Women’s Dress Codes Explained (and What to Wear for Each)


If you always feel like you have to guess what kind of outfits an event is calling for, don’t worry. A lot of people still feel confused by dress codes and what they mean. That said, you wouldn’t want to feel left out by coming underdressed to a big social gathering. The same is true for the opposite situation, where you’d stick out like a sore thumb if you’re overdressed for a more casual get-together.

Do you need to coif your hair or let it down? Should you wear some nice hosiery or go bare-legged? Are you expected to slip into stilettos or put on a comfy pair of sneakers? If you still have trouble figuring out what to wear to different kinds of events, fret not. Here’s a quick and easy guide to help you decipher women’s dress codes along with some nifty tips on what exactly to wear for each:

Black Tie

Black tie dress codes are most commonly associated with big social events like evening weddings or birthday parties. Generally speaking, black tie calls for formal attire—think tuxedos for the gentlemen and gowns for the ladies. Why the name? Well, back in the day, this dress code called for just that: wearing black clothes. However, over time, the dress code has evolved to allow for anything dark-colored or appropriate for nighttime.

If you find yourself invited to a black-tie event, you can’t go wrong with a floor-length dress made out of a nice, sexy fabric. This outfit will not only show off your figure, but also give you enough freedom of movement. It will feel so comfy, in fact, that you may just find yourself showing off your moves on the dance floor. High-heeled shoes, perfectly done hair, smoky make-up, a nice evening clutch bag, and the right amount of bling are all great touches to complete this go-to black-tie look.

White Tie

A white tie dress code pushes the envelope in terms of glamor and style by amping up the usual black-tie look. This is usually done by wearing clothes made out of more luxurious or beaded fabrics, or outfits (such as ball gowns) that create more outrageous silhouettes. A white tie event is a chance to go to the extreme with dazzling bling, eye-catching shoes, and dramatic make-up.

To achieve this look, it’s a great idea to invest in a custom-fitted or tailored dress that’s truly one-of-a-kind. But if you don’t want to spend a lot on a single outfit, that’s fine, too. Going white tie doesn’t necessarily mean burning a hole in your pocket. You can definitely cop a catwalk-worthy look with runway-inspired dresses offered by many boutiques and fashion houses. For style inspiration, you can check out what Hollywood stars usually wear on the red carpet.


This is one of the most common dress codes for parties and social gatherings. It’s also sometimes referred to as “black tie optional,” which means that any attire close to being considered black tie is acceptable.

When dressing up for a formal event, a good rule of thumb is to keep it elegant and sophisticated. A floor-length dress is still the best choice. Instead of sticking to dark colors, though, you can be a bit playful by going for prints or patterns. You may also want to opt for shoes with lower heels to keep yourself comfortable throughout the party. Additionally, you can let your hair down a bit and not be as formal in terms of your make-up. Just a fresh, clean, well-groomed look will do. Strive for a presentable and polished appearance, and you’re all set for this kind of dress code.


This kind of attire is more fun and laid back and is usually associated with evening parties at nightclubs or restaurants. In short, you can expect to wear semi-formal to events where there will be a lot of drinking and dancing. You can wear a nice, sexy cocktail dress in an interesting fabric or silhouette, and pair it with sexy heels or even some thigh-high boots. Alternatively, you can prioritize comfort by wearing simple but stylish flats along with your dress.

Sometimes, daytime events like weddings, birthday parties, or office gatherings may also call for semi-formal attire. For these, you can wear a short dress in a neutral or pastel color. You can also choose to layer a blazer on top of a shirt, and then pair these with a short skirt or some suit pants. For the final touches, go with light and dewy makeup. All these will help you create a fresh appearance that’s appropriate for a daytime gathering.

Smart Casual

This is the usual dress code for most daytime events, especially professional gatherings like business or networking meetings. For these occasions, a nicely coordinated set of separates will do. For instance, you can wear a crisp white shirt with some smartly pressed khaki pants and a pair of pumps. Another classic yet memorable outfit is a shirt dress or wraparound dress that comes in a plain color or striking pattern. To complete the look, you’ll want to carry around a nice functional handbag or portfolio.

For family gatherings or community events, like a picnic or a garden party, you can be more relaxed and come in a nice day dress with sandals. Another outfit option is a pair of khaki shorts with tennis shoes and a sports shirt. You may also get away with a pair of jeans, as long as they’re not ripped or tattered. Pair your denims with a white shirt or a flowy blouse, and you’ll fit right in with everyone else at the event.

Come as You Are

In many ways, this kind of dress code means no dress code at all! “Come as you are” is usually the unspoken rule at very private or intimate events, like a meet-up at your friend’s pad or a day out at the park.

That being said, this doesn’t mean you should look unkempt or frumpy. There are many cool casual looks that you can pull off, such as athleisure outfits that have been gaining popularity in recent years. You can achieve the perfect, laidback ensemble by wearing nicely fitting yoga pants, a zip-up hoodie, a fresh cotton t-shirt, and your favorite pair of running shoes, for example.

Knowing how to make sense of dress codes is a must for any stylish woman. That being said, you can always show off your unique personality with your outfits, as long as you stay within a given dress code’s limits and expectations. After reading this article, you’ll no longer fret about what you’re going to wear the next time you receive a party invite. Just don’t forget to have fun while putting together your ensembles, and you’ll have an amazing time!

Written by Malorie Mackey
Malorie Mackey is an actress, published author, and adventurer based out of Los Angeles, California. Throughout her experiences, Malorie found a love for travel and adventure, having journeyed to over a dozen countries experiencing unique locations. From the lush jungles of the Sierra Madre mountain range to the Arctic Circle in Finnish Lapland, Malorie began adventuring and writing about her unique travels. These travel excerpts can be found on VIVA GLAM Magazine, in Malorie’s Adventure Blog, in Malorie’s adventure show “Weird World Adventures” and in the works for her full-length travel book. Stay tuned as Malorie travels the world bringing its beauty and wonder to you. Check out https://www.MaloriesAdventures.com.