Dress Code Protocol – How to get it right at your next event or business function.

Couples Dancing At Party

Have you ever received an invite to an event – of the social or professional kind – and experienced an anxiety attack when you spotted the DRESS CODE! Maybe the fact there is an actual *rule* that stipulates what you must wear means you’re likely to decline.

It’s hard enough to find clothes to wear to a function without a code nominated. You can always ask the host to spell out what it is they want everyone to wear. However, sometimes you may not be that familiar with the event organiser and can’t get in touch directly or quickly. Googling definitions online may prove to be both overwhelming and dated. Plus some articles can be even more stress-inducing when ‘modern’ dress codes are thrown into the mix like ‘boho-chic’ or ‘glasual’.

Don’t worry, we had to look that last one up as well – its ‘Glamourous Casual’.

Confused Man Sitting And Holding Shopping Bags

Confused man sitting and holding shopping bags while partner shopping for clothes on a background

There aren’t too many people that have event stylists on hand with a rack of outfits to choose from that all nail the brief.  So, we’re here to help!

File this handy guide away for future reference (especially over the festive season) so you’ll be prepared, and even confident, when the party invitations come your way!

Black tie



This is a very sophisticated, formal dress code that transcends all others. Ladies – it’s floor length evening gowns (needing a heel to elevate it off the floor) complete with elegant hair, jewellery and considered make up.  Let the gown speak for itself. You don’t have to drop a small fortune on an evening gown. As long as its floor length, and you accessorise accordingly. If you dare to risk a shorter length, say a midi (mid calf) or even a maxi dress (ankle length) then ensure the fabric is opulent and luxurious. Black is the traditional dress colour at a black tie event. However, these days all colours are widely acceptable. Aside from white at a wedding (see Cocktail dress for more on that).

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Gentlemen – black, or midnight blue tuxedo (ideally a 1 button, wool jacket with satin lapels), a crisp white dress shirt (pleated or plain) with black bow tie and cuff links to complete the look.  Think “Bond, James Bond” and you’ll have your inspiration covered.


White tie – AKA “ full evening dress”, “tails” or “dress suit”.



If you thought black tie was formal, then hold onto your bejewelled clutches and coat tails because white tie is exquisitely next level. One would have only worn White Tie to say, a night at The Opera in the early 20th Century. In these modern times, most of us are less likely to encounter this dress code.  When the calibre of guests are titled, Royal or with a very high social standing, then normally white tie is nominated. If you’re ever invited to a ball to dance alongside the King, to a presidential inauguration ceremony or to the Nobel Prize banquet in Stockholm, expect white tie to be printed on the invite! Dress code-enforcers at the door may not feel compelled to let you in if the strict dress code is ignored.

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Natalie Portman Responds To Rose Mcgowan’s Criticism Over Her Statement Making Oscars Cape

Photos From 2014 Oscars Red Carpet Arrivals E! Online

For women, there’s not much difference between white tie and black tie. Think red carpet dressing with all the Hollywood glitz and glamour. For men, swap out the black bow tie for a white bow tie (hand tied ideally) and cover a low cut white waistcoat with an evening coat (the one with the tails). A top hat is optional, but we say wear it! The opportunity for an evening hat doesn’t present itself too often. All guests should have their attire fitted by professionals -so a visit to the tailor or dress maker for any tweaks is a must.

Formal – AKA “Black tie optional”.

Brownlow Fashion

The more casual relative of “black tie”, but dressier than “cocktail,” the Formal dress code can be very confusing. A floor length gown and tux are still considered the most appropriate attire. It’s also acceptable to rock a statement cocktail dress, an androgynous style pant suit – or an elevated three piece suit and tie. We’re likely to see a lot more colour, glitz and skin as outfits are generally sassier rather than demure. Go bold, or go home!!

Asos Design Sequin Flare Suit

Asos Design Sequin Flare Suit

Reiss Elegant black formal gown

Reiss Elegant black formal gown


Brownlow Carousel 03

Getty : Brownlow Honey Carousel 03

Getty Images Brownlow 2 2022

Getty Images Brownlow 2 2022

Getty Images Brownlow 2022


However, as the name suggests, a ‘formal’ event is exactly that. Ideally keep hem lines long, colours classic and Gents, always keep a tie and jacket on at all times to be safe

Cocktail  – AKA “Semi formal” or “After 5”

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Group of guests at a cocktail wedding


This fun, glam dress code is a popular choice for many weddings and semi-formal event style parties. The kind of event that is most often catered for with nibbles to accompany drinks (not always a meal) and held in the late afternoon or evening. Cocktail attire is designed to bridge the gap between day and night. Aim for polished and dressy. However even if the host expects guests to dress up for the occasion, floor length gowns and tuxedos are not necessary.

