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Defining Dance and Party Dress Codes

Defining Dance and Party Dress Codes

As you start to attend sweet sixteen celebrations, semi-formals and graduation parties, you’ll discover that each event has a dress code. Some invitations are pretty straight forward, while others (black tie “optional,” what?) can be confusing. And sometimes, your invitation won’t say anything at all about how to dress… it’s just presumed that you’ll know. So, how do you avoid being over or under-dressed at a party or event?

Here’s a break down of what guys and girls need to know about dressing up for those special occasions.

White Tie. A “white tie affair” is the same thing as ultra-formal. This is the dressiest you can get! These events are rare, so consider yourself lucky if your score an invite. They are always held after 6 p.m.

For guys, this is a top hat and tails kind of event. They’ll need to wear a black jacket with tails and matching pants that have a single stripe or braid running down the side. A white shirt, white vest, white bow tie and cufflinks are also needed, plus white or gray gloves and black shoes with black dress socks. In the U.K., it’s also appropriate for men to wear a kilt as part of Scottish Highland dress.

Girls will want to wear a long, floor-length evening gown made of appropriate fabric. If it’s a more conservative event, girls may also be required to cover their shoulders. Long white gloves are often worn as accessories.

Black Tie. Some proms and weddings are black tie. These events also occur after 6 p.m.

Guys will want to wear a black tux and matching pants, along with a black shirt, black bow-tie and black cummerbund or vest. Black shoes and dress socks will complete the outfit.

Black tie for girls means a formal, floor-length gown in luxurious fabric or a very dressy cocktail dress.

Black Tie Optional. If you receive a “black tie optional” invite, it means that you can dress formally if you want to, but it’s not required. Guys and girls can also wear semi-formal outfits if they wish. It’s up to you, and what you have in your wardrobe!


Creative Black Tie. It seems like the black tie categories are endless, right? Creative black tie means that you’ll want to stick to tuxes and gowns, but you can get a little creative with your outfit. Say it’s a western-themed party, a fantasy wedding or a holiday event…a festive cummerbund or whimsical accessories that go along with the event’s theme will be encouraged.

Semi-Formal. You’ll often hear school dances referred to simply as “semi-formals.” Sometimes, dressier sweet sixteens or weddings will have this dress code. Semi-formal means that you’ll still want to dress up, but not as much as a black tie event. These parties usually occur after 5 p.m., although the occasional daytime wedding can have a semi-formal dress code.

For guys, a dark suit, dress shirt and tie will do the trick. Although, a festive bow ties could also do the trick, if you want to be super trendy. A vest is optional. Nice dark leather shoes and dress socks will complete the look.

For girls, a dress with a shorter hem will do, as will dressy evening separates. A long dressy skirt and top are also appropriate.

Cocktail. Cocktail attire is basically the same as semi-formal. Girls may want to wear the ultimate cocktail dress… the little black dress!

Dressy Casual. Now there’s an oxymoron. What on earth do you wear to a “dressy casual” event? Well, as long as it’s considered “nice,” almost anything will do.

For guys, a sport coat or blazer in any color and pants will do. Or, toss the coat altogether and simply wear an open-collared or polo shirt with matching pants. A tie isn’t required. You’ll still want to wear appropriate shoes, though… sneakers will only make you look sloppy.

Girls have a ton of options for dressy casual events. Any kind of dress, skirt and top, dressy pants outfit or even nice jeans with a dressy top will do.



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