We’ve all been there—you receive an invitation with a dress code that calls for creative black tie, festive, or cocktail attire for women—and suddenly you’re more confused as to what to wear to the event than if the invitation had said nothing at all. Believe it or not, there are actually specific expectations behind some of the most confusing dress code suggestions.
With that in mind, we’ve decoded some of the most common dress codes. So whether your office suggests that employees dress in business casual attire, or your receive a wedding invitation that is black tie optional, we have you covered so you’ll know exactly what to wear from here on out.
DRESS CODE: BLACK TIE
This is crystal clear for men—wear a tuxedo. It’s a little more complicated for women who can technically wear anything from a long dress, to dressy separates, to even a more formal cocktail dress. The best way to figure out what to wear is to dress according to what you expect the host to wear. Attending a high-end wedding? Then wear a gown. If, on the other hand, you’re attending a work function that calls for black tie, it’s more appropriate to wear a little black dress with a statement jewelry.
Fool Proof Outfit: A long gown for women and a black tuxedo for men.
DRESS CODE: BLACK TIE OPTIONAL
One of the murkier dress codes, men are given the option of either wearing a tuxedo or a dark suit and a tie. Because men are given the option of dressing in a more casual manner, the dress code is more open for women too, who can wear anything from a long dress to a cocktail number. Think of it like this—you aren’t expected to go all out as if you were attending the Oscars, but this dress code stills call for formal attire.
Fool Proof Outfit: An ankle grazing dress and statement jewelry for women and a black suit with a bow tie for men.
DRESS CODE: CREATIVE BLACK TIE
Creative black tie is the dress code that allows you to have fun. Men, for instance, should feel free to wear a black shirt or a red bow tie. Women are similarly encouraged to take their look less seriously.Still confused? Think of creative black tie as trendy black tie. Also, oftentimes creative black tie is the expectation at theme parties with a dress code of 1920s Black Tie or Texas Black Tie, and in those cases, choose a dressy look that works with the theme. For instance, with a dress code that calls for Texas Black Tie a man would be dressed appropriately in a tuxedo and cowboy boots, and a woman could don a gown and a cowboy hat.
Fool Proof Outfit: A formal but trendy gown for women and a tuxedo with a black shirt for men.
DRESS CODE: COCKTAIL
For guys this dress code calls for dark suits with a tie. For women, short dresses that are party ready. When in doubt ladies, wear a little black dress, and dress it up with fun jewelry.
Fool Proof Outfit: A LBD for women and a suit and tie for men.
DRESS CODE: FESTIVE
A dress code that tends to pop up on invitations around the holidays, festive attire is similar to cocktail attire, but with a holiday bent, say a sparkly sequin dress or a red satin skirt.
Fool Proof Outfit: A sequin party dress for women and a suit and holiday-themed tie for men.
DRESS CODE: BUSINESS FORMAL
The dress code suggestion at many daytime semi-formal events (particularly work lunches and conferences), this dress code calls for a suit and tie for the guys and a tailored dress or a pantsuit for women. The idea is to wear something business appropriate, that also feels dressed up.
Fool Proof Outfit: A pantsuit for women and a suit and tie for men.
DRESS CODE: BUSINESS CASUAL
Most offices have a dress code that calls for business casual. For women, pants and a blazer or a pencil skirt and a fun blouse, is the way to go. Guys can wears slacks or chinos and a collared shirt. Absolutely no jeans or sneakers.
Fool Proof Outfit: Black trousers and a tweed blazer for women and khaki pants and a collared shirt (tucked in) for men.
DRESS CODE: CASUAL DRESSY
This dress code calls for a just slightly dressier version of your most casual look. For women, elevate your go-to pair of pants with a fun pair of ankle boots. For guys, dress up your favorite pair of jeans with a blazer and you’ll be good to go.
Fool Proof Outfit: Black pants, a blouse, and ankle boots for women, and jeans and a sport coat for men.
DRESS CODE: CASUAL
Anything goes in this case, including jeans and sneakers, and this dress code usually means you’ll even be uncomfortable in anything but your most comfortable attire.
Fool Proof Outfit: Jeans and sneakers for men and women.