A dress code helps to set the tone, standard and mood of the event while keeping the vision of the planner or manager. Here are some tips to communicate the proper dress code to your attendees and some creative and inventive examples.
Establishing the dress code can be important to define your event, create a certain atmosphere or vibe and ensure guests are informed and comfortable with the outfit choices they make. Consider the Oscars, celebrities spend hundreds of thousands dressing up for this large classy event and this adds to the exclusivity and luxury of the event as a whole. There is a buzz and media attention based purely on what guests are wearing.
The dress code can make or break the event and it is important to relay this to your attendees effectively because if guests are not happy with the dress code you have set or it is too specific it could overshadow your whole event vibe.
Although creatives can sometimes take a rebellious approach to the dress code most people wouldn’t feel comfortable if they turned up in jeans and trainers for a black tie event. Most female readers of EMB will also remember a time when they wore the wrong shoes to an event. Maybe it was heels sinking into the grass or regretting wearing killer high heels when lots of standing, walking or moving around was required. In these situations the negative experience of worrying about what you are wearing can sometimes completely overshadow the event itself.
Generally speaking, traditional dress codes are as follows:
Contrary to popular belief this does not always encompass literally coming as you are. Avoid sweats or your gym clothes and opt for a nice pair of jeans and a daytime top. This is the kind of dress code for an informal get together for an outdoor barbeque or picnic in the park. Smart casual can be the dress code for creative and informal networking events.
This suits afternoon or corporate events and comprises of short afternoon dresses, business suits with shirts and ties. For events that also extend into the evening women could opt for a less formal cocktail dress, a long skirt with top and men could try adding a matching waistcoat/vest for the evening.
Cocktail dress needs some effort to be put in terms of appearance and presentation, but isn’t as strict as Black Tie dress codes. For men this calls for a suit with a tie. For women this is shorter dresses (not floor length) and jewellery.
Evening gowns, tuxedos and traditional black bow ties are what organizers have in mind for a black tie event and it is usually accompanied by cuff linked shirts, cummerbunds for the boys and heels for the ladies. Black tie events include many charity dinners and fundraisers as well as some Galas.
The most formal of them all this involves long evening gowns, white gloves, tailcoats and single (or double) striped matching trousers along with the obvious white tie. This has also been known as full evening dress and you can expect this at the Met Ball Gala, Royal events and some weddings.
Here are the latest fun, inventive and downright silly names for dress codes:
- California Casual
Particularly common among tech professionals at IT events, the California casual dress code is an even more laid back version of casual that allows for sandals, shorts, logo t-shirts, slacks, sports coats and jeans. It has also been known as “anything goes” and is now very popular in the US for highly informal events or meetings.
- Fancy Ranch
Popular for many modern weddings, this dress code usually has a slight western style and is semi-formal to incorporate a rustic look that is still gentle. For example a lot of gingham print, wrap around dresses and men can look to emulate a beach formal vibe such as slacks and a shirt. The downside to this dress code is the incorporation of the word ranch which immediately conjures thoughts of jeans, dungarees and pigtails but that is far from this meaning.
A difficult dress code that is somewhere between a costume party and formal where guests are expected to come up with quirky outfits. Women can get away with tutu style skirts, zany dresses or even character outfits while men will be looking at wacky ties, printed shirts or patterned suits. The issue here is making sure it doesn’t turn tacky, so whimsical is a hard dress code to get right.
A ridiculous name that encompasses creative cocktail and has also been used to describe festive dress codes which feature a semi-formal theme such as cocktail dresses, smart shirts and blazers or long skirts with tops. The aim here is to incorporate holiday colors or themes, for example at Christmas you would expect a lot of green, red and gold with Christmas tree jewelry. Creative cocktail can also describe a themed bar or venue that is holding the event and requires you to stick to the formality of cocktail wear with added extras such as a James Bond theme or “around the world”. For women, heels and a dress are the safest option here.
- Denim and Diamonds
A deceptive name that incorporates a smart-casual or casual chic where you create a hybrid between casual and formal. This could be in the form of jeans and a blouse (or shirt for men). You would also expect heeled boots, smart flats or comfortable heels to accompany these outfits and is popular for daytime functions such as a bridal or baby shower.