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Cocktail party dresses as the sun goes down

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Wedding guests in party cocktail style dresses

It’s also important to consider other factors like the venue or ambiance as cocktail events can be held almost anywhere. Gardens, vineyards, bars and even barns, the beach, the office or schools can be decorated to hold a cocktail party.  Also take note of the time of day, and what the weather is likely to be that time of year before you go shopping. Especially if it’s going to be held outside. These factors tend to influence outfit choices, unlike the more obvious formal codes.  Likewise , the age bracket is important to note too. Some teenagers may not know what to wear to their school formal (hint : not something they might wear to a nightclub).

Event Photography Sydney

Sydney photographer for school formals info@katstanleyphotography.com

Party dresses in a variety of lengths, colours and fabrics work for cocktail attire however avoid the super short mini (where butt cheeks are barely covered). Pantsuits and jumpsuits are equally popular at a modern cocktail party. Men can wear a nice matching 2 piece suit with jacket and tie (these must remain on for formalities, until the sun has gone down. The jacket and tie that is, we assume everything else remains worn all night). Suits are then paired with classy clean dress shoes that match the belt.


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The LBD (Little Black Dress) is the quintessential cocktail dress. A chic and classy option for a business function or a first date. A safe choice if there is no dress code for a function! You can’t really go wrong with the LBD!

Reiss Cocktail Dress

Reiss : Cocktail 2 piece Dress

Reiss : cocktail Dress with sequins

Reiss : cocktail Dress with sequins

Wedding – AKA “whatever the happy couple request!”

Neutral Dress Code Wedding. Picture Instagram:@kanevato

Neutral Dress Code Wedding. Picture Instagram:@kanevato

Dress codes for weddings might stipulate anything from a theme, traditional national dress or perhaps a certain colour or palette – like neutrals. Sometimes this might be in addition the code which might be on the spectrum from formal to smart casual. For Example a “Cocktail dress –  Tropical” might be a good theme for a wedding party in Bali. Or, “Smart Casual – Neutral colours” suggests the couple are hoping to see guests dressed in instagram-worthy linens, chinos and soft coloured dresses.


Eleanor & Lucas

Relaxed outside wedding looks for men. Denim shirts and linen blazers

Bodie & Ed

Traditional Dress Wedding India

Traditional Dress Wedding India

There is one golden rule that is to be followed without exception! Break it, and risk scorned looks from all in attendance, especially the bride. Women (in fact everyone) cannot wear white dresses unless the theme is white, or the bride has approved. Dare to dress in a white dress at a wedding without approval? Expect to be cancelled for life.

White Dresses Weddingpics

White Dresses Wedding pics

Plus, there are other rules about upstaging the bride too. So remember; save your glow in the dark, Cinderella dresses for the Met Gala!


Georgina Chapman And Karolina Kurkova Met Gala Manus X Machina

Georgina Chapman And Karolina Kurkova Met Gala Manus X Machina

Vanity Fair Claire Danes In Zac Posen

Vanity Fair Claire Danes In Zac Posen

Lounge Suit 

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Satin & Flowing skirts – Stakes Day – Lounge suit dress code


A lounge suit event is not like a cocktail party where one expects to stand while sipping cocktails. Even dancing well into the night. The Lounge suit code is for, well, lounging in. It requires those invited to dress demurely and somewhat formally. Think of a day at the races, a daytime wedding, business function or an occasion where the host is celebrating a special milestone. Guests are expected to bypass casual staples like denim, thongs and runners.


Reiss Satin Halter Dress Evvie

Reiss Satin Halter Dress Evvie

The Best Street Style From Seppelt Wines Stakes Day 2019 (1)

Reiss Printed Cut Out Lounge Suit Dress Code

Reiss Printed Cut Out Lounge Suit Dress Code

Wear dresses below the knee; midis and maxis, as long as they aren’t too casual. This usually means high heels are required. The elevated shirt dress is key here, and a slip dress in a statement print or vibrant satin colours.  The length of the dress can be extended if the event is in the morning.  In this case, dresses would normally made in a more casual fabrication like a floral print or linen, and lower heels can be worn.


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Floral day dresses – Lounge Suit dress code

A Gentleman's Style

Double Breasted Jackets

If you are attending a daytime function with a lounge-suit dress code, wear a smart jacket with a long skirt or smart trousers made from premium fabrics. For men – it’s a single, or double-breasted suit cut from the same cloth. Or, by modern expectations – just a normal suit that most men would have on hand. Generally designed to be worn with a shirt and tie, but not always, the lounge suit can be as exuberant or as pedestrian as you like. Try new colours or bold prints. Elevate classic colours with adventurous ties and matching pocket squares.

