Let’s be honest: Nothing sucks the fun out of a meeting or event faster than a dress code. Semi-formal? Black tie? Business casual? What do they even mean? It can be difficult to know what to wear, even when the requested attire is right there in black and white. Here’s the thing, though: Dress codes are intended to provide guidelines, within which you can use your own discretion and best judgment. And if you come across an unfamiliar code, or you’re just not sure of what it means, it’s ok to ask for clarification! Keep reading for our simple breakdown of different dress codes, for everything from casual to formal, and what they mean for him and her.
Casual is pretty much a non-dress code. It means anything goes, including jeans and sneakers. In fact, if you dress too formally, you’ll likely feel out of place. Just try to keep it in good taste and avoid anything old, stained, or torn.
Men: T-shirts, jeans, and sneakers are all appropriate. If it’s warm out, you can wear shorts or even a tank top.
Women: Wear jeans and the top of your choice. Mix up your look with fun accessories and interesting shoes.
Most corporate offices today have a business casual dress code. But definitions of ‘business casual’ can vary depending on your company, where it’s located, and even the average age of employees. No matter what, it almost always means no jeans
Men: Go for khakis and a polo or button down. Loafers or dress shoes are appropriate, but avoid sneakers.
Women: Wear dress pants or a skirt with a nice top. Heels or flats are fine but steer away from open-toe varieties.
Smart casual (or dressy casual) is a mix between casual, business casual, and business dress. Sound tricky? That’s because it is!
Men: Jeans are usually fine, but wear them with a button-down or t-shirt and jacket and dress shoes. Want to mix things up? Try a vest!
Women: Dress pants, or a skirt, with a nice top, is a safe bet. If you opt for jeans, stick with a dark wash and pair them with a heeled shoe.
Business formal is what you might wear to a business lunch or conference. It’s more sophisticated than smart casual, and calls for a slightly dressier look: Think suits, ties, and dresses. Try to avoid flashy patterns or loud colors.
Men: A business suit and tie or nice slacks and a sport coat are a must.
Women: Go for a business suit or a business-style dress.
Semi-formal is often the dress code for daytime events, such as afternoon weddings or large business conferences. It’s dressier than business formal, but not quite tuxedo-level fancy.
Men: A dark suit and long tie are the way to go. Wear nice leather shoes with dark socks.
Women: Break out that little black dress! This is the perfect opportunity to wear it (or any other cocktail dress). Dressy separates are also appropriate.
Formal used to be crystal clear: a tuxedo for men and a gown for women. These days, life in general has become a lot more casual. Formal can mean any number of things, so it’s best to just ask: “By formalwear do you mean a tuxedo or a suit and tie?”
Men: Traditionally, ‘formal’ means a tuxedo with all the frills (vest, cummerbund, cuff links, etc.) or a black suit and white shirt with black shoes and black socks. Tip: in the summer, it is appropriate to switch out your black tie and jacket for white!
Her: This is your Cinderella moment! Wear a floor-length evening gown or a very fancy shorter dress. Then go all out with jewelry, gloves, and fancy hair and makeup!