If you’re often left scratching your head about what to wear after receiving an invitation to a formal occasion, then you’re not alone.
With so many different terms used (often for the same dress code), deciphering what the host would like you to wear can be challenging.
Referencing the Debrett’s Handbook (available as an e-book here), we’ve put together a quick guide to the most popular dress codes that you’ll encounter not only this festive season but also moving forward into the new year. And remember, if you’re unsure of what to wear, then a quick phone call to the host is the smart way to ensure that you turn up looking the part.
Less formal than white tie and the most popular formal evening wear.
Described as ‘dinner jackets’, ‘DJs’, ‘dress for dinner’ or, in America, as ‘tuxedos’
Men should wear a black wool dinner jacket that can be single or double-breasted with silk peaked lapels and covered buttons. Black trousers should be worn with a natural taper and a single row of braid on each outside leg. The shirt should be a white evening shirt with a turn-down collar, cufflinks and studs.
Women should wear an evening dress or skirt. If the event is a dinner dance rather than a formal dinner, then a voluminous dress is best avoided. Although the dress code is ‘black tie’, dresses don’t have to be black. Evening trousers are an option and most people opt for a palazzo cut, rather than a tight-fitting one. If wearing a dress, then black or sheer tights should be worn.
‘Lounge suits’ will only appear written on an invitation. In conversation ‘business suit’ is more commonly used.
This dress code is used for varying degrees of formality and means a suit worn with a shirt and tie in both the daytime and the evening.
A shirt with a turndown (not button-down) collar should be worn with a tie and the top button must be fastened.
For daytime events, women should opt for a day dress, trouser suit or skirt and jacket or coat. For evening events, a cocktail dress (with sleeves or a jacket) is a good choice.
Often the hardest dress code to interpret. A printed invitation suggests a smarter event than a text or email.
Bear in mind that town/city events will be more formal than a country one.
Men should wear a jacket or blazer, chinos or flannels, a shirt with a collar and smart shoes. A tie shouldn’t be necessary but carry one just in case.
For women, a safe choice is always a smart day dress with a jacket. For more casual events, smart trousers or a skirt with a cardigan works well.
To find out more about British dress codes, especially dressing for the Season, as well as writing and responding to invitations, hard copies of our Handbook are available here, as well as a Kindle version here.