Deciphering Dress Codes

All hosts and event planners must surely wish for their events to be outstanding and memorable. Invitation cards (or Facebook invites) are usually the first sign of this – I’ve received simply gorgeous invitation cards that I stick up on my wall like postcards. Unfortunately, these often come with befuddling dress codes which then need to be deciphered and decoded – garden party? Dressy casual? Smart casual? Formal? In this article, we’ll give you a quick guide to the 3 most common dress codes and give you outfit ideas for each one that’ll make sure you, at least, are an outstanding and memorable guest at your next event!

Smart Casual

-          What your host wants to say is: “Look put-together, but I still want to see your personal style!”

-          This means: think of it as going to a classy restaurant on a weekend, or “Sunday best” in the old days.  It’s okay to be a little adventurous or feisty in your outfit choices (think interesting prints or colourful accessories), but remember to respect the occasion, particularly if there’s a guest of honour (and it’s not you).

-          Don’t: go overly casual (T-shirts, flip flops) or overly formal (blazers or skirt suits). Try to err on the side of conservative, too – so open-toed shoes are okay, but spaghetti straps may not be, depending on your host and the venue.

-          We’d go for: a flowy dress or skirt, with ballet flats or open-toed wedges. Try our Florals Fall on Sides Dress for some good ol’ feminine fashion. An added bonus for flared dresses? More space for the buffet line.

-          If you’re feeling adventurous: try our Poised At Crossroad Dress if you’d like something a little more body-hugging! The elaborate embroidery details on this one are so on point, you’ll be making even Greek goddesses jealous in your outfit. 


-          What your host wants to say is: “I want you to dress up and have fun!”

-          This means: popular style blog StyleCaster recommends “short dresses that are party-ready”, and calls for dressy styles fit for twirling, paired with heels. Go ahead, take out that dress you bought that’s a little too short for the office but still fit for a princess.

-          Don’t: read “party-ready” as “I thought I was going to Zouk”. ‘Cocktail’ is also known as ‘semi-formal’, which should give you some idea of which part of your wardrobe to pick out!

-          We’d go for: a colourful dress with nude pumps. Or, if you’re relying on the fail-safe LBD (Little Black Dress) to do the trick, pick one with a little twist – like our Oxford Aspiration Trench Dress in Black. Pair it with out-of-the-box accessories, like tasseled heels, put your hands in your pockets (yes, it has pockets), and go!

-          If you’re feeling adventurous: try understated sequins! Socialite Olivia Palermo recently wore a sequined pencil skirt with a plain off-the-shoulder blouse to an event which called for cocktail attire, and she totally pulled it off.


-          What your host wants to say is: “It’s a super big day for me. I’d love for you to be part of it.”

-          This means: go full out with maxi-dresses and sky-high heels! “You aren’t expected to look as if you’re en route [to] the Oscars,” writes StyleCaster, but this is definitely still one of the highest dress codes you’ll likely receive in the mail.

-          Don’t: underestimate the occasion. Your host will have put a lot of effort into the venue, decorations, et cetera – it’s now up to you to dress for it.

-          We’d go for: our I Will Bead There For You Dress speaks your dedication in volumes. It comes in three gorgeous colours, with an asymmetrical hem cut that’s sure to make you stand out from the crowd.

-          If you’re feeling adventurous: try a jumpsuit! Be careful, though –not all jumpsuits were created equal. If you’re curvy, for example, you’ll want a style with a defined waist and flared pants, whereas if you’re more athletically built you can go for more straight cuts. Take your inspiration from none other than actress and UN Women Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson, who has arguably made pants fashionable again.

Credits: Thread Theory, Business Insider, Tibi, Glam Radar