Why choosing a dress code for an event is more important than you may think, and what you should look out for if you are given one.
A dress code may seem like a minor consideration when arranging an event, but in actual fact, it can contribute not only to the overall vibe, but to save face for those attending. There’s nothing more embarrassing than turning up in a floor length gown when everyone else is in a casual dress!
Depending on where the event is held, there may be considerations such as the weather, or getting to the venue – ladies certainly wouldn’t appreciate hiking across a muddy field in stilettos (in this case the invitation should state ‘special dress’ – and the items needed). For these reasons, and to ensure that your event stays how you would like it to be, it’s always advisable for invitations to state a code.
But bear the audience in mind. Making unreasonable demands about dress codes could result in little take up of invites or embarrassing no shows. It’s all very well to expect professionals or management to have an array of outfits, but for other people, this may be financially untenable.
A change in attitudes
Post-pandemic and with the cost-of- living crisis raging, many organisers are moving away from traditional dress codes and opting for the more attainable ‘smart/casual’ or suggesting a colour code. The onus is on the event organiser to ensure that guests know exactly what is required of them.
But while there have been changes, omissions and additions to dress codes over the years, with a ‘no dress code’ now being acceptable for events such as team building, office drinks or off site get togethers, codes still tend to fall into three categories: casual, business casual and formal – with a few modern twists thrown in!
Deciphering dress codes
White tie or gala: the most formal dress code, used only for very exclusive or ceremonial occasions. Female guests will be required to wear a long dress, while gentleman will need a dinner jacket with a white shirt and white bow tie. For anyone lucky enough to get an invite to one of these events, there is an expectation that they will adhere to this strict dress code.
Black tie/tuxedo: a formal affair denoting a floor-length, mid-thigh or longer dress for ladies and a tuxedo or formal dinner jacket, trousers, shirt, and shoes for men.
Black tie optional: with this code there is the option to wear black tie, but guests can also choose a smart, dark suit or cocktail dress.
Jacket and tie: less formal than black tie, this event still requires men to wear a suit and tie and ladies to wear an elegant two-piece or sober dress.
Cocktail: a semi formal event commonly chosen for corporate affairs, which
allows female guests to be a bit more experimental with their outfit. Gents are still expected to wear a dark-coloured suit and tie.
Casual or informal: pretty much wear- what-you-like occasion, but tricky since this dress code is the most open to interpretation.
Business casual: typically office wear which can be dressed up for the evening.
Semi-formal: a little black dress for ladies and shirt and trousers with or without tie and jacket for men.
Themed dress: very popular in recent years, themed dress can be anything from fancy dress to beachwear, 80’s fashion to colour themes, which should be stated on the invite.
Special dress: when an event is being held in a unique location, guests may need rainwear, warm clothing, boots etc.
Beach formal: a decidedly American addition to the dress code, the trick is to match style with comfort. Think sundress and flat shoes or wedges for ladies and linen or cotton trousers paired with a linen or cotton collared casual shirt, sandals or casual shoes without socks for men.