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ZARA – mens 3 piece pink suit including T-shirt

Reiss Mens Plaid Blazer, Navy Styling

Reiss Mens Plaid Blazer, Navy Styling

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Image of mens blazer, tie and pocket square


Take a glance at any of Melbourne’s Spring Carnival galleries for a glimpse inside the fanciest version of lounge suit attire for inspiration. Hats not required.

Smart Casual – Events and Business Casual.

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Assembly Label – Xavier Balazer, linen blend T-shirt and trouser

This code can be as bewildering for some, as it is easy to put together for others. Smart Casual essentially stands for simple yet elegant. By excluding traditional formal attire like tuxedos, sequins, suits, ties and long opulent gowns AND  typical casual items like thongs, beach shorts, sun dresses, tracksuits and ripped jeans….we arrive in the middle with  “smart casual”.

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As colour Chore Jacket, white T-shirt and black chino

Think well-fitting, polished business wear with elements of casual attire. Soft blouses, polo shirts, button-down shirts, chinos, dress pants, full length jumpsuits, dark-wash jeans, and polished, practical footwear. You can wear sneakers as part of a smart-casual dress code for women, men and gender-neutral styles. A simple (clean) t-shirt never fails to look its best under a blazer. Linen and cotton chinos are acceptable. Dresses can be in knitted fabrics or casual cottons, but not too sheer or revealing.

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Smart Casual Dress Code For Men 19 Best Smart Casual Outfit Ideas

Smart Casual Dress Code For Men

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Assembly Label Jumpsuit

This is often an appropriate dress code to attend a child’s birthday party, family lunch, casual dinner with friends or a bbq with work colleagues at the boss’s house. The same style applies for business casual. 

Business Formal – Corporate office attire.

Business Formal Elegant Satin

Business Formal Elegant Satin

This is what you might expect to wear at a job interview, when working in customer facing roles representing a brand or as a sales person. Those in senior positions in an office environment are more likely to choose this more formal style of office clothing.  This outfit needs to represent a personal brand image as a leader in a positive way, but also reflect well on behalf of the organisation. Business Formal is considered the highest level of professional dress attire. This means tailored suits and ties for men, and a pantsuit or skirt suit paired with conservative accessories and shoes for women.


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Pop of colour suit, with classic shell top

Cos Mens Business Formal Suit No Tie

Cos Brand : Mens Business Formal Suit No Tie

Cos 2 Piece Ladies Suit And Milano Knit

Cos Brand : 2 Piece Ladies Suit And Milano Knit

Reiss Business Formal Attire Men

Reiss Business Formal Attire Men

Reiss Knit Jersey Dress Business Formal

Reiss Knit Jersey Dress Business Formal

When employees are expected to maintain a high standard in their appearance, they may be directed to follow a business formal dress code. This could mean being provided with a uniform, or clothing allowance . Avoid anything revealing, low cut and in need of a clean. Polished footwear, heels with closed toes and no sandals are generally all appropriate.  It’s always a good idea to iron everything and maintain a good wash care routine to keep these outfits looking as good as new.

Reiss Chartreuse Suit With Satin Blouse

Reiss Chartreuse Suit With Satin Blouse

Think of business formal outfits as an investment, not fast fashion. Check out our helpful workwear care guide for tips to maintain a polished corporate look for longer.

Business Events – Tips for the office XMAS party outfit!

Business function “do’s and don’ts” can depend on the type of industry and demographic of the team.

If you’re new to the company, it’s best to err on the conservative side. Boldly turning up in a sheer gown that shows off your sexy underwear is a little too risky!  You might think it’s time to normalise dresses with crotch length splits, but members of the Board might think differently. Check out the pics from events held in recent years. That way you can get a feel for what standards are appropriate.

Xmas parties (or any social function hosted by your company or boss) can last several hours, even into the wee hours of the morning. Make sure you you choose an outfit that will be comfortable all day/ night. Especially if you’re attending straight from work. The last thing you want is a wardrobe malfunction of any kind! So, check for secure zips, seams and sensible necklines to avoid being the centre of water cooler gossip on Monday. Your best work pals might appreciate your after-hours staples of ultra mini skirts and bralets. You do you! However, Susan from HR might be the type to hold that kind of outfit against you at some point. Keep it dressy & sophisticated, especially if clients and partners are also in attendance. You’ll be bound to leave a great impression.

Group Of Friends Dressing Up For Christmas Party Together

As far as dress code etiquette goes –  stick with Lounge suit standards and you can’t go wrong. Or, since this is the one time of year its acceptable to wear reindeer antlers on your head, you can always wear you best business formal with a touch of xmas cheer! Essentially just being together and celebrating as a team is what the xmas party is all about.






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