A Guide to Dress Codes 

So, you have received an invitation to a wedding or an event where the host has stipulated a dress code – but what does it actually mean?

Dress code:  Black Tie
Typically requested for an evening or afternoon event, Black Tie is the most formal of dress codes.

For men, it is probably the most straightforward – you should be wearing a tuxedo.  Black trousers and a black jacket with either a notch or peak-lapel jacket, a white shirt with a turn-down collar – the front of the shirt is traditionally pleated or ‘Marcela’ (which is a textured fabric made up of little diamonds) and as the name would suggest, a black bow tie.
A cummberbund or waistcoat can be worn – not both together! The outfit should be finished off with highly polished (or patent) black shoes and some nice cufflinks.

Stylist note: 

Men can also be a little more daring and opt for a Velvet or Midnight blue tuxedo option to stand out from the crowd. It is also important to pick the right bow-tie, try one with a little texture or if bow-tie’s are not your thing it is now acceptable to choose a skinny black tie as an alternative.

perfect-005wedding-attireperfect-003wedding-attireFor ladies, it’s slightly less obvious and you should consider what the event actually is.  If it is an upscale wedding or awards ceremony then a formal floor or tea-length gown would be best.  If it is a work function that suggests black tie, then you could choose a formal cocktail dress and add some statement jewellery.

You needn’t stick to black, but it’s best to avoid loud prints. You should also think about the length of the dress and avoid anything that is more than 2 inches above the knee.
Classic jewellery such as pearls or diamonds are usually more suited to this dress code, rather than costume jewellery, and choose either a statement necklace or dangly earrings – both together is too much.

Stylist Note:

Be daring and don’t stick to the safe BLACK dress, it is very rare to go to such a fabulous event and really dress-up. So make a statement with jewel tone dress options or vibrant clutch bags or shoes.



Image via CW Style

Image by CW Style

Add some killer heels and a small glitzy clutch bag for your essentials and you’re good to go!

If the invitation states “Black Tie optional”, this would suggest that whilst black tie isn’t required, the event still calls for formal attire.  

Ladies – as above – you could choose either a long dress, a formal cocktail dress – or even dressy separates such as a (longer-than-knee-length) skirt and blouse. 

Men – you can wear either a tuxedo, or a dark suit, white shirt and a plain dark tie.  

Dress code:  Cocktail / Formal 
This dress code is less formal than Black Tie, so you can have a little fun with it!

For guys, a dark suit with a tie is the way forward.  You might want to avoid the same old suit you wear to the office every day and go for more of a toned down version of a tuxedo.

Stylist note:

Opt for a slim fit suit for a sharper look and keep the tie skinny to make the entire look more formal.

For the ladies – dress to impress! Think cocktail dresses that are party ready…

Image via CW Style

Image via CW Style

A little black dress with statement jewellery would be a perfectly safe option, but don’t be afraid to deviate away from classic black – especially for summer weddings and parties.  Experiment with different materials such as chiffon, lace or even velvet in the cooler months.  Sparkly heels and a clutch bag would finish this off nicely!

Stylist note:

Prints are massive this season and cocktail dresses with vibrant prints or embellishment always have the wow factor. Remember when picking a cocktail length dress that you either show legs or bust, so if your going short on the skirt keep it high on the neck and if its long on the length opt for a lower neck line!

Elsies Attic

Dress code:  Lounge Suits / Business Dress
This is the dress code you will find at most business events .  Formal dress is not required, but don’t let the term ‘lounge’ throw you off!

Men will still be expected to wear a suit and tie – you should choose a dark or light suit depending on the season and the time of day.  Black, navy and charcoal would be most appropriate for evening events and those being held during the Autumn and Winter, whereas light grey and neutral toned suits would be more suited to Spring and Summer and events that begin in the afternoon.

Stylist note:

Try a 3 piece suit as something different, in the summer months having all 3 pieces in the same colour is best but in winter you could try a textured or tweed waistcoat under your darker suits to lift them a little.

Traditionally, ladies would have opted for a business wear such as a shift dress, however nowadays something a bit more fancy such as a cocktail dress or a dressy skirt and top combination wouldn’t be out of place – a long gown would be a little over the top! Again, you should be considering the time of the event and the season. Think about adding a hat or fascinator for a wedding or day at the races etc..

Stylist note:

The options are endless for this style of event but unless the event is a beach wedding, generally a maxi is not the best choice. Again it is important to embrace colour and print for this type of event as black can look too severe. If you only have black as an option, ensure you lift the look with bright, fun accessories.

Dress code:  Business and Smart Casual 
Business Casual is more suited to a conference than a wedding or party.

Guys should pair a jacket or blazer with cords or chinos, a collared shirt and smart shoes – no jeans or trainers!

Ladies would be best off in a nice shift dress, skirt or cigarette pants and a top with a smart jacket or cardigan.  Again, no denim and try to avoid looking too business like with matching skirt/suit jacket combos.

Smart casual should be interpreted as a dressier version of your most casual look – dark denim is perfectly acceptable, paired with a polo casual shirt for men and a nice blouse or day dress for women.

Light wash, ripped denim should be avoided – as should shorts, beach and sportswear!

Stylist note:

When it comes to smart casual, the important elements to add in for the guys’ are a relaxed blazer/jacket shape and a nice brown brogue or boot.

For women the options are much more open, a day dress or skirt and top combo can be the safest best. Failing that a slim jean, an interesting blouse and a blazer shape can look equally chic.

Dress code:  Casual/Garden Party
This is pretty much a non-dress code – anything goes!

Having said that, you’ll probably want to wear something nicer than what you wear at home to do the housework, or at the gym! Summer dresses, shorts, t-shirts, jeans, trainers… wear whatever you are most comfortable in. However we feel this is the perfect opportunity to bring out the pretty summer dresses and embrace being a girl.


Teal Butterfly Tea Dress

Stylist note:

If you are still unsure about any of the above – remember it’s nearly always better to be overdressed than underdressed!

Credits `All menswear images courtesy of Anthony’s Formal Wear  // Additional Photography: // Nick Kontou Photography // Stylist quotes and images: Claire Wacey // Black floral dress & Teal Butterfly tea dress by Elsies Attic



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