Guide to Social Dress Codes

What should I wear? You have probably asked yourself this question about a hundred times already most especially during this time of the year when there is an endless array of parties to attend to. As if figuring out what to wear on a daily basis is not hard enough, choosing the appropriate attire for a specific event can be quite a challenge not just for women but for men as well.

In every event and place, there is always an appropriate attire or an acceptable normal clothing. The last thing that you want is to attract all the unnecessary attention by wearing the wrong clothes. I mean, you don’t want to show up to a party wearing blue jeans when everyone else is in their tuxedos and full length ballgowns, do you?

The funny thing is hosts are getting more and more creative when it comes to dress codes that most guests are often left to wonder. There is white or black tie, creative black tie, strictly formal, formal, dress to impress, business casual, business, festive, after five, creative cocktail and the list could go on and on. If you are invited to an event wherein you are not familiar with the dress code, the best thing to do is to ask the host directly on what you should wear. If you are still unsure on what to wear, here is a basic guide to help you decipher some of the common dress codes and what they really mean:


In a black tie event, guests are expected to come in strictly formal. This means that the hosts and organizers of the event put tremendous amount of effort in making the event grand and exceptional and as guests, they expected you to do the same.

Men: As the name implies, men are expected to come in your suit or tuxedos complete with a white dress shirt and a black tie. Unless specified as ‘black tie required’, men can opt to wear a dark dinner jacket or a Barong Tagalog, the Filipino national costume as an alternative. Finish the look with a pair of black oxford shoes.

Women: A tea length or a floor length ball gown is a must. Accessorise with glamorous jewelries like diamond drops or pearls. Invest in a minaudière, a small metallic decorative evening bag without handles. A pair of stilettos will look good with your long gown. However, do consider the height of your date too. Complete the look with an up do hairstyle.

When to Wear: Gala dinners, fundraisers, government ceremonies, upscale cultural fetes and weddings with receptions in ballrooms of luxury hotels

Source :


A semi-formal dress code lies between formal and informal. Although it is more relaxed and not as decorous and restricted as a formal wear, you are still expected to remain elegant, neat and sophisticated.

Men: If it is a daytime event, a light coloured suit can do the trick. You can even get away with wearing a solid dark coloured or black jeans coupled with a light coloured blazer and a tie. You can opt to wear a scarf or a pocket square instead of a tie. For evening, men should wear dark coloured suits. However, no matter what time the event is, the shoes should remain dressy.

The general rule is that the later the event, the darker and dressier your attire should be.

Women: This is the perfect time to wear your little white dress if it is daytime event or your little black dress for night time events. A knee-length cocktail dress or a two piece ensemble with either a dress pants or a long skirt coupled with a dressy top will also do. A nice floral sundress is also nice for a garden party. Complete your outfit with a nice pair of heels or any fancy footwear.

When to Wear: Weddings, birthday parties and other social events



Informal attire is often confused with casual attire. For the record, informal attire pertains to business attire. It is termed as such because it is meant to be less formal than a black tie or a tuxedo but it is still a little bit formal compared to casual. It is called a business attire because it is what employees wear to work. The degrees of formality varies depending on the company norms.

Generally, there are two kinds of business/informal attire:


The traditional business attire is basically what you wear during the job interview. It is simple and in neutral colours. Think black, navy blue, grey, white, brown and beige.

Men: Wear a business suit and a tie. Pair it with leather shoes. Keep your leather accessories conservative and your perfume subtle.

Women: A two-piece or three-piece attire is highly recommended. If a suit is too expensive for your budget, wear a blazer or a formal business blouse with your skirt or pants. Shoes should be closed toe and leather. Keep your heels low. Make-up, jewelries and perfume should be kept simple.

When to Wear: Job Interview, business meetings, daily work attire for some companies

Source:  CareerEdge Bentley University


Business casual is just a step down from business professional. It is typically the dress code of most companies for a more relax and comfortable atmosphere yet maintaining the professional image in a workplace.

Men: You can wear nice khakis or dress pants worn with a sports jacket or with a collared shirt. You can also wear patterned shirts or you can layer with a sweater. A turtleneck can also be worn.  Wearing a tie is optional.

Women: Any fashionable blouse will do as long as it has sleeves. You can layer it with a fancy sweater or blazer. It should not be too short, too tight nor too revealing. Casual jeans can also be worn by both men and women, however, it is recommended that you stick to the solid dark shades and avoid worn-out jeans at all costs.

When to Wear: Casual Fridays and everyday work attire for companies with a relaxed atmosphere

Source:  Jesse Lynch Amazon


Smart casual is basically a combination of business and casual. It is a step below informal wear and at the same time a step above casual wear.

Men: Wear dressy pants or your solid dark coloured jeans with a collared shirt. Pair it with you loafers or brogues.

Women: A slacks, a skirt or even a pair of jeans are normally accepted as smart casual. Pair them with a nice trendy top. Make it a little dressier by wearing heeled booties, wedges or fancy flats.

When to Wear: Church, dinner, friends night out and your weekend staple attire

Source:  Cute Fashion Trends Youtube


Casual wear emphasizes comfort rather than formality. This simply means that you can come as you are.

Men: Wear your jeans, shirts, shorts or whatever it is that you feel comfortable with. For shoes, you can wear boots, sneakers or your moccasins.

Women: Wear sneakers, flats or sandals with your jeans, shorts or summer dresses. And don’t forget to put a little lip gloss.

When to Wear: Backyard barbecue, get-together with kids or neighbors

Source:  Casualweardesigns2014

Wearing the correct social attire need not be expensive. You don’t need to have a room full of clothes to be able to follow the dress codes. All you  need is a closet complete with all the basic fashion must haves.

Whatever the dress code is, make sure that your clothes are always clean and wrinkle free. Although your clothes does not define your value as a person, what you wear influences how others perceive you. That’s the psychology of dressing.


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