The Definitive Guide To Dress Codes

This article was first published on Stylizen in December 2014.

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Ah, the end of the year – it’s the time where the atmosphere is festive, the party invites start to pour in and evenings are spent sipping champagne and cocktails in fabulous clothes. But what kind of clothes exactly?

While the idea of a party is exciting, decoding the listed dress code can be enough to tempt you to decline. Is a short dress acceptable for a black tie event? What exactly is the elusive “Smart Casual”? And do men always need to wear a jacket? To prevent any further fashion faux pas, we’ve put together the definitive guide to dress codes so you can breathe easy this party season. Add it to your favourites, email it to a friend and stick it on your fridge – you’ll want to keep this permanently on hand!

1. Black Tie

While White Tie is the most formal of dress codes, it’s now usually limited to royal and government balls, which leaves Black Tie as the most formal dress code you’re likely to come across. In Australia, it’s often misinterpreted as cocktail wear, so to be on the safe side it’s best to stick to traditional interpretations – after all, it’s a rare occasion that allows us to get so dressed up.

For men, nothing less than a tuxedo will do, worn with a white dinner shirt and black bow tie (bonus points if you tie it yourself!). Accessories like cuff links are essential for extra finesse and are the one item you can play around with. For women, black tie calls for a floor length gown in fabrics that feel luxurious on the skin, accessorised with fine jewellery, a small clutch and heels. The whole point is to feel dressed up and glamorous. In the context of a wedding, take “formal” to mean the same as Black Tie.

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Carla Zampatti Cream Diamond Cut Out Maxi Dress, $899 – David Jones; Angel Earrings, $189 – Amber Sceats; Aldo Beaded Box Clutch, $86.54 – ASOS; Tabitha Simmons ‘Folly’ Pumps, $954.43 – Farfetch.

Gucci Dylan Notch-Lapel Tuxedo, $2863 – Matches Fashion; Thomas Pink Marcella Front Dinner Shirt, $199 – David Jones; Dolce & Gabbana Velvet Bow Tie, $270.01 – Farfetch; Cufflinks Inc. Scaled Onyx Cufflinks, $307.70 – Neiman Marcus; Ravel Plain Bal Dress Shoes, $299.95 – Florsheim.

Gucci Dylan Notch-Lapel Tuxedo, $2863 – Matches Fashion;
Thomas Pink Marcella Front Dinner Shirt, $199 – David Jones;
Dolce & Gabbana Velvet Bow Tie, $270.01 – Farfetch;
Cufflinks Inc. Scaled Onyx Cufflinks, $307.70 – Neiman Marcus;
Ravel Plain Bal Dress Shoes, $299.95 – Florsheim.

2. Cocktail

Cocktail is probably the most popular dress code you’ll come across this season, and while a step down from Black Tie, it is still considered to be rather formal. For men, a black suit is an absolute must, with a three piece suit a fun and appropriate way to go for something different. A classic white shirt is required, but a normal neck tie will suffice. A skinny tie with a slim fit suit is a current way to look stylish and sharp.

For women, this is the perfect time to bring out a killer cocktail dress, whether it’s a classic LBD or something more influenced by current trends. Knee length is advisable although it can be strapless, while typical colours include black, white, jewel tones or metallics. Interesting details such as lace or beading lift up a dress or bring your bling with bold jewellery and an evening clutch. For a va va voom cocktail look, channel Yves Saint Laurent’s Le Smoking by wearing a fitted Tuxedo paired with a silk blouse, or dare to bare by wearing nothing under the jacket. An evening jumpsuit in a luxurious silk is also a great option.

Nicholas Tech Stretch Halter Dress, $511.13 - Revolve Clothing. Alexis Bittar Fine Ring,  $609.30 - Neiman Marcus. Waverley Square Clutch, $26.21 - Colette by Colette Hayman. Christian Louboutin Bille et Boule Multi Pumps, $1531 - Matches Fashion.

Nicholas Tech Stretch Halter Dress, $511.13 – Revolve Clothing.
Alexis Bittar Fine Ring, $609.30 – Neiman Marcus.
Waverley Square Clutch, $26.21 – Colette by Colette Hayman.
Christian Louboutin Bille et Boule Multi Pumps, $1531 – Matches Fashion.

Conduit Jet Black Suit Jacket, $699 – Calibre; Selected Formal Slim Fit Shirt, $67.31 – ASOS; Conduit Jet Black Suit Pant, $299 – Calibre; Calvin Klein Polka Dot Tie, $67.31 – ASOS; Ballistic Dress Shoes, $119.95 – Julius Marlow.

Conduit Jet Black Suit Jacket, $699 – Calibre;
Selected Formal Slim Fit Shirt, $67.31 – ASOS;
Conduit Jet Black Suit Pant, $299 – Calibre;
Calvin Klein Polka Dot Tie, $67.31 – ASOS;
Ballistic Dress Shoes, $119.95 – Julius Marlow.

3. Smart Casual

Ah, the ambiguous Smart Casual dress code. While the meaning can be vague and differ from person to person, the general rule of Smart Casual means a more relaxed, but still smart dress code where a tie is not required. However most occasions will still require either a suit or jacket and trouser combination – and absolutely no jeans. A safe yet stylish option in the warmer months is a blazer, chinos (beige or blue) and a collared shirt in a complementary pale colour. A patterned shirt such as checks or stripes is also acceptable.

It’s a little harder to pin down exactly what smart casual means for women, but it is a great opportunity to wear separates. A silky blouse and pencil skirt, or a great pair of tailored trousers is a winning combination, as is a jumpsuit. Heels and a small chain shoulder handbag finish off the look.

ASOS 70’s Jumpsuit, $125 – ASOS; Jacqui Long Tassel Necklace, $22.99 – Forever New; Rochas Tilda Metallic Leather Pouch, $633 – Matches Fashion; Tony Bianco Makenzi Heels, $169.95 – The Iconic.

ASOS 70’s Jumpsuit, $125 – ASOS;
Jacqui Long Tassel Necklace, $22.99 – Forever New;
Rochas Tilda Metallic Leather Pouch, $633 – Matches Fashion;
Tony Bianco Makenzi Heels, $169.95 – The Iconic.

Galaxy Blue Blazer, $599 - Calibre; Vanishing Elephant Classic Poplin White Shirt, $110 – General Pants; Ted Baker Mordord Slim Chino Trousers, $179 – The Iconic; Ted Baker Embed 2 Loafers, $279.95 – The Iconic.

Galaxy Blue Blazer, $599 – Calibre;
Vanishing Elephant Classic Poplin White Shirt, $110 – General Pants;
Ted Baker Mordord Slim Chino Trousers, $179 – The Iconic;
Ted Baker Embed 2 Loafers, $279.95 – The Iconic.