The Secret Code of Dresses

Whether you’ve been invited to a casual party, a formal dinner, or a cocktail evening, there is much to decode in those words. Most events rely on guests to set the tone with their attire, so the last thing you’ll want to do is show up to a white tie gathering in cargo shorts. Here’s a guide to help you unravel the secret meaning behind the words on your invitation cards.



Casual is easy. So easy, in fact, it’s never really a dress code. A dress that is short and in a cotton-like fabric will do. Embellishments and jewels —real or not— push an ensemble towards more formality. Flats, sandals, or even sneakers are generally permitted under this umbrella.

Pants, shorts, and skirt-wise, denim is welcome. Depending on your personal style, a crop top or everyday T-Shirt or tank top can work, as well.

Business Casual

When it comes to business casual, casual Friday should come to mind. This means that you can wear your everyday clothes but with an added hint of professionalism.

Mid-length skirts are the best length for this category, and it’s best to stay away from mini skirts or short shorts. Items with tears and holes are normally not meant for the office, either, which means they won’t qualify for business casual. Dark denim is usually acceptable, and you can rarely go wrong with a blazer or a button up.

A business casual dress code can vary based on the event in question. So while most people are fine with sneakers and tennis shoes, some aren’t. If you’re unsure about your chosen footwear, it might be worth it to ask the host before the party.


When it comes to business attire, you should dress like your boss is watching which means jeans are unfortunately a no. Colors, patterns, and accessories are fine, but should be juxtaposed with something professional. A patterned tie, for instance, should be paired with a simple suit or button up. For women, a printed top can be paired with a simple pencil skirt. Shoe options are limited to formal styles, so sneakers, open-toes, and boots are generally not included in this form of attire.

Accessories are typically more restrained, but one statement piece with a button up ensemble makes a stylish office outfit perfect for a business lunch.


Semi-formal attire is usually chosen for christenings, baptisms, or fancy dinner parties. Mid to knee length dresses are ideal. Pants, exceptionally nice shorts, or even designer-inspired jumpsuits pass the semi-formal test. Feel free to opt for a hat or a nice broche to add a nice touch to your outfits.


Cocktail is fun semi-formal chance to express yourself. The term cocktail-length dress arose from the need for unencumbered dancing after a few drinks.  

Opt for pieces with some sequins, glitter, or sparkle. For men, take your style up a step with a pop of color in your blazer or shoes. Feel free to get glammed and experiment with a bold accessory or perhaps a colored shawl. This style is about fun and showing off your personality!


If the Queen of England throws a barbecue, she would have her guests arrive in garden attire. If this ever is demanded of you, a hat or fascinator is probably necessary, as are pastel colors. The key is being feminine and demure, which means dresses and skirts only.


The Met Gala and the Oscars are considered to be formal events. While formal events may be oftentimes confused with black tie, the major difference is that formal events are fancy, but color can still be incorporated. For women, long gowns are common, but pantsuits have been done. And as long as it’s past the knee and there are sparkles, a midi-dress will work. Heels are kind of a given, and most often expected at formal events.

Black Tie

For women attending black tie events, gowns are more explicitly implied, and outfits should be elegant, classy, and not overly sexy. Also, heels and jewels are expected at these events, so be sure to opt for pieces that work well with your gown.

Depending on the level of the event, some hosts might set up a wardrobe registry. Through such a portal, guests can note what colors, styles, or designs they will be wearing to make sure no one else in attendance comes wearing the same ensemble.

White Tie

If you are not a member of a royal family or are friends with someone royal, this is just fun to bring up at your cocktail parties. But in the off chance that you will be attending a royal ball, gloves, gowns, jewels,and tiaras are typically adorned to impress the world. No tuxedos are found at white tie events, rather men will opt for coats and tails.


Dressing can be complicated, but all the codes have basic principles that you can at least scrape by on. Look out for these keywords next time you get an invite to a party, and come prepared and dressed to the nines!