The Definitive Guide to
Understanding Dress Codes

“What should I wear?” the question men and women often ask friends, family, or the ever insightful Google when confronted by a new or unfamiliar dress code. Smart Casual, Cocktail, Black Tie or any number of other dress codes, they all have their own guidelines on what to wear and how to wear it.


What does that style mean and how do I wear it?

The more formal the occasion, the more intricate the guidelines. Use our guide below to learn what the dress code really means, as well as our suggestion of what you should wear and recommendation of the top Australian stores to shop for that style.  

Before you start shopping for a new outfit.

'The type of event is always the first thing I look at and use to form my interpretation of the dress code,' says Anna Mace, NSW Talent Manager at one of Australia's premiere modelling agencies Wink Models (you can follow Anna on her Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/annamacenyc/). Claire Goldsworthy, founder and editor of The Fashion Advocate, suggests doing your research, 'if it’s an annual event, I’ll look back through social media photos to see what everyone wore last year, I’ll try and find out who’s going and what they usually wear.'

What type of event is it?
A formal gala or a more casual dinner party?


Where will the event be hosted?
Anna suggests looking at where the venue will be hosted, 'I also look at the venue online to see how I can picture myself fitting into the environment.'

Who is invited and what are they likely to wear?
If you know the other attendees, you can ask them what they are wearing.



Day Time Transitioning into Evening

Casual through to Morning Dress, daytime attire has its own particular dress codes that can trip the ill-prepared at special events. Read on to be sure that you are ready for any occasion, no matter what dress code it is.



Casual

Viewed as one of the easier dress codes to manage, there are a few pointers to keep in mind. As a general rule it is best to skip any clothing with holes or tears - unless purposely designed that way. Ideally, you should aim to maintain a tasteful style, even if you are just shopping for groceries.

For Women
Wear what you feel comfortable in and what you 
think would best suit the event and situation.

For Men
The same advice for men in this case, wear what 
you find comfortable and think is best for the occasion.

Where to Buy


Price Range


Women’s Fashion


Men’s Fashion


Stores for Both

  Low

  Glassons
  Sportsgirl
  Sussan
  TopShop
  Zara Industrie

  Peter Jackson
  Politix
  TopMan 


  Zara Mens
  ASOS
  H&M
  Just Jeans
  The Iconic
  Uniqlo 

  Medium

 
  Country Road
  French Connection
  Gorman
  Seed
  Sportscraft
  Viktoria and Woods
  Witchery

  Rodd and Gunn
  Roger David Guess

  The Iconic 

  High

 
  Camilla and Marc
  Lee Mathews
  Sass and Bide

 


  R.M. Williams
  Ralph Lauren
  The Iconic

 

 
Smart Casual

One of the most common dress codes, this style has the highest number of varieties and is often viewed as one of the most confusing. 'I usually pick 2 casual pieces and one chic piece to polish the look. Don’t look like a bum but don’t look like you’re going to prom either!' says Anna Mace. It is best to avoid shorts and jeans or shirts that are old or worn-out. Claire Goldsworthy adds,'be polished but in your own unique way.

It’s also got a lot to do with your demeanour and behaviour, how you hold yourself and how you conduct yourself.' 'The ‘smart casual’ dress code causes confusion because our values and social norms have changed dramatically in the last few decades. A lot of people don’t know the difference between cocktail and smart casual.'  

For Women 
A knee length skirt, nice jeans or trousers with a button-up shirt or polo shirt. For work, if the dress code is smart casual, you can add a blazer to dress up your outfit. Depending on the occasion, Claire recommends boyfriend jeans as a must-have. 'They can work with a blazer and cropped boots, or a sequin tank and sneakers.'

For Men
Closed in shoes, nice jeans or trousers, and a polo or button-up shirt. In the workplace. Adding a bold blazer to your outfit can dress up your outfit and is a great investment for a variety of looks. Claire says you can, 'tone it down over a plain tee and casual pants.' 

