Decipher the Fashion Slang: What Different Dress Codes Mean

Search Results Web results What All Those Confusing Dress Code Terms Really Mean

Sometimes I wish all events took place online, so I could avoid the drudgery of trying to match a dress code with my personal comfort. Sometimes I wish more events were like a night of gaming with no dress code, no mingling with the other patrons, not even leaving the house. To make it easier for you to decide what to wear to an event of any kind here is a short guide to what dress codes actually mean.

White tie

This is the most formal of all dress codes. It means “full evening dress”, consisting of a black tailcoat worn over a white starched shirt, a marcella waistcoat, and a white tie worn with a detachable collar. The men’s outfit is completed with a high-waist pair of black trousers, black patent shoes, and all the medals, decorations, and such. For women, white tie is easier to handle, as it’s a dress code similar to black tie which (luckily) has all but replaced this one by now.

Black tie

This is the easiest to handle – for men, that is. A man’s “black tie” outfit is a white dress shirt, a black bowtie, a cummerbund (a broad waist sash) or an evening waistcoat, a dinner jacket or tuxedo, and black Oxford dress shoes or patent leather pumps. For ladies, the outfit consists of a sleeveless evening gown or a tea length dress, often accompanied by gloves, and evening shoes.

Black tie optional

A rather vague dress code, offering men the option to wear either a tuxedo or a dark suit. For women, this dress code leaves a lot of room: they can wear anything from a “black tie” outfit to a cocktail dress.


This one is easy to pull off: for men, it’s a dark suit with a tie, for women, a short dress that’s party-ready. You can go with black paired with colorful accessories, or wear the colors of your choosing. You might sometimes come across the term “festive” dress code around the holidays – this is similar to the “cocktail”, but with a more festive atmosphere.

Business formal

The dress code of choice for semi-formal work-related events, like business lunches and conferences: a suit and tie for men, a tailored dress or a pantsuit for women.

Business casual

The dress code of choice for many companies’ everyday operations. For women, a pencil skirt with a blouse will always work but pants and a blazer are also a good option. For men, it’s chinos and a tucked-in shirt (no tie necessary). No jeans, no sneakers, no sandals, please!

Casual dressy

A bit dressier than your usual casual look. Pants or jeans, ankle boots, paired with a collared shirt will do just fine. For men, jeans and a blazer is a perfect choice.


This dress code means that you should simply go with your comfortable outfit – within reason, of course. Jeans and t-shirts paired with sneakers will do just fine.

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