Few things are as embarrassing as misreading the dress code and rocking up to a chilled-out get-together in your shiniest cocktail dress or showing up to a fancy ’do in jeans.

The dress code is usually indicated on the invitation to the event. Unfortunately, people aren’t always clear on what this dress code means. It is, after all, a code – a simple instruction would probably have been clearer.

We’ve compiled a key to decipher this code so that you can make sure you are always dressed to the nines … so to speak.

White tie

Women: A floor-length ball gown. Accessorise with opera gloves, glam it up with jewellery and style your hair up.

Men: A short or waist-length black tailcoat (tails should reach the back of your knees,) white bow tie, starched white shirt and, and this is optional, a cummerbund. Finish the look with high-quality black pants.

Black tie

Women: This can be anything from a floor-length ball gown to dressy separates or a fancy formal cocktail dress. Go according to what you expect your host will wear – long formal dress for a wedding, LBD with accent jewellery for a work function.

Men: Easy – a tuxedo! (With or without tails.) White shirt and a tie or bow tie. Vest and cummerbund optional.

You can’t go wrong with … A long gown for women and a black tuxedo for men.

Warm weather black tie

Women: a long dress with white gloves and minimal jewellery.

Men: A white dinner jacket made from a cotton, linen, worsted wool or gabardine fabric. Add a white dress shirt, bow tie, cummerbund and finish with a pair of black leather shoes.

Black tie optional

Women: A long gown or a cocktail dress – as long as it’s luxurious, you can even wear fancy separates. The key lies in accessorising.

Men: A tuxedo or a dark suit, e.g. black or charcoal, with a white dress shirt and a solid colour tie. Keep patterns to a minimum.

Creative black tie

With this one, you can have fun while still being dressed up. Think “trendy black tie, e.g. the New York Met Gala in the US.

Women: A long gown, cocktail dress or separates – as long as it’s out-of-the box and has an added bit of flair, e.g. feathers, sequins, sheer fabrics, and capes. Show off your personality.

Men: A suit with a dressy shirt – play with trendy prints, and mix and match fabrics to create a formal, yet interesting, look.


Women: A shorter dress that’s fun but classy, bright and feminine. Express your personality with your accessories. When in doubt – LBD!

Men: A dark suit with a tie, coat optional. At some more casual events, a pair of dark jeans with a jacket and tie might be acceptable.


Women: This is similar to cocktail dress, but with a festive twist, e.g. sequins or satin. This dress code is a favourite in the holiday season.

Men: Similar to what you’d wear to a cocktail function, but add a little something the holiday spirit, e.g. a festive tie.


Women: a dress falling to or just above the knee; not too sparkly or risqué. Wear with a jacket or a shawl.

Men: A dark suit and a crisp white shirt with French cuffs. Tie is optional; wear a vest instead of a tie to get the look just right.

Business formal

Women: Mainly for work lunches and conferences, so go with a tailored dress or a pant suit – it’s appropriate for business but you still look dressed up.

Men: A suit with a tie.

Business casual

Women: A skirt, khaki, or dress pants and a long-sleeve or three-quarter sleeve top should do the trick. You can also wear a casual dress. You can wear flat shoes with this option.

Men: Choose a button-down or a polo shirt and wear with khakis or dress pants. Tie is optional. In case it gets nippy, pair with a V-neck sweater, a blazer or a sport coat.

Note: Casual usually means that anything goes, as long as it’s not too formal or completely informal. There is some differentiation between levels, though.

Casual dressy

Women: Think your casual look, but just a bit dressier. Dress up your favourite nice pair of dark jeans or normal pants with nice shoes, e.g. boots, heels or patent leather flats. You can also wear a skirt. Accessorise to add to the look.

Men: Your favourite pair of jeans with a nice blazer or a sports coat. Finish the look with leather loafers, oxfords or slip-ons. Tie optional.

Smart casual

Women: A silk or button-down top with a pencil skirt or dress pants, and wear high heels if possible.

Men: A collared shirt and dressy trousers, paired with loafers or nice, dressy shoes.

Country club casual

Women: A dress or skirt with minimal accessories; or an open-necked or polo shirt with a nice pair of pants. The key is to dress down without looking frumpy or too casual.

Men: An open-necked or polo shirt, paired with khakis. Add leather shoes and a belt.

Need assistance in organising an event? however big or small, CONTACT UP A TONE EVENTS today for a one-stop solution.