How to decode the dress code

Published on 01 November 2017

The days are heating up and the party season is about to begin. But as the end-of-year revels roll around, there’s one little hurdle in your party prep – what does the dress code on the invitation mean?

Black tie? Cocktail? Semi-formal? Smart casual? Even the most seasoned and stylish can find the differences between popular dress styles downright confusing.

But we’ve got a trick up our sleeve. Demystify the most common dress codes with this handy guide so you can put your most stylish foot forward with confidence – whatever the celebration.

Black Tie: Classic elegance to modern muse

Weddings and formals and balls, oh my! Black tie events are a chance to step out of the everyday and into a sartorial fantasy. Traditionally, black tie means a black bow tie worn with a dinner jacket for men and formal evening dress for women, so you usually won’t be getting this dress code for a day event. If it’s ‘black tie optional’, tuxedo isn’t required for the gents, but is still suitable.

For a black tie ‘do’, it’s hard to beat the stately drama of a floor length gown for women, and Saba and Myer are the perfect places to find such a dream dress. But since it is 2017, you can dare to dazzle with an edgier outfit – just be sure to keep the elegance of the occasion in mind.

Start by picking a style icon – someone whose style never fails to make you swoon. Whether it’s classic Audrey, oh-so-cool Kendall or the flair of The Killers’ Brandon Flowers, there are endless ways to blend black tie formality with your own style inspiration.

Cocktail: Shake, stir and shimmy in the perfect cocktail ensemble

The name of the cocktail game is fun, so get those legs out with a knee-skimming dress. Look out for clean lines and attention to detail when scanning your favourite shops for a cocktail ensemble.

This dress code calls for darker tones suited to evening. For men, it means a darker shade for suits, while for women, a never-fail LBD like Country Road’s Off shoulder Dress, accented with flashes of metal, or a handbag from Mimco. For a daytime celebration, experiment with a brighter look, like Husk’s Tiger Dress, or the Midnight Garden Floral Georgette Dress from Cue. Ladies can add a killer pair of heels, like Billini’s Pippa Suede, which will make whoever wears them the toast of the party.

Semi-Formal: Stylish, thoughtful, comfortable


A step down from straight up formal attire, the ‘semi-formal’ dress code can feel like a bit of a curve ball.
Semi-formal, is all about looking thoughtfully put together, but comfortable – think nicer than your best office attire, but more relaxed than your fanciest evening wear. For men, that’s a dark or light-coloured (depending on the season and the time of day) suit and tie. Women can also opt for a dressy skirt and top combination.

Smart Casual: Easy and breezy


At the breeziest end of the dress code spectrum is ‘smart casual’ – so get ready to tousle your hair, don a floaty top or slip into a beautiful crisp sundress. It’s about being neat and conventional, while also remaining informal – so no statement looks here. Tailored pants paired with brogues are a great option for men and women – ladies also can’t go wrong some pretty flats or sandals. For women looking for something extra to bring their look together, try some eye-catching jewellery or adding a cute bag or clutch like the Forte Mini Tote from Oroton.

Be Yourself

The most important thing to remember when dressing for any occasion is to be yourself – you don’t want to feel awkward or uncomfortable when you’re meant to be having fun. Decoding the dress code is a satisfying feeling, but only when the ensemble makes you feel wonderful. So find an outfit that ticks the right boxes but also puts a spring in your step.