A Guide to Dress Code for Every Occasion

Have you ever received an invitation to a formal event and felt confused by the dress code? With so many different special occasion dress options available, you may feel anxious about picking the right thing to wear, even when the type of dress required is stated on the invite.

Read our guide to make sure you get it right every time.

Weddings

Unless the bride and groom specify otherwise, a wedding is never a casual event and therefore you should always dress in your finest. A floor or knee length dress is perfect for women, with high-heeled shoes and a stylish handbag. If dresses aren’t your style, a smart trouser suit also works. A wedding is one place where you can get away with a hat or fascinator so don’t be afraid to wear your favourite headgear.

Men should wear a smart tuxedo or suit, or, if you want to be a little less formal, a pair of smart trousers and a blazer. Trainers are never acceptable, so even if you dress down a little make sure you’re wearing smart, polished shoes or brogues.

Birthdays

If it’s a family event at someone’s home, go for laid back and casual, especially if it’s a barbecue or lunch in the garden. If it’s a dinner party at a smart restaurant, women should wear a knee-length dress and heels or smart trousers and a blouse, and men should wear chinos and a shirt without a tie. Birthday dress code should be easier to judge than most, based on how well you know the person and what the venue is.

Christenings, Baptisms and Bar / Bat Mitzvahs

These are formal events that require sober dress, so be sure to base your outfit choice on what is appropriate for a place of worship. If you haven’t been to the church or synagogue before and don’t know what is suitable, the safest bet is to dress with the word ‘modesty’ in mind. Women should wear a sober dress and avoid anything that shows excessive cleavage or leg. Shoulders should be covered with a cardigan, jacket or wrap.

Men should wear a suit and tie or smart slacks and a jacket. Both sexes should take into account the weather and if they may be required to either spend a lot of time in an old, draughty building or standing outside for pictures, so bring a warm coat or pashmina to give you layering options if you feel cold.

A Day at the Races

Although not compulsory, smart dress is the usual dress code for the races. Flat races usually take place during the summer months, so dress appropriately for the weather. Men should wear a shirt and smart trousers with polished shoes or brogues, plus a jacket or blazer if the sun isn’t shining. Some of the more prestigious meets encourage Ladies Days, where women can really dress to impress with elegant knee-length dresses, hats and heels.

Jump meets tend to happen in the winter, so both sexes should dress for warmth and practicality. Men should wear suits in heavier fabrics such as wool or tweed, layers of shirts and chunky knit sweaters, waxed or waterproof jackets and stout shoes or boots. Women can choose trousers or jeans in a subdued colour, fine knits, statement coats and leather boots or smart wellingtons.

The enclosures at some race meets, such as Royal Ascot, have very elegant and specific dress codes. Women will be expected to wear dresses or skirts of a modest length, jumpsuits or trouser suits, and a hat. Men are required to wear black or grey morning dress, which includes a waistcoat and tie and a top hat.

Cocktail Parties

Suitable attire for cocktail parties is semi-formal but still ‘dressy’. Elegance is key, so women should choose above the knee dresses in dark colours, stylish jumpsuits, or smart trousers with a tailored blouse. Cocktail parties are the perfect place for statement accessories such as feathered or diamante clutch bags and sparkling jewellery.

Men should choose a casual suit in a dark colour, and a shirt and tie, though an open neck is appropriate if you know the party is at the more casual end of cocktail. Also possible are smart trousers and a blazer in a dark or neutral hue. Jeans, t-shirts and trainers are not acceptable.

If your host gives you a dress code, it’s important to stick to it. Not only is it polite, but it makes your life easier as you won’t have to worry about turning up in the wrong thing, or spend the evening feeling uncomfortable if you dress too smartly or too informally. All dress codes leave room for creativity and sartorial expression so don’t feel like it will force you into wearing something you don’t like: just enjoy the opportunity to dress up and enjoy a special occasion.