Dress Codes Explained: From Smart Casual To Cocktail

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Do you have an event coming up that requires a certain dress code? Maybe it’s the wedding of one of your mates, an inauguration, or simply a dinner out with your nearest and dearest… whatever the date demands, we’re here to help you get your head around the different terms. 

First question – should you spend an arm and a leg? Spend as much or as little as required to create a go-to wardrobe. While staples are great – essential even – don’t hold back in upgrading your accessories every so often. As they say, treat yourself! Now we’ve briefly covered money matters, let’s move on to decording those dress terms.

Smart Casual

What comes to mind when you hear smart casual? It’s quite a funny combination of terms when you think about it. Strangeness aside, here’s the main goal of smart casual – to arrive at whatever event you’re invited to looking presentable, or a step above anything goes but below dinner suits and ties.

How To Pull It Off

Combine everyday garments with stuff that’s considered more sophisticated but nowhere near formal. Think collared shirts, khakis, chinos or dark wash jeans and aim for strategic contrasts between the bottom and top. Keep your footwork a little bit fancy in brogues or chukka boots, or take things down a notch with high-tops or sneakers. If things are a little chilly outside (or your invitation demands it) check out a sports jacket for a put together look.

Business Casual

Most people don’t realise this, but smart casual and business casual are, in fact, different dress codes altogether! How so? Even though both have the ‘casual’ tag to their name, smart casual only aims to make you look presentable whereas business casual takes it one step further – for you to display an air of professionalism. Take the following as a rule of thumb for business casual: if you can picture yourself wearing it to a client meeting and discussing work, then it’s acceptable.

How To Pull It Off

A collared, button-down shirt is a must – no exceptions. Bring a bit of personality to the style with a pop of colour or print, and don’t forget about fabrics – linen shirts can make summer meetings more tolerable! Remember, business casual attire does NOT mean dressing in a suit. Instead, you can wear a pair of chinos or jeans and layer the top with a dark-coloured sweater, blazer or sports jacket. Note that wearing a tie is optional here. As for footwear, brogues in a dark brown colour will work wonders, as will Chelsea boots in either suede or matte leather.

Business Formal

This time the word ‘formal’ denotes a sense of keeping it simple, sticking to how it’s always been done. But that’s changing – instead of focusing on traditional colours, check out the lines, cuts and stitching to give you the formal vibe without sliding into boring. While some may say you should play it safe, there’s nothing wrong with taking the occasional calculated risk when you’re planning your next corporate appearance.

How To Pull It Off

First, select an office-appropriate, notch-lapel suit in a dark colour like charcoal grey or navy blue before turning your eye to shirts and ties. Although there’s nothing wrong with colour in business formal, stay away from patterns or checks. Next, complete this ensemble with a solid, unpatterned necktie and a pair of black leather shoes. Oxfords or Derby shoes are definitely the best options here. Remember your best friends colour-wise: classic browns, blues, greys and whites. Loyalty to them will go a long way.

Cocktail Attire

Is cocktail attire formal? Technically yes, and it’s actually considered a higher degree of formality than business formal above. The catch, though, is you get to be more creative with putting it together. Reserved for milestone occasions, weddings, big parties and family reunions, cocktail attire is all about making tongues wag with appreciation.

How To Pull It Off

Not sure where to start? Check out the looks lining the Met Gala or glance at a few fashion pages online to get a feel for cocktail trends. The bottom line? Anything goes, as long as you’re comfortable, polished and ready to pose for the occasional picture. We recommend playing with contrasts, elements like statement ties and pocket squares or even bright white shoes!

Other Tips To Bear In Mind

1. Don’t forget that improvising is okay! It’s your prerogative to decide on adding a personal touch to your ensemble, regardless of the dress code.

2. When in doubt, never hesitate to contact the hosts to check on this. If there’s anybody most concerned about possible confusion with the dress code and the attendees showing up over or underdressed, it’s them.

3. Lastly, be confident! An outfit is only as good as the way the guy wears it and strikes up conversations in it. Confidence is key.