short length dress works great. If you want a foolproof plan grab your fave LBD and dress it up with fun jewelry and killer shoes. Or, take a risk with a fun color that is bright and feminine.


Festive Party AttireYou’ll often see the “festive” dress code during the holiday seasons. With this code you’re being asked to bust out your glitter and glam. For men, a sport coat and slacks works or a well tailored fashion forward suit. If you’re feeling particularly festive (and corny) wear a seasonal inspired tie. For women, sequins will do you right! Sequin tops, bottoms and dresses all work! Sparkly is the way to go.

Summer Chic

summer styleSummer chic calls for elegance with a beachy bend. Think coctail-ish but more flowy and light. For men, that means seer sucker suits, light linen suits and potentially an open collar and no tie. For women, that means ditching the LBD for something with color and a whimsical feel. If the event is actually on the beach, you’ll want to stay away from the stilettos because sand & stilettos don't mix! Wedges, flats or easily slipped off shoes are a must.

Business Formal

Business Formal AttireThink appropriate for work but with a bit more umpf. You’ll see this dress code at day time work functions. For men, you’ll want to wear a suit and tie. And for women, a pantsuit with a dressy feel or accent. A beautifully tailored dress with a jacket and more formal accessories will also do the trick.

Business Casual

Business Casual AttireBusiness casual is what you’ll see in most office settings. There are exceptions (hello!, dot-com era) but for the most part this means clean crisp and absolutely no jeans. For men, you’ll want to wear chinos or slacks and a collared shirt. And women will be good to go in pants or a skirt with a blouse and/or top and blazer. Heels are optional.

Dressy Casual

Dressy CasualAlthough seemingly impossible to accomplish given the contradiction, “Dressy Casual” is a very useful and easy dress code to pull off. Take that everyday outfit you wear, and kick it up a notch. For men, jeans and a blazer are a great way to go. For women, dress up a pair of jeans with an ankle bootie or a pair of heels and swap out your t-shirt with a blouse. You can wear a t-shirt however, just make sure your jewelry, hair and makeup are more polished and throw on a blazer.


CasualThis dress code is basically telling you to come comfortable. Wear jeans, throw on sneakers, t-shirts are no problem. Really anything goes. Most importantly, this dress code is telling you that if you wear anything dressy, you will feel out of place.





June 14, 2017 — Tamara Gates

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