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Decoding Dress Codes

With every invite comes the inevitably vague or generic dress code requiring knowledge in the unwritten rules of what not to wear. Dressing to impress is one thing, however the blurred lines between smart and casual are where stress overtakes the excitement of planning an outfit. As Christmas party season brews, decoding dress codes that are likely to begin appearing in the coming months seems more than necessary. From black tie to smart casual we offer a concise guide to how to dress for any occasion this season.

Black Tie

Perseverance London dress

Deriving from the British and American costume conventions of the 19th Century, black tie is the dress code most often called upon for evening events. For men, a simple tux is all that's necessary. For women, a full length, often heavily detailed gown is favoured.

Reliable options:

Men: Black tuxedo.

Women: Full length gown.

Black Tie Optional

Women Alexander Wang Dress

Lines are certainly blurred around what comes with the word ‘optional’. Effectively, this can be interpreted as a more casual version of formal wear. For men, options range from a specific style of suit to a choice of dark suits, and dress-wise women have their options wide open. Although still a popular option, the necessity for a full length Oscar-style gown is diminished and integration of more on-trend styles or a cocktail dress are welcomed.

Reliable options:

Men: A dark suit with bowtie.

Women: A full to mid-length gown and statement accessories.

Creative Black Tie

Men's AMI Black Suit

Another more creative adaptation of formal wear comes with ‘creative black tie’. Although this still requires the high class formality of black tie, a man can adopt this look by adding a colourful handkerchief or braces as creative accents to the classic black tie. A woman can adopt her dress to the theme, go androgynous like Alexa Cheung by adopting a wildly oversized blazer or blazer-style dress with heels and simple accessories. Alternatively adopt a more bold, trend-driven take on a typical gown.

Men: A tuxedo or dark suit with alternative style shirt or bowtie.

Women: An on-trend formal piece.


Women's Red Helmut Lang Dress

Cocktail calls for a simple statement. Rather than the elaborate vintage themes of black tie, 'cocktail' allows room for adventure into the season's colours and trends. For men an on-trend suit and tie does wonders, for women a shorter, bold yet smart option allows you to stand out from the crowd. Alternatively, if you’re feeling classic grab your little black dress and add a statement with a red lip, dark glittery eye or some bold accessories.

Reliable options:

Men: A smart suit with shirt and tie.

Women: An on-trend smart piece, or a classic LBD with accessories.

Business Formal

Men's Grey AMI suit

This dresscode is often required for daytime formal events. Once again men have the foolproof option of a suit and tie, where women can opt for a smart trouser-suit, jumpsuit or tailored dress with a smart jacket or coat for both.

Reliable options:

Men: Matching suit, white shirt and tie, smart coat.

Women: Matching suit, smart shirt.

Business Casual

Men's Jacket and Trousers

This gives a little more leeway, although jeans and trainers are still a no, for guys a casual smart trouser like a chino or relaxed suit trouser with a shirt and/or smart jumper works well. Women adopt a smart trouser or dress and jacket combo, add extra elements with an extra layered shirt. A smart jacket or coat never goes amiss when keeping a more casual outfit looking smart.

Reliable options:

Men: Smart chinos, shirt and jacket with shoes or boots.

Women: Smart trousers and a relaxed blouse, or a more casual dress and heels, both with a smart coat or jacket.

Smart Casual

Women's Ganni floral shirt

The most dreaded dresscode because let’s be honest, no one really knows what it means. For men, a pair of nice jeans with a smart coat, jacket or jumper and smart shoes is a staple go-to. The same goes for women, formal accessories and footwear with smart jacket or shirt alongside a standard casual outfit can be the winning recipe. A t-shirt works alongside a pair of suit trousers just as well as jeans and a smart shirt.

It's easiest to keep the jacket and shoes smart and go more relaxed on the rest, however if you’re adorning a fresh pair of trainers, you might just get away with it.

Reliable options:

Men: Jeans, jumper and tailored jacket

Women: Wide leg or slim-fit jeans, sleek t-shirt and tailored jacket

Sarah Atkinson
Sarah Atkinson Writer and expert

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