Where to Buy


Price Range


Women’s Fashion


Men’s Fashion


Stores for Both

  Low

 
  Bardot
  Portmans
  Sussan
  TopShop
  Zara
  Industrie

  Politix
  TopMan
  Zara Mens
  ASOS

  H&M
  Just Jeans
  The Iconic
  Uniqlo

  Medium

  
  C/MEO
  Collective
  Gorman
  Kookai
  Seed
  Sportscraft

  Calibre
  Rodd and Gunn
  Roger David
 Country Road Group 

  Guess
  The Iconic

  High

 
  Camilla and Marc
  Lee Mathews
  Sass and Bide
  Scanlan and Theodore
  Viktoria and Woods

  Ben Sherman
  P Johnson 

 

  R.M. Williams
  Ralph Lauren
  The Iconic

 


Summer Suits, Garden Party and Beach Formal

This dress code is bit more dressy and is often seen at parties or even weddings during the warmer seasons. Consider the environment of where the event is hosted is the most important step. For instance, in a garden event women would typically wear wedge heels or flat shoes to avoid sinking in the grass, or a nice pair of sandals or other open-toe shoes are better equipped for a beach event.

For Women
Summer dresses that are light and flowing. If the event is likely to go into the evening, add a light shawl or short jacket to ensure you stay warm.

For Men

Lighter coloured suits in a linen or other breathable material are the expected style.

 Where to Buy

Price Range Women’s Fashion Men’s Fashion Stores for Both

  Low 

  Forever New
  Portmans
  Sportsgirl
  TopShop
  Zara 


  Industrie
  Peter Jackson
  Politix
  TopMan
  Zara Mens
  ASOS 

  H&M
  Just Jeans
  The Iconic
  Uniqlo

  Medium


  Alannah Hill
  Alice McCall
  Bec and Bridge
  C/MEO Collective
  Steele
  Talulah

  Calibre
  Rodd and Gunn
  Roger David
  T.M. Lewin

  Country Road Group
  Guess
  The Iconic
  Witchery 

  High

   AJE
  Camilla and Marc
  Thurley
  Zimmerman

 
  Ben Sherman
  Hugo Boss
  Jack London
  M.J. Bale
  P Johnson 

  R.M. Williams
  Ralph Lauren
  The Iconic 

 


Lounge Suit

One of the most versatile dress codes, lounge suits can often be spotted at both business and social events. Originally created as a less formal style for men playing sports or when attending outdoor events in the 19th century, the 21st century casual style has greatly evolved since then. Lounge Suits are often the dress code for those occasions that require some dressing up but are still relaxed gatherings.

For Women
A smart dress paired with heels and a clutch. As this dress code’s roots are set in dressing down but still appearing chic, it is important to choose simpler jewellery and clothes. Claire Goldsworthy says the best investment for this dress code is bling, 'a simple understated dress teamed with one big rock and some drop earrings can look divine.'  

For Men
A 2-piece suit in blue, grey or taupe shades with a tie. Adding a vest to create a 3 piece suit is optional but less common. Claire says a tailored suit is a must for men,'there’s nothing worse than an ill-fitting suit.'  

Where to Buy

Price Range Women’s Fashion Men’s Fashion Stores for Both

  Low

  Forever New
  Portmans
  TopShop
  Zara


  Industrie
  Peter Jackson
  Politix
  TopMan
  Zara Mens
  ASOS

  H&M
  The Iconic
  Uniqlo

  Medium

 
  Alannah Hill
  Cue
  French Connection
  Saba
  Talulah

 
  Calibre
  Declic
  Rodd and Gunn
  Roger David
  T.M. Lewin 

  Country Road Group
  Guess
  The Iconic
  Witchery 

  High

   
  AJE
  Camilla and Marc
  Ginger and Smart
  Rebecca Vallance
  Scanlan and Theodore
  Zimmerman

  Ben Sherman
  Hugo Boss
  Jack London
  M.J. Bale
  P Johnson 

  R.M. Williams
  Ralph Lauren
  The Iconic 

 


Morning Dress

For those highly formal occasions such as official or ceremonial events that occur during the day, Morning Dress is the dress code you can expect to see. However, once the clock strikes 6pm, similar to Cinderella, the Morning Dress dress code must transform. As it is no longer considered day after 6pm, the Morning Dress evening equivalent, White Tie, must instead be worn.