The downside here is that there are few limitations as to how formal or casual to go and therefore you may need to add some more detail to invitations about the situations that could be encountered at the event so attendees know how to find the right balance.
- Gatsby Chic
This is pretty self-explanatory and involves a lot of styles that are included in the great Gatsby era. This is not to be confused with a Gatsby costume party but instead incorporates formal drop-waist dresses, T-strap shoes and fringe. This formal dress code involves a lot of vintage elements and has also been known as vintage glamour which you may find at many award shows or premier events.
- Brooklyn Formal
A relatively new dress code that is incorporated at formal events that want attendees to show a bit of personality. Also known as hipster formal it is swayed towards men and women in retro suits or accessories such as braces or suspenders, bowties and shawls. Women would suit a cocktail dress or pants and heels with a dressy jacket as long as it is kept formal and suits a quirky atmosphere.
- Creative Black Tie
A twist on the traditional, black tie dress code involves whimsical or themed items that make them unique and it is a great way to keep things formal at an event while adding splashes of color or non-traditional items. This could be in the form of a cowboy bow tie for Country themed events, matching patterned bow tie and cummerbunds for events with color themes or even fun accessories such as quirky cufflinks, themed jewelry or hairpieces. The downside to this dress code is that you are allowing attendees to stray from the black tie theme without outlining how far or in what way which could lead to some outlandish outfits at an otherwise classy affair.
Another difficult and subjective dress code that can spark fear in attendees everywhere. Generally speaking this dress code expects attendees to be formal and bold with their color and style choices. Flashy outfits such as sequined or ornate dresses for the women and bold color suits for the men would suit this style. For women in the evening opt for longer gowns and full suits whereas for afternoons choose a printed dress and heels.
- Summertime Soiree
For afternoon and informal events this dress code is a hybrid between semi-formal and casual. Depending on the destination take a jacket and ladies should expect to wear chunky heels as summertime soiree attire is usually needed for outdoor events. This popular dress code is useful at picnics, outdoor barbeques, garden parties, outdoor concerts or one-day festivals. Floral print afternoon dresses and wedge heels for women and jeans and a shirt for men is usually all that is required.
Tips for Communicating the Dress Code
Aim to make the dress code very clear from the beginning (e.g. the invitation stage) to leave attendees plenty of time to shop around, especially for more specific attire. Let guests know any themes or color codes so that they can incorporate them while adhering to the dress code. If more explanation is needed than best way to do it is to explicitly explain on the invitation or direct to a ‘more information’ web page and perhaps even include some images.
Don’t expect attendees to be a mind reader because this is the fastest way to be disappointed. If you don’t want attendees to wear black, or white (or red etc.) then say so. Ultimately some people are going to pick out the easiest thing in the wardrobe and if you want to cut something out (or put something in) then say so explicitly to avoid confusion.
While dress code is very important, being too strict and making the dress code too specific can put people off attending or make them feel uneasy, which can overshadow your event. Give your guests guidance as much information as possible without strictly telling them what to do.
The key part of setting a dress code is communication. Is the event outside? And if so is it covered? This allows attendees to decide whether to bring a coat, jacket or just a wrap, plus they can check the weather beforehand to dress appropriately and within the criteria that has been set. Is there going to be grass? Let them know and this will help female guests wear chunky heels rather than stilettos (and stop a twisted ankle).
For larger events, set up a FAQ page and give a more detailed description of the dress code if it seems confusing or be prepared to answer questions. You could also choose to post on social media in the run up to the event to clarify any questions or even create a buzz for outfit ideas for the day. Perhaps you could event set up a Pinterest board with inspiration.
If you're looking for even more inspiration on dress codes and more, check out 200 Event Ideas to Steal Today and fill your boots.
A well thought out and presented dress code can be used to make attendees feel good about themselves and increases the chances that they will enjoy the event by putting them in a better mood. Ultimately, you should consider the event dress code carefully as it will define whether your attendees set out on the right foot. Additionally it is equally important to relay this appropriately to your guests so that they can get it right and avoid countless phone calls asking the same questions.