How to decode the dress code

Published on 13 October 2017

How to decode the dress code

The days are heating up and the party season is about to begin. But as the end-of-year revels roll around, there’s one little hurdle in your party prep – what does the dress code on the invitation mean?

Black tie? Cocktail? Semi-formal? Smart casual? Even the most seasoned and stylish can find the differences between popular dress styles downright confusing.

But we’ve got a trick up our sleeve. Demystify the most common dress codes with this handy guide so you can put your most stylish foot forward with confidence – whatever the celebration.


Black Tie: Classic elegance to modern muse

Weddings and formals and balls, oh my! Black tie events are a chance to step out of the everyday and into a sartorial fantasy. Traditionally, black tie means a black bow tie worn with a dinner jacket for men and formal evening dress for women, so you usually won’t be getting this dress code for a day event. If it’s ‘black tie optional’, tuxedo isn’t required for the gents, but is still suitable.

For a black tie ‘do’, it’s hard to beat the stately drama of a floor length gown for women, and Forever New and Fuchsia are the perfect places to find such a dream dress. But since it is 2017, you can dare to dazzle with an edgier outfit – just be sure to keep the elegance of the occasion in mind.

Start by picking a style icon – someone whose style never fails to make you swoon. Whether it’s classic Audrey, oh-so-cool Kendall or the flair of The Killers’ Brandon Flowers, there are endless ways to blend black tie formality with your own style inspiration.


Cocktail: Shake, stir and shimmy in the perfect cocktail ensemble

The name of the cocktail game is fun, so get those legs out with a knee-skimming dress. Look out for clean lines and attention to detail when scanning your favourite shops for a cocktail ensemble.

This dress code calls for darker tones suited to evening. For men, it means a darker shade for suits, while for women, a never-fail LBD like City Beach's Lydia Dress, accented with flashes of metal, or a geometric clutch from Colette. For a daytime celebration, experiment with a brighter look, like Target's floral dresses, or for men, the non-traditional coloured shirts from Connor. Ladies can add a killer pair of heels, like Betts' statement Paris stilettos, which will make whoever wears them the toast of the party.


Semi-Formal: Stylish, thoughtful, comfortable

A step down from straight up formal attire, the ‘semi-formal’ dress code can feel like a bit of a curve ball.

Sportsgirl has a host of pieces that perfectly fit the brief, like its Off Shoulder Spot Dress, Embroidered Mini Wrap Dress, and its Ruffle Hem Maxi Dress. We also love the Maxi Dress selection from City Chic. Semi-formal is all about looking thoughtfully put together, but comfortable – think nicer than your best office attire, but more relaxed than your fanciest evening wear. For men, that’s a dark or light-coloured (depending on the season and the time of day) suit and tie. Women can also opt for a dressy skirt and top combination.    


Smart Casual: Easy and breezy

At the breeziest end of the dress code spectrum is ‘smart casual’ – so get ready to tousle your hair, don a floaty top or slip into a beautiful crisp sundress. It’s about being neat and conventional, while also remaining informal – so no statement looks here. Tailored pants paired with brogues are a great option for men and women – ladies also can’t go wrong some pretty flats or sandals. For women looking for something extra to bring their look together, try some eye-catching jewellery like Lovisa's Red Statement Fringe earrings or adding a cute bag or clutch like Rubi's Moonrise Bag.


Be Yourself

The most important thing to remember when dressing for any occasion is to be yourself – you don’t want to feel awkward or uncomfortable when you’re meant to be having fun. Decoding the dress code is a satisfying feeling, but only when the ensemble makes you feel wonderful. So find an outfit that ticks the right boxes but also puts a spring in your step.