A Guide to Women’s Dress Codes

Published on 12 October 2020
by ASI Team
Category: News

Quick Links:

What are the Different Types of Dress Codes for Women?

Black tie? Cocktail? Semi-formal? Smart casual? Navigating dress codes can be down-right confusing, not to mention when you throw in modern (made-up) dress codes like boho-chic, razzle-dazzle or fancy garden party into the mix! No matter how vague or confusing the dress code may seem you can’t go wrong if you stick to the basics. From black tie to business casual, formal to cocktail, we have rounded up the only five dress codes that count. Oh, and we also took the liberty of decoding them for you, you’re welcome.

Women’s Dress Codes

The Black Tie Event Dress Code:

Black Tie is the epitome of formal. Ladies, it’s time to get out your best floor-length gowns. This is as luxe as it gets, in fact, most black tie events don’t allow cocktail-length dresses or suits without jackets and ties.

What can I wear to a Black Tie Event?

A full-length gown is a must for the ladies at a black tie function. If you’re going to risk going shorter, keep it below the knee and make sure your dress is well-designed and something along the lines of Alex Perry’s version below. Pair your look with some exquisite jewellery, considered makeup and hair, and a killer pair of heels. However, a black-tie event is an opportunity to break out your fanciest full-length gown, so why wouldn’t you? A floor length dress also makes it easier to achieve a more formal look without having to drop the big bucks. Keep styling sophisticated and minimal, let the sleek gown speak for itself.

Black tie event

The Formal Event Dress Code:

The more casual cousin of black tie, but dressier than cocktail, formal can be a very confusing dress code. Mostly, for formal events you can still go for a floor-length gown but you can also freely wear a statement cocktail dress. However, we’d still advise against anything too short, formal is still, well, formal after all.

What can I wear to a formal event?

You can wear a floor length evening gown, but no one will think twice if you choose to wear a cocktail dress. You can also have a little more fun with a formal dress code, why not try a tux-style pantsuit? Androgynous dressing is in, and we love it. You can also go for a bold pattern, bright colour or a striking silhouette.

Formal event

The Cocktail Event Dress Code or Semi-Formal Dress Code

Break out your party dresses and heels because cocktail dress codes mean you get to have a little more fun with your outfits. Traditionally cocktail refers to a knee-length party dress, but nowadays it’s one of the more flexible and popular dress codes.

What can I wear to a cocktail event?

Go for something flirty, fierce and fabulous; the sky is your limit when it comes to cocktail. Bold prints, colours and sleek cuts are encouraged, as well as trendy accessories. Try a chic long skirt and crop combo, or give a knee-length bandage dress a whirl. A flowing, floral print or an embroidered mini will turn heads at a daytime event.

Cocktail event dress code

The Business Event Dress Code or Business Casual Dress Code

Business casual is becoming increasingly popular, even outside the office. But it can be a tricky one, especially if you’re on the hunt for something that can take you from 9 to after 5 with ease. Business casual is professional attire, which isn’t a full uniform or overly formal. It usually involves pencil skirts or slim fit work pants and shirts. Business formal is similar, but as the name suggests it’s a little more dressy. Think a tailored dress with a structured blazer; something you would wear for an important business presentation.

What can I wear to a business event?

Go for something a little more on the conservative side that you would still feel comfortable grabbing a drink in for knock-offs. We’d suggest open-collared shirts and sweaters with a pencil skirt and tailored pants. Dresses are fine too, as long as they’re subtle and not too short. Hemlines should be kept at knee-length or just above, and colours should be muted or neutral. Heels should be kept to a sensible height and closed-toe pumps are usually the best choice. A nice pair of flats are also appropriate. If you’re going for a formal business look, try a matching power suit, or a dress and blazer.

business casual

The Casual Event Dress Code:

Although activewear has become more and more acceptable for everyday activities, it doesn’t mean you can rock up in your gym clothes when the dress code is casual. And depending on the event, casual can have a few different meanings. Causal for a wedding or a party usually means a floaty dress or a nice skirt and top. This can often be the dress code for garden or beach weddings. Whereas casual for a work event or friends birthday could mean jeans, heels and a dressy top, or a playful skirt and sweater. There are a few different variations of causal, and if the host doesn’t state semi or dressy casual it will be up to you to figure out the level of dressy. Consider the venue, attendees and scale of the event.

What can I wear to a Casual Event?

For birthdays, work events, casual Fridays etc, stick to a great pair of well-fitting jeans or pants, with dressy tops and heels or boots. If it’s semi or dressy casual, think skirts with t-shirts, jumpers or camis, or shorter, not too extravagant dresses. In some cases, you may even be able to get away with chucking on your favourite pair of tennis shoes or sneakers for a sports-luxe vibe. Keep in mind accessories and shoes can be game changers when it comes to casual wear. A ‘dressy’ dress can be played down with boots and leather jacket, whereas a simple pair of black jeans and white tee combo can be elevated with the right jewellery and a killer pair of pumps. Get creative and have fun with it.

Casual dress

Did you know you can make a career of styling?

Professionally trained stylists dress clients, celebrities, models or influential personalities for events or editorials each day. Turn your love of fashion into a successful styling career at Australia’s leading styling school. Download your free Course Guide to learn more about our online and in-person courses today.


Download a Free Course Guide

Where you’ve seen our stylists

Take the quiz!