Dress Codes Defined

You’ve just been invited to a wedding, party, or business event. Here’s a handy guide to help you decide what to wear when the dress code is…

The most formal dress code, typically reserved for events such as state dinners and the Academy Awards

• Women: Wear a formal, floor-length evening gown. Go all out with your most dramatic shoes and jewelry.

• Men: Wear a tuxedo, a long black jacket with tails, a white collared shirt, a white vest, a white bow tie, and black patent-leather shoes. White or gray gloves are appropriate.

Less dressy than white tie, but still pretty formal, and usually reserved for evening affairs

• Women: Wear a floor-length evening gown, a knee-length dress with heels, or your dressiest black dress. Dressy separates, like a knee-length skirt and shell set, also work.

• Men: Wear a tuxedo, a black bow tie, a black cummerbund or vest, and black patent-leather shoes. In the summer or on a cruise, a white dinner jacket with black tuxedo pants would be appropriate, along with the rest of the black-tie wardrobe.

Formal, but with a trendy twist

• Women: Skip the modest gown in favor of a more fun, but still formal dress. You can also wear a formal knee-length dress, a satin ball-gown skirt with a cashmere sweater or blouse, or tuxedo pants with a silk top. Accessories should be fun and unique.

• Men: Wear a tuxedo combined with trendy or whimsical items, such as a black shirt or a colored or patterned bow tie with a matching cummerbund.

Slightly less formal than black tie

• Women: Wear a floor-length gown, a knee-length cocktail dress or little black dress with heels, or a dressy suit.

• Men: Wear a dark suit and tie with dressy leather shoes, or a tuxedo.

Somewhere between formal and casual, depending on the time of the event

• Women: Wear a knee-length cocktail dress, a little black dress, a dressy skirt and top, or even slacks with a dressy blouse.

• Men: Wear a suit and tie in a dark or light color, depending on the season and the time of day, or dress pants with a collared shirt and jacket. Add dressy leather shoes.

Festive and fun, but not formal

• Women: Wear a knee-length dress, or even dress pants or a skirt with a nice blouse.

• Men: Wear a jacket and slacks, with or without a tie. Colors or patterns can be a bit bolder than with semi-formal attire.

Casual, but work-appropriate

• Women: Wear dress pants, a casual dress, or a skirt with a nice blouse. Stay away from spaghetti straps or plunging necklines.

• Men: Wear khakis or dress pants with a collared shirt and loafers (or loafer-style shoes). You can also add a sport coat or blazer.

Anything goes, but stay away from jeans, shorts, and tank tops for bigger events (casual weddings included).

• Women: Wear a sundress, a skirt or pants with a pretty top.

• Men: Wear khakis with a button-down, a sweater, or a polo shirt.

Sources: theknot.com, emilypost.com, evite.com, Ladies’ Home Journal, eHow.com

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest