Today I’m answering a question sent in from a reader, just like you! Amber writes…
I got invited to a gala, and the dress code says:
MEN: A tuxedo, a suit, or business casual (jackets, no ties) will look sharp. Please no jeans or casual shirts.
WOMEN: Cocktail dresses and gowns are acceptable and will look beautiful on you.
What exactly does that mean? Length? Color?
Trying to determine the appropriate attire for any event can be tricky, so I’m going to break it down by category for future reference. Check out these common dress code terms and how they translate to real life…
Casual: Anything goes with this one— women can wear jeans, sandals are appropriate. But no matter what, especially if this is a work-related event, make sure you’re still covered up and put-together.
Semi-casual: Men should wear khakis and maybe a polo, and women would be best in a sundress or cotton skirt. Sandals are still appropriate for the ladies.
Semi-Formal: (Other terms for this can include Sunday best, casual elegance, or afternoon elegant.) In this situation, men should wear suits, but aren’t required to put on ties. Women should wear dresses— something a little more substantial than a sun dress— and heels instead of sandals.
Formal: (Also called cocktail attire.) Men should wear suits and ties. Women should wear a nice dress, but it doesn’t have to be floor length. (Stick with dresses right around knee length— please don’t wear something super short!) Heels are pretty much mandatory at this point.
Black Tie Optional: Men can wear either a dark suit & tie or a tux. Women should wear their nicest dress and a long gown is often preferred, though a modest cocktail dress would be fine.
Black Tie: Men should be in tuxes. Women can wear the same thing they’d wear to a “black tie optional” event.
It sounds like Amber’s gala is pretty flexible, if men can wear either a tux or a suit without a tie. For this reason, I’d stick with a knee-length cocktail dress, rather than a full-length gown. (I hate feeling like I’m the dressiest person in the room!) If it’s an evening event, dark colors are a safe choice (navy, plum, black), but feel free to pair your look with a pop of color, either jewelry, shoes, or a cute clutch.
Hope this helps, Amber!
Have you had trouble deciphering a dress code for a wedding or event? Do the “rules” I outlined above seem right to you? How do you determine what’s appropriate? Share your thoughts in the comments!