What The Codes Mean:

I know. You hear the word dress code and something inside you inwardly cringes. The very words make you want to rise against the establishment, rage against the machine, and all of that noise. But, dress codes are a part of life that we all have to live with. They don’t have to be restrictive; you just have to know what you can and cannot do so that you can make the dress code
your own. You have to know the rules before you can break them after all!

Black Tie – Think social gatherings and fine dining!

For men: This means a tuxedo. A dark or black suit is not ‘as good’ for a black tie event. Unfortunately, for men this isn’t going to be one of those times you are going to have a lot of room to express your individualism. A simple, classic tuxedo with black bow tie is exactly what you’re looking for.

For women: This means elegance. Think long gowns, although a very nice cocktail dress would work also! If you’ve been looking for an excuse to go to a salon… you are in luck! Visit your hairdresser, talk to your nail tech, or whoever helps you dazzle a crowd! Don’t forget jewelry!

  • As a side note, you may or may not run into what some call White Tie. This is not the same as black tie; it is very specific about what men and women can and can’t wear. You won’t see this term often, but I wanted to include it just in case you run into it.
    • Men: A tailcoat, white vest, white shirt and white bow tie.
    • Women: Beaded gowns. If you have a stylist or buyer, they may need a call. think super formal weddings and awards.

Black Tie Invited – This means social gatherings and fine dining where a tuxedo or gown is not completely necessary!

For men: Your host would love for you to wear a tuxedo, but you will not be turned away if you aren’t. However, the only other real option is a dark (black) suit and tie.
Any less formal and you will stick out like a sore thumb.

For women: This is pretty much the same as above. A light sun dress wouldn’t work here as it’s not formal enough. At this point, you’re still trying to dazzle and impress the hire-ups, parents, or random paparazzi. Will there be paparazzi there? I don’t know, but why take that chance?

Black Tie Optional – Still more social gatherings, and fine dining!

For men: Good news! If you would like to wear a tuxedo, you can, but your host would be happy as long as you wear a dark (black or navy) suit and tie. How’s that for fantastic! A whole night of semi-comfortable, just for you!

For women: Black tie optional is the same as black tie. Women have more variety in what is available to wear in these situations, but should stick with the long gown or nice cocktail-length dress. As with black tie, a trip to the hairdresser is appropriate.

Cocktail Attire – Social gatherings, and some fine dining!

For men: Cocktail attire for guys equals suit and tie or coat and tie. Colors and fabrics may vary, season or location pending.

For women: Cocktail-length dress that varies with color and fabric also depending upon season or location. It’s a way less formal event than black tie, but it still calls for you impressing someone. Hair and make-up should be appropriate to the time of day (early evening).

Business Casual – You’ll typically see this at a business or some restaurants that are trying to maintain a certain look and atmosphere.

For men: Wearing a suit and tie would be overdressing. Khakis, slacks, button down collars, and maybe a sport coat, if you feel the need to have one. A tie isn’t strictly necessary. Feel free to break out that pink shirt or pumpkin colored polo. Jeans, however, are not business casual.

For women: Skirts, pants, blouses and dresses in simple comfortable fabrics are the order for the day! Your clothes will need to be more conservative with the way you dress, but color is not outlawed – wear something that would be appropriate to the office environment. As above for the guys, jeans are not business casual for the ladies either.

California Casual – This is a workplace term not used often in more conservative areas.

First, let me caution you with this one. You aren’t going to see this much outside of the West Coast of the US. This basically means that for men and women, anything goes such as jeans, polos, and nice pullovers. In the summer months, you might even see shorts. If you have a company that has this option for dress code, please practice sense when dressing and make sure that your clothes project the kind of work that you’re doing. Meeting with clients would still dictate that you wear more conservative options.

Casual – Yet even more social gatherings, business and dining!

Regardless of gender, this is a very informal environment that gives you greater freedom of expression! You’ll usually see this at a workplace on Fridays or maybe a backyard barbecue. Jeans,
shorts, and t-shirts are fine. (T-shirts with logos that are not for a little league team or the like is not work appropriate.) This is your chance to be you and be comfortable, but still presentable.

Some Other Useful Terms:

Jacket Preferred/Required – Used by restaurants, this means that they prefer gentlemen to wear a dinner jacket. For women, a dress or nice dress pants are always a good idea.

Jacket and Tie Required – Same as above, but with the addition of a tie.

Semi-Formal Attire – A suit or gown isn’t necessary, but it still requires that you stick to clothes in which you would be taken seriously. Take what you would wear to a nice dinner and ramp it up!