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Fashion Decode the Dress Code

Decode the Dress Code

Decode the Dress Code
By Isabel Martel Francisco
By Isabel Martel Francisco
October 20, 2016

A guide to understanding dress codes. 

It is often challenging to decipher the dress code when it comes to events. What does that mean? I don’t know what to wear!

Many events create inventive dress codes which can confuse people more, but always look for the key words, be it, formal, cocktail, casual, lunch or dinner. Most of the time they sandwich the keywords between flowery descriptors. 

A good guideline is, when in doubt, go with elegance and simplicity… but always dress to impress.

Take advice from the one and only Coco Chanel:

“Before you leave the house, look in the mirror take one thing off”

“Dress shabbily and they remember the dress; dress impeccably and they remember the woman.”


Black Tie

Ladies, for black tie events, prepare to wear a long gown, be it a simple peice or filled with intricate details or beadwork if you please. This is the occasion to dress up and be fancy. If you have no time to find a long gown, a formal cocktail dress will work, but try your very best to wear a long gown. In any case, be sure to accessorize with beautiful jewelry pieces.

For the men, black tie, means wearing a full tuxedo (black or white coat), cumberband, vest and all. If you do not have a full tuxedo, go with the bow tie and a formal suit to match. 

It is less common nowadays but the most formal of all dress codes, is white tie, where men don a black tailed tuxedo jacket with a white tie, and white vest. Women come in long gowns, their best jewellry and even, white gloves. 


A long gown, a pantsuit, separates and skirts or dresses that rise to the occasion are welcome. There is more room to play around here. But, short outfits are not part of the code. 

Boys, bring your blazers. A full suit is preferred, and pocket square, if possible.

Semi Formal

Here, shorter ensembles can come out to play. The little black dress, to mix and match, more playful combinations, that still are quite dressy.

 Men, full suit, or just the blazer and tie mixed with other pants or jeans.


Many people tack on ‘formal’ or chic or casual or festive, words to help guests dress for cocktails so pay attention to the descriptors. Generally for cocktails, women can feel more playful. Wear whimsical things, mix and match, wear patterns, heels or your go to little black dress. Average cocktail attire is not too formal, it is more of (around knee length) dresses, mix and match pants or skits with tops or jumpsuits. But if you are unsure, always over dress up a little bit.

Men, wear jeans and a sports coat or a blazer.

Business Formal

Ladies, choose something less party oriented and a little more conservative. Lots of jewelry is not recommended. Wear a suit, a pants suit, a skirt set, pencil skirts or a muted dress.

Men, a suit is recommended if this actually is a business event, if not something semi formal works too. Dress shoes.

Business Casual

Women can dress more relaxed with business casual. Wearing lighter colors and day-wear but remaining slightly conservative. More patterns can be used here and mix and matching is welcome.

Men, here you can choose to wear a sports coat, a blazer and match it with a button down to a polo. A tie can be worn if you please. Loafers or dress shoes.

Dressy Casual

Girls can be a lot less made up. Wear what makes you comfortable, from shorts to a sun dress, to cotton clothing. Stylize it with bags and accessories.

Guys can wear jeans and a short sleeve polo or shirts that are not too casual, perhaps a cotton long sleeve, or a button down.


This is perfect for a day or night in with friends, a day at the beach, in the park, at a barbeque and lunches. Shorts and t-shirts, sleeveless tops and flip flops welcome.



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