Monday, September 19, 2011

What Do the Dress Descriptions Like “Business Casual,” “Summer Wedding,” “Cocktail Attire,” and “Black Tie” All Really Mean?

Fashion etiquette isn’t what it once was, but that doesn’t mean dress codes don’t apply. You probably won’t be shunned for wearing white after Labor Day, but showing up to a wedding sporting the latest Lady Gaga style probably isn’t a good idea. It can be hard to know just what the rules are for all of the various codes you see on invitations. To take the guesswork out of your next invite, just follow the basic rules in this helpful little primer.

Black Tie

Men don’t have actually have to wear a black tie, but they should wear a tux-- and the powder blue one with the ruffled shirt they wore to the prom back in 1976 won’t cut it. Women should wear a fancy-shmancy cocktail dress or long formal dress.


In most cases this means a monkey suit for the man again. If the invitation is to an uber hip party, where trendy counts, a tux with an expensive shirt but no tie might be acceptable. For women, the same rules as Black Tie apply.

Black Tie Optional

This is Black Tie with an out for those who can’t afford a tux or can’t fit into the one they have anymore. Men should go with a dark suit if they’re sans tux. Women should wear a nice cocktail dress or long gown.

White Tie

For the ultra high class party, the invite might designate White Tie. If someone puts this on their invitation, they mean it. Men should wear a white tie and vest with their tuxedo and women should wear a long formal gown. No cocktail dresses.


Semi-Formal means men are free of the tuxedo requirement but should wear a nice suit. A dark colored suit is preferred for evening events. Women don’t have to trip over long formal gowns for this one-- a cocktail dress in the evening or a nice dress during the day will suffice.

Business Formal

Business Formal has the same rules as Semi-Formal for men, but women should opt for more business-appropriate attire like a well-tailored suit.

Cocktail Attire

Dark suits for him and that little black dress for her.


Don’t let this one fool you. It does not mean come as you are, ripped jeans and all. It’s just another way of saying men should wear a suit and women should wear a dress. Think Cocktail or Business Formal.

Dressy Casual

Men should choose nice slacks and a sports coat. Women should wear a dress or nice pants suit.

Business Casual

Men can drop the blazer if they want, but should still wear nice pants and an oxford-style shirt. Women can wear dresses or skirts as long as they’re not too short or a nice pair of pants and blouse.


Finally, you can take out those jeans. You shouldn’t wear the stuff you clean your yard with, but something clean and without too many holes will do. These are your running errands or going to the movie clothes.

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