Your Complete Guide to Dress Codes

Summer is upon us and with the season comes weddings, parties, and all sorts of festivities. It’s all fun and games until you have to decipher what the dress codes stand for and what you should be wearing. Relax, this is your complete guide to dress codes and what they really mean.

Let’s start off with the basics. This list is organized from least to most formal.


Casual is exactly as it sounds; casual. With that said, it’s extremely important to be aware of your surroundings and the occasion. While casual dress code may be accepted or suggested, you still want to look as though you put effort into your appearance. If the summer wedding you’re attending says “casual dress” this still doesn’t mean that you can show up in pajamas or ripped jeans. It’s still a wedding, so opt for a sundress or for men, a polo. Ask your host if jeans are acceptable. If they are, stick with clean rip-free denim and respect the nature and the importance of the event.


Business casual has taken over as the go-to workplace dress code in many offices. (Thank you startups!) While some offices do allow jeans, a good rule of thumb is to wear some kind of slacks, (chinos, colored denim, or suit slacks) and a button down top or blouse. No need for a suit here.

Women can also opt for casual dresses, skirts, and cardigans. If your office does allow jeans, think about stepping up your denim by adding on a blazer. While the word “casual” is in the title, the word “business” is too, so always make sure that you look polished and professional.


A step up from business casual, business formal requires a suit for men and women. While women can venture out of the full on suit, a good rule of thumb is that you should be able to stand next to a man in a full suit and look equally as professional. Think of wearing a blouse, suit pants or a fitted skirt, and a jacket. Separates are okay to mix and match for both men and women, as long as you do in fact have a blazer/sport coat with your bottoms.

Men, this is where you pull out your ties!


Think of cocktail attire like business formal, but more fun. Guys, you can in fact get away without wearing a tie, but make sure you’re in a suit, or at least a sport coat. If you’re not sure, ask around and see if other men are wearing ties. Women, this is where you can pull out your fun party dresses, but remember, cocktail attire is not clubbing attire, and is much more conservative, especially if you’re going to a work party. Think of Mad Men for inspiration.

This goes for both men and women, but it’s especially important for women, as party dresses often cross the line of inappropriate for a formal gathering. There is a difference between “fitted” and “tight”. Fitted clothing shows your shape, but truly fits your body without pulling and bunching, whereas tight clothing is molded to your skin and often looks pulled. For cocktail attire, make sure if your clothing doesn’t fall into the “tight” category to remain appropriate.


This gives you a bit of choice between black tie and cocktail attire, but if the event details say “black tie optional” get ready to be fancy! Some people will be in tuxedos and gowns, so if you opt to still stick with cocktail attire, just make sure you can stand next to your counterpart dressed for a black tie event and still look equally as formal.


Black tie is the most formal of the dress codes, and always requires men to wear tuxedos and women to be in gowns. This is where you want to go all out and prepare for a swanky event. Women, opt for small clutch purses and get ready to dazzle! Men, if you don’t own a tuxedo, (very few people do) prepare to rent one. Similarly, if women aren’t ready to purchase a gown, there are great options out there like Rent the Runway where you can rent gowns similarly to how men rent tuxedos.


Dress codes can be confusing, but if you follow your complete guide to dress codes, you’ll ensure that you’re always dressed for the occasion and look your best. As my grandmother always says, you can never be overdressed. (Well, most of the time)

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