More than ever, fashion rules and what is considered appropriate attire is blurred. We’ve seen pant suits on the red carpet, mini dresses as wedding dresses and even in the work place where jeans were once banned, many offices are embracing them. So when you do receive your first formal invitation with a dress code of conduction on it, it’s no surprise that most people haven’t got a clue what each category actually means. Trying to decipher the difference between business casual and business formal or black tie and black tie optional is a fine line and only easy if you know how. But fear not, our cheat sheet guide will show you exactly what you can and cannot get away with wearing when your invitation demands a dress code.
If Your Invitation Reads…Casual/Informal
The most relaxed of all the dress codes, if your invitation calls for casual or informal wear, it’s hard to go wrong here. This basically means that anything goes, whether you’re most comfortable in jeans and a T-shirt or a sweet dress, you can pretty much wear whatever you want besides maybe pajamas or sweats! We always think it’s best to be slightly overdressed than underdressed so we would suggest a structured pair of jeans and a blouse or a mid length day dress are both great options for an informal look. Because it’s casual, you don’t have to wear heels unless you want to and comfort is the key here.
If Your Invitation Reads…Smart Casual
A step up from casual wear is a smart casual look which no longer means jeans or denim is appropriate but you don’t have to don a full suited outfit. Imagine going to a nice lunch with your girlfriends and you’re on the right track. You can choose between heels and dressy flats for shoes and do be sure your hair and makeup has an overall “clean” look. The easiest way to upgrade your look to smart casual is by building your outfit around a blazer jacket. Push the sleeves up to create a more relaxed style and add a pair of slacks, a printed dress or wide palazzo pants.
If Your Invitation Reads…Business Casual
Business casual is the standard attire for most workplaces so if you could wear it to the office, you can probably wear it to your event. A business casual outfit should read professional and put together without being ultra formal or too done up. Feel free to add some personal flair with fashion forward pieces of jewelry or a pop of on trend color but if you’d be embarrassed to run into your boss wearing your chosen outfit, it’s a good idea to rethink your outfit game. A pantsuit is a great option here and you could even mix and match tops and bottoms to create a color block if that’s more your style. Just like being at the office, you should look polished and professional but also practical, there’s no point in wearing nine inch heels if you’ll need to be on your feet all day so be realistic.
If Your Invitation Reads…Business Formal
Moving up another step in dress code attire, business formal is the most common dress code for business lunches with clients or bosses or conferences where you may need to represent the brand or company you work for. Consider business formal to be a dressier version of your office wear, your work look at it’s very best. You can wear anything tailored or structured here like pantsuits or pencil skirts and dresses. This isn’t the time to flaunt creativity though, this outfit is all about being serious so neutral color palettes are a must. Heels are the best option for business formal however if you’re just not a heel person or they simply hurt too much, a formal brogue shoe or simple black ballet pumps are perfectly acceptable.
If Your Invitation Reads…Cocktail Attire
Cocktail attire moves away from business and into party time. It’s still sophisticated but you can get a little creative and playful with your outfit so long as it’s not too revealing. Knee length or just above knee length is perfect for dresses and skirts and you can definitely pull some color and fashion details in here. Necklines shouldn’t be too low either but a great way to embrace this is to opt for an ultra high neck and bold shoulders. Subtle cut outs, sophisticated embellishment and delicate draping are all perfect options for cocktail attire. Fun but still appropriate, cocktail attire is the perfect dress code for bringing out your super high heels and if in doubt, you can’t go wrong with a classic black dress.
If Your Invitation Reads…Black Tie
Black tie is pretty self explanatory for men but for women it can feel more complicated. A floor length evening dress is the easiest and most straight forward option for women. If that feels daunting, you can opt for a more formal cocktail dress but a floor length gown is a better option to allow for a more elevated look that oozes sophistication. Elegance and understated beauty is at the core of any black tie outfit so if you’re in love with low necklines or revealing outfits, you can show some skin but it must be tasteful!
If Your Invitation Reads…Black Tie Optional
Black tie optional, contrary to the name, doesn’t actually mean that you can go formal or casual. It actually means a slightly less formal version of black tie. Unlike black tie, you don’t have to be red carpet ready but a long dress without a train or a long length cocktail dress will both work perfectly. Stay elegant and chic and you’ll be black tie optional ready in no time.
Article Commissioned by Mod'Art University of Shanghai