For Women
Knee-length formal dresses or skirts worn with a tailored jacket, shrug or pashmina to cover bare shoulders. Hats are common but not a necessity. This dress code is somewhat similar to what you would expect to wear to the Melbourne Cup races in a more formal setting.

For Men
This dress code has some specific rules for men. A black or grey Morning Coat paired with plain black or grey trousers with black stripes and a waistcoat over a dress shirt. A grey or black top hat is expected, but must only be worn when at the races. The Morning Coat has a very particular design where it is longer at the back. 

Where to Buy

Price Range Women’s Fashion Men’s Fashion Stores for Both

  Low

 
  Portmans

 
  Peter Jackson
  Politix


  ASOS
  The Iconic

  Medium 


  By Johnny
  Cue
  Nicola Finetti
  Witchery

  Calibre
  Declic

  Guess
  The Iconic

  High


  Bianca Spender
  Camilla and Marc
  Carla Zampatti
  Rebecca Vallance
  Scanlan and Theodore

  Hugo Boss
  Jack London
  M.J. Bale
  P Johnson 

  Ralph Lauren
  The Iconic

 


Evening Dress Codes

One of the most iconic and renowned; evening dress codes are more formal and range from styles you would wear when attending night clubs through to red carpet events. If day and evening wear were special agents, Jason Bourne would be day styles and evening styles are James Bond.


Cocktail Party

Typically aim for a well dressed, polished look in darker colours. The cocktail party dress code can vary in formality so you must always be sure to consider the type of event and who is going.

For Women
The wardrobe staple for women, the classic 'little black dress' is sure to be a success. Just remember, the hemline shouldn’t be shorter than knee length. Add in that little bit extra, Claire recommends, 'a quirky clutch in a bold print or unusual shape (not matched to your shoes).'

For Men
Ties are optional in this dress code but a darker suit is the expected style. If you don’t own a suit a nice jeans paired with a sports coat or jacket are perfectly acceptable. To bring your outfit to the next level, Claire Goldsworthy suggests going sockless with a pair of cool loafers and slightly cropped pants.

Where to Buy

Range Women’s Fashion Men’s Fashion Stores for Both

  Low

  Bardot
  Forever New
  Portmans
  Zara


  Industrie
  Peter Jackson
  Politix
  TopMan
  Zara Mens 


  ASOS
  COS
  H&M
  The Iconic
  Uniqlo 

  Medium


  Bec and Bridge
  C/MEO
  Collective
  Cue
  Kookai
  Nicola Finetti
  Talulah

  Calibre
  Declic
  Roger David
  T.M. Lewin 

  Guess
  The Iconic

  High

 
  Alex Perry
  Bianca Spender
  Carla Zampatti
  Dion Lee
  Manning Cartell
  Rebecca Vallance
  Sass and Bide
  Scanlan and Theodore
  Zimmerman

  Ben Sherman
  Hugo Boss
  Jack London
  M.J. Bale
  P Johnson 

  Ralph Lauren
  The Iconic

 


Semi Formal

Similar to Black Tie, but one level lower in dressiness; you can leave the evening gloves and black bow tie at home. The primary difference between the two is that Black Tie event attendees must wear a tuxedo or evening gown, whereas semi formal allows attendees to choose if they want to dress up or down as they please. If you aren’t certain of what to wear, research of the event, where the venue is, and who is going.  

For Women
A cocktail dress, or long skirt paired with a nice top and evening shoes.

