Dress Codes Deciphered


With the Holiday Party Season fast approaching, I thought it would be a good time to discuss Dress Codes.  (As if deciding what to wear wasn’t hard enough!) :)

Dress Codes are largely dependent on the area of the world that you live in, however some basic principles are the same straight across the board – such us “Casual” does NOT mean that you can wear jeans! (More on that later…)

In Canada, we typically have 5 dress codes, although you may only ever encounter 3 of them.  Here’s a list of your standard dress codes and what you should and should not be wearing for each:

White Tie – This is the most formal dress code, and one that most people will never encounter (think State functions and Royal events). Men should wear a long, black coat with tails or a morning jacket, a white waistcoat, and a white tie. Women should wear long gowns, and have professional hair and make-up. Opera-length (to the elbow) gloves are optional. If you happen to own a tiara, this would be the event when you could wear it again, as opulent jewelry is not only accepted, but encouraged.

Audrey Hepburn Princess Regal{ source: flickr }

Liz Hurley Tiara - edmonton event planner

{source: vogue uk }

Black Tie (Formal) – Black Tie has 2 different forms and it is another dress code that you may not encounter very often. However, despite the fact that it is rare, it should be strictly adhered to when it is listed. For the formal version, men should be dressed in a black tuxedo with a classic black bow tie. (A black suit is NOT acceptable). Women should be in long gowns or fancy cocktail dresses with their hair and make-up professionally done.

 Tuxedo Dress Code FormalBlack Tie Dress Code Ladies

Black Tie (Optional) – This form of Black Tie really only concerns the men. This means that the men may wear either a black suit or a black tuxedo, as both are acceptable.

Dress Code Formal Black Suit

Semi-Formal / Cocktail  – This is one of the few dress codes where there is a difference in attire depending on whether the event itself is being held in the daytime or in the evening. For an evening event, men should dress in a dark suit with tie; while women should wear a cocktail dress.

Mens Cocktail Dress Code

Semiformal Dress CodeFor a daytime event, men should be in a suit without a tie, or a tie and waistcoat without a jacket; and women should wear a dress or suit. Traditionally, women should avoid wearing black during a daytime event, as black dresses and suits were more reserved for evening events. However, more and more women have started to wear dark colors to daytime events.

Semiformal Suit Dress CodeLadies Semi-Formal Dress Code

However, it is widely agreed that if the ceremony is taking place in the daytime, and the reception is in the evening (and if time allows), women should be changing outfits for the evening reception.

Business Casual – There is the odd time that you may see this on a wedding invitation, but more than likely you will encounter this for meetings, conferences, etc. Business Casual is typically a bit more formal than what you may wear to the office. For men, this means you could wear khakis or slacks, a button-down shirt, and a sport coat. NO jeans, sneakers or ties. For women, stick to skirts and slacks, blouses and dresses. Shoes can be with or without a heel, however please refrain from “dressy” sandals, flip-flops and jeans.

Mens Business Casual Suit

Womens Business Casual Dress Code Some Additional Notes on Dressing Appropriately for an Event:

  • If the wedding ceremony is being held in a church, ladies please make sure that your attire is appropriate – don’t show too much skin or cleavage. Be careful of strapless/spaghetti straps, see-through fabric, and short hemlines. Think about adding a shawl, cardigan or blazer while you are in the church. It’s a matter of respect for the church and its parishioners.
  • Even if a wedding invitation says “casual“, jeans and running shoes are NEVER acceptable for a wedding! Now, I know that we live in Alberta and I’m probably going to get a lot of flack for this one, but a wedding is a special and important event. Therefore, you should not look like you stopped by the ceremony/reception on your way back from working on your truck! At the very least, wear khakis, loafers and a golf shirt (no corporate logos please!).
  • Things get tricky if you are going to the theatre, symphony, opera or ballet. While traditionally these were places where the acceptable dress codes were Black Tie or Semi-Formal, today you will see everything ranging from evening gowns to jeans. This is due to an economic shift over the last few decades. (Translation: These forms of entertainment, while previously reserved only for the wealthy, are now available to the masses). So as you can imagine, the dress code got watered down a bit. Personally, I think that its best to stick to Business Casual to Semi-Formal for these events, depending on whether it is a matinee or evening performance.
  • Remember: it’s all in the details! If you’re wearing a beautiful evening gown, but are carrying around your everyday, giant handbag…well, that just ruins the look, doesn’t it? Pay attention to the details – your shoes, your purse, your nails, your jewelry, etc. It may seem like nit-picking on the details, but together they help to polish your overall look.

If in doubt, never be afraid to inquire as to the dress code of an event.

As for me, I always prefer being over-dressed to being under-dressed. ;)

{ source for all photos, unless otherwise credited: j.crew }