What To Wear For Every Dress Code: Your Official Guide

From smart casual to black tie.
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Getting an invite to a wedding, after work event or cocktail party can be as daunting as it is exciting. Especially when the invite includes an ever ambiguous dress code, leaving you with the task of figuring out what to wear that’ll have you sitting in that sweet spot between overdressed and underdressed. 

Because dress codes can be confusing (does anyone really know what lounge suit means?), we’ve compiled a list of the five most common, along with a description and, most importantly, examples. 

Just remember, rules are meant to be broken – but not when it comes to wearing white to a wedding.

White tie

The most formal of all dress codes, women wear floor-length formal gowns (sometimes with gloves) and hair is typically worn in an up-do.
For men, the full penguin suit: tailcoat, stiff white wing-collar shirt with studs, black bow tie, starched white scoop front cotton pique waistcoat, dress pants and patent shoes.


Rachel Gilbert Matteo Gown, $1,299 from THE ICONIC


Talbot Runhof Cape-Effect Gathered Metallic Voile Gown, $2,750 from NET-A-PORTER

Black tie 

Women generally wear a floor-length formal gown, but exceptions can be made – take the Oscars red carpet, where this year pantsuits were almost as common as gowns. Just remember, keep the colours rich if you decide to wear a cocktail dress – black, navy, brown – to avoid looking too casual. 

For men, a suit and bow tie or regular tie – more of a tuxedo look than not.

If the invite says ‘black tie optional,’ this is generally to give men the option of wearing a tuxedo. For women, it means the option of a gown or a cocktail dress is there. Just remember to ensure your chosen look is smart enough for a room of men in suits and women who may have chosen to wear a gown. 


Deconstruct Black Tank Dress, $595 from Christopher Esber


Michael Costello x REVOLVE Heather Gown, $502.62 from REVOLVE

Lounge suit

Though the term ‘lounge suit’ is rarely heard, it’s still written neatly on invites with the assumption you know exactly what it means.

Never fear: For women, generally a formal gown (again, pantsuit is optional), but this time there’s more leeway with the length. We’d still opt for below the knee, but it doesn’t have to be floor length. 


Abbie James Bellini Pleated Silk Dress, $579 from Hard To Find


Bloom Silk Maxi Dress, $420 from Bec + Bridge


For women, an above-the-knee hem is appropriate for a cocktail theme  just don’t wear anything too revealing: keep hemlines and necklines appropriate.

Men can wear a suit (tie optional) or a shirt and suit pants.


Miami Heat Mini Dress, $399 from Manning Cartell


Runaway The Label Kelsi Midi Dress, $119 from THE ICONIC

Smart casual

Heels or flats are appropriate for a smart casual look and so are jeans when worn with something chic like a blazer. Remember there is such a thing as overdressing, so avoid full-length gowns and too much glamour.

Men can wear denim, chinos or suit pants with a shirt (long or short sleeved).


Carter Double Breasted Blazer, $269.95 from Friend Of Audrey


501 Jeans, $159.95 from Levi’s 

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