It’s that time of year when invitations are swooping in: birthdays, cocktail parties, work events, dinner parties, end-of-year functions, etc. Every RSVP prompts the question: what do I wear?
Dress codes have been around since ancient times, and they’ve always represented power and status. Today, they define social boundaries, reflecting society’s values and beliefs.
In a nutshell, dress codes help avoid wardrobe and social anxiety. No one wants to pitch up to an event under or over-dressed. That’s why we’ve assembled a breakdown of what to wear for the most common dress codes.
Suggested Garments for Different Dress Codes
Regardless of the dress code, remember to consider factors such as the time of day, venue, cultural considerations, comfort, accessories, and hair and makeup when choosing an outfit.
Wearing white tie dates back to the 1800s when it was worn by aristocrats and members of royalty as a symbol of sheer opulence at parties. It’s now reserved for prestigious occasions like state dinners, royal events, exclusive balls, and weddings.
- For men: This is code for DRESSING TO IMPRESS. While white tie might typically denote a white tuxedo, it doesn’t have to be that way. You can wear whatever you like for white tie events- even if it’s not a traditional white tuxedo.
- For women: Wearing long dresses is highly recommended, as there are few occasions in one’s life to take advantage of this look. Although invitations might not always say so, expect formal attire.
Black Tie is a dress code that originated in Britain and North America in the 19th century. It is still considered one of THE MOST FORMAL DRESS CODES and often accompanies weddings, charity balls, and galas.
- For men: A traditional tuxedo with a black tie, vest, pants, jacket, and white button-down shirt will do. When black tie optional is listed, feel free to skip the tuxedo for a formal black suit but stick to a simple dark tie to keep the streamlined feel of a tuxedo.
- For women: Your best bet is a floor-length dress with costume jewelry. A clutch, sparkly earrings, and bracelet will help round out a simple dress. Heels are typically worn. If you opt for flats, be sure they are in excellent shape.
During the 1940s, Christian Dior named an early evening frock a “cocktail dress.” This dress code gained popularity in the early 20th century when wealthier households had to change into suitable clothing for pre-dinner drinks and canapés.
- For men: A suit and tie are always an excellent choice, but feel free to experiment with darker shades in colder months or for evening events, and go with lighter tones in warmer weather or for daytime celebrations. Shoes should be classy and dark.
- For women: A cocktail dress should be knee-length, tea-length, or midi-length, tailored to fit your body shape. When in doubt, go with your best little black dress. Earrings, a necklace, and a clutch can all add a touch of glamour to any outfit.
“Business casual” was first used in 1968. However, it originated in Silicon Valley in the early 1980s. It refers to the style of dress that includes khaki pants, button-down collared shirts, and loafers, which became mainstream in the 1990s.
- For men: Wear a collared shirt, dress slacks, and a belt, or a dress-down shirt, khaki pants, and a leather belt. The trick is to look professional without being too stiff or formal.
- For women: Consider wearing a blazer or a feminine pencil skirt paired with a comfortable top and shoes that are easy to walk in. For a more relaxed look, choose slacks and a jacket or conservative sweater.
Casual wear became popular in the Western world after the 1960s counterculture. It is a relaxed, spontaneous, and comfortable dress code for EVERYDAY USE. This style is often seen at social events or Casual Fridays at work.
- For men: Wear dress jeans and a T-shirt, or you can wear dress pants. A dress shirt is not required, but wearing one is often a good idea if you plan on networking or meeting someone important.
- For women: Casual wear typically includes dresses, slacks, skirts, and blouses. For example, a versatile skirt or pants can be dressed up or down with a blouse or top. Similarly, a dress can be worn with flats, wedges, or heels for a more formal event, trainer shoes or sandals for a more relaxed evening out.
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