For Men
Business suit and tie with dress shoes. It’s not uncommon to wear a vest, but it is optional.

Where to Buy

Range Women’s Fashion Men’s Fashion Stores for Both

  Low

  Portmans
  Forever New
  Zara Industrie

  Peter Jackson
  Politix
  Zara Mens


  ASOS
  COS
  Guess
  H&M
  The Iconic

  Medium

 
  Cue
  Kookai
  Nicola Finetti
  Saba
  Viktoria and Woods

   Calibre
  Declic
  Roger David
  T.M.Lewin

  The Iconic
  High Bianca Spender
  Camilla and Marc
  Carla Zampatti

  High

  Rebecca Vallance
  Scanlan and Theodore


  Ben Sherman
  Hugo Boss
  Jack London
  M.J. Bale
  P Johnson

  Ralph Lauren
  The Iconic

 


Black Tie and Formal

Most often reserved for special life events such as weddings, or high society parties, Black Tie is the second most formal evening dress code. Tuxedos and long evening gowns are to be expected for this dress code. Claire suggests - for men, 'quirky printed socks to brighten up the black,'

For Women
Long evening gown with evening jewellery. Gloves are optional, but not something women commonly wear. If gloves are worn, you must remember to remove them when eating. The underwear you choose to wear, can greatly affect your outfit. Claire says, 'the most expensive dress can look like the cheapest with the wrong underwear.'

For Men
Typically a black tuxedo over a white dress shirt with a black bow tie and paired with dress shoes. Add a pop of colour to your outfit. Claire recommends quirky printed socks are a great way to brighten up the black.

Where to Buy

Range Women’s Fashion Men’s Fashion Stores for Both

  Low

 


  Peter Jackson
  Politix

 
  ASOS
  The Iconic

  Medium


  Cue
  Nicola Finetti


  Calibre
  Declic

  The Iconic

  High


  Alex Perry
  Carla Zampatti
  Dion Lee
  Maticevski
  Rebecca Vallance
  Sass and Bide
  Scanlan and Theodore

  Hugo Boss
  Jack London
  M.J. Bale
  P Johnson

  Ralph Lauren
  The Iconic 

  


White Tie

Saved for only the most formal and ceremonial of occasions, White Tie is the evening dress code equivalent of Morning Dress. You can expect to see this dress code at high society weddings, parties, and events.

For Women
Long evening dresses with gloves and classy evening heels are typical in this dress code. It is important to remember to remove your gloves when eating, but drinking cocktails by the bar with your evening gloves is no problem at all.

For Men 
Black coat with tails over a white vest and white dress shirt. And, of course, a white bow tie.

Where to Buy

Range Women’s Fashion Men’s Fashion Stores for Both

  Low

 

  Peter Jackson


  ASOS
  The Iconic

  Medium

 

 
  Calibre


  The Iconic

  High


  Alex Perry
  Bianca Spender
  Carla Zampatti
  Maticevski
  Rebecca Vallance

  Hugo Boss
  Jack London
  M.J. Bale
  P Johnson

  Ralph Lauren
  The Iconic 




Lasting Advice

No matter what dress code you are going to wear, Anna Mace suggests you invest in something black and high quality, 'black is always your friend and you can layer all of your black together. Play with textures and statement pieces to keep it chic and memorable.'

Claire Goldsworthy adds, 'looking good and feeling great is all about creativity and finding that ‘special’ thing that you connect with, it doesn’t matter what brand it is, if it’s preloved or new, or how much you paid for you (keeping ethics in mind of course!)'

Now that you are equipped with a thorough knowledge of the dress code basics and what each one commonly means, you won’t be caught off-guard no matter what dress code your next event invitation specifies!

  

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Are you planning a wedding in the near future?

Tie the knot in style and celebrate your marriage in one of the most unique wedding venue in Melbourne, Mural Hall, a vision of sheer enchantment.

Use this dress code guide on your website

 

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