Party dress codes

Have you ever received an invitation and then had to call six friends to ask the definition of the party dress codes?  You’re not alone!  We offer these definitions as a guide but you are free to create your own variations (within reason!)

Black Tie/Formal

We all know what this means, and there’s very little wiggle room.

For men:  Black tuxedo jacket and trousers with a black silk bow tie (NOT a clip-on!) and matching cummerbund or vest, black dress shoes and socks, dressy suspenders, formal white shirt, with studs and cufflinks.

For women:  Floor or tea- length (mid-calf) evening dress, very dressy cocktail dress or little black dress, dressy separates but skirt should be long, your best jewelry. Don’t forget the evening clutch.

Black Tie Optional

This always amuses me, because it seems like there was a disagreement among the hosts and this was the compromise.  I’m sure there are some men who enjoy wearing a tuxedo, but I haven’t met any.  Most women, on the other hand, love to get dressed up.

For men:  It’s fine to wear a tuxedo or a dark suit with a white shirt and good silk tie,  dressy leather shoes and dark dress socks. Nothing less formal than a dark suit will do. Think dignified.

For women:  A floor or tea-length evening dress is fine but leave the ball gown at home.  A dressy cocktail dress, a little black dress, or dressy separates are also fine.  Wear good jewelry; you still get to ‘put on the dog’.

Semi-Formal/Suit & Tie

This translates to looking pulled together, nothing too short or naked.

For men:  Tuxedos are off the table.  Wear a dark suit.

For women:  Long dresses are not expected.  Wear a dressy short dress (but nothing risqué) low or high heels and stockings.

Festive Attire

This dress code is usually seen around the holidays and it means to add some pizzazz to your semi-formal attire.

For men:  A dark suit with colorful tie, fun socks, red trousers if around Christmas, maybe a velvet jacket with grey flannels. You get the idea.

For women:  Bring out the razzle-dazzle. Dress as if for semi-formal but make it fun with a boa, sparkly shoes, beaded or sequin top, or bold jewelry but leave the light-up reindeer earrings are home. Dressy pants and top are also fine. 

Cocktail Attire

This is almost the same as semi-formal but with some zip.

For men:  A well-tailored dark suit with a snappy shirt, a great-looking tie and lace-up shoes like oxfords.

For women:  The little black dress is often pressed into service for Cocktail Attire parties, with some bling jewelry and great heels.


Think evening in the Bahamas.

For men:  Don’t pack your tweed jacket.  A navy blue blazer with a great linen shirt with white pants and loafers (no socks), or a tan lightweight suit will be perfect.

For women:  No black allowed.  Go for fun summer prints, a flowy, comfy dress or a cute shift.  Beaded sandals or ballet flats in pastel colors. 

Casual Chic

This creates a ‘dress-up/dress-down’ confusion.  I think it means weekend-wear with some glam.

For men:  A great jacket over jeans or a tailored dress shirt with grey flannels.

For women:  A velvet jacket over jeans, or a silk tunic over leggings, that kind of combination. Causal shoes like ballet flats. Downplay the jewelry.

Business Attire

Wear what you would wear to an important interview.

For men:  A navy or grey suit, nice tie, white or blue dress shirt and polished leather shoes.

For women:  This is an east coast interview you’re envisioning, not west coast!  Wear a simple but good suit or dress, nothing trendy. No tees, and skirts are better than pants. 

Come as you are

Don’t be fooled by this.  The host does not mean it literally.  After all, a party is a party, so make SOME attempt at cleaning up your act.  Nothing sloppy!

For men:  Tailored jeans, khakis with a causal blazer or nice sweater, and loafers.

For women:  Tailored jeans are about as casual as you should get.  Nice flats, make-up, a simple dress or skirt or top.  No gym clothes or sweats!