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Dress Codes De-coded

Updated: Jun 1, 2020

This week has seen some fabulous events that have invited guests to adhere to a strict dress codes, Adele’s Birthday party with its Titanic theme and not forgetting the Met Gala’s, ‘’Fashion and Catholic Imagination theme’’. Now, not many of us are likely to have received an invite to either, however this time of year is full of invites to weddings, the races, summer balls and celebrity red carpet events and so to ensure you’re not struck with horror when that invite arrives, here is a reminder of the more traditional dress codes that you may need to understand.


White tie is reserved for extremely formal occasions and is the most elegant of evening wear, however if you’ve ever wondered what the difference is you’re probably not alone. An event is considered white tie if:

  1. The event is attended by a head of state; a lord, aristocrat, politician or royalty.

  2. The event is an evening wedding after 7.00pm

  3. Other formal occasions after 7.00pm


  1. Similarly, to black tie it is expected that a black tuxedo should be worn.

  2. A white dress shirt should be worn under the suit and potentially with a white waistcoat

  3. A white bow tie, with a matching pocket square looks fabulous

  4. Other accessories such as a white silk scarf, white gloves and white braces add refined finishing touches to the overall look.

  5. Black patent dress shoes


  1. Full-length, formal evening dresses are required with or without sleeves. If the dress is sleeveless long gloves will be needed.

  2. Shorter dresses or trousers, no matter how smart, are not acceptable.

  3. Gloves should be worn en-route to an event, in a receiving line, when shaking hands and dancing. They are removed when eating (even a canapé) and at the dinner table. They should be taken off finger by finger and rested on the lap under the napkin.

  4. Hair should be worn up and in an elegant style.


Black tie events are usually very formal and if the dress code is mandatory it is possible you will be refused entry if you are not dressed appropriately.


  1. Black tie events are more than just an invitation to wear a bow tie, it’s also a request that you wear a tuxedo. Black tuxedo’s are the colour of choice for 99% of the time but occasionally midnight blue may also be worn. Velvet is also a fabric that can occasionally worn but this is normally by exception.

  2. Waistcoats can be worn but are not essential.

  3. Black patent dress shoes should be worn.

  4. White dress shirts should be worn and cuffs shouldn’t be viisible

  5. Black bow tie and cummerbund.


For womenswear there is slightly more choice in varying your choice of outfit, depending on fashion, time of year and your own personal taste:

  1. It is not mandatory to wear a floor length gown, however dresses should be no shorter than the knee. A cocktail dress is appropriate in a suitable fabric for evening wear.

  2. Trousers are acceptable but should be in a formal fabric, such as crepe, silk or chiffon

  3. An elegant clutch bag compliments the overall look

  4. Accessories can be costume jewellery but should be elegant and appropriate (i.e; no tiara’s)

  5. Closed toe shoes should be worn rather than open toe evening shoes.

  6. Hair can be worn either up or down as preferred


There are many different dress codes associated with different race meets across the country, it is best to check with the specific event before attending to ensure you are appropriately dressed. Races such as Ascot in the Royal enclosure tend to have a strict dress code and guidelines. If you are in any doubt keep your outfit classy and sophisticated taking note of the following:


  1. A suit in a style that suits your shape, in a dark colour with the appropriate fabric weight

  2. If you decided not to wear a suit a smart, formal jacket with a lighter colour trouser can be a nice alternative with a tie and matching pocket square.

  3. Shoes should be formal although dress shoes aren’t required.

  4. More information on Ascot


  1. Hats should be worn, however, a headpiece which has a solid base of four inches (10 cm) or more is an acceptable alternative to a hat.

  2. Dresses and skirts should fall just above the knee or longer.

  3. Dresses and tops should have straps of one inch or greater.

  4. Trouser suits and jumpsuits are a nice alternative to the traditional dress, but they should be full length and in matching material and colour

  5. More information on Ascot dress code



  1. Normally a dark coloured suit with a tie is considered appropriate

  2. Dark coloured shoes of a complimentary colour, in a formal style

  3. You can interject some colour into your outfit through a pocket square, coloured tie, cuff links


  1. Cocktail dresses tend to be more dramatic and glamourous than traditional, classic evening wear and come in a variety of colours, fabrics and styles

  2. If you’re not feeling super confident a little black dress that fits perfectly can be dressed up with statement shoes, some fun jewellery

  3. Heeled shoes are normally the shoe of choice


Generally a dress code that specifies ‘lounge suit’ means tailoring of a more relaxed style of suit or outfit.


  1. Jackets should be dark, particularly if the event is at night or rather corporate. If the event is during the day, a lighter jacket is acceptable in the summer.

  2. Trousers should match the jacket and dark socks are a must, preferably the same colour as the suit.

  3. Shoes should be a dark leather and always wear socks. Let your personality shine through and include your own individual style and interpretation in making the outfit your own.


  1. A smart dress in a jersey, or slightly softer fabric with a jacket

  2. Suits can be worn but to avoid it looking like you have come straight from the office some nice accessories such as statement jewellery or a scarf to soften the look is a good option

  3. Smart shoes with an appropriate heel height depending on the length of your skirt or trousers

Smart Casual

Smart casual dress codes tend to be highly ambiguous and people interpret them in wildly different ways. Generally smart casual means neat but relatively informal, the following can help you make appropriate choices:

  1. Denim can be worn but should be balanced with either a formal jacket or shirt (men & women). If you are going to wear ripped denim you will need to ensure that the other aspects of your outfit are sufficiently smart to counteract the more edgey look.

  2. Sportswear in the main, is not appropriate although the lines are blurred with the more sport-luxe items, therefore if you choose to go down this route, ensure that your shoes or outerwear elevate your overall look.

  3. Trousers can be worn, for women styles such as tailored crops or palazzo pants are a great option and for men trousers in a heavier cotton style can be mixed with a smarter shirt or jacket.

  4. Flat shoes, pumps, wedges are all acceptable for women

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