Dress codes: what they actually mean and how to nail them.

Unless you grew up like a character on Gossip Girl or The OC, you probably don’t have an innate sense of what to wear to different events. And if you’re anything like me, that themed wedding invitation that you’ve just received in the mail is already filling you with dread.

Yep, dress codes are bloody confusing and despite what my mum says, sometimes a ‘nice pair of slacks’ just won’t cut it.

With our sense of style becoming more casual and the influx of fast fashion, most of the time we don’t have to adhere to strict dress codes (THANK. GOD. FOR. THAT) and when there is a dress code there’s often a whole lot of confusion about what that actually means.

We’ve all turned up to a wedding in an amazing outfit, that we’ve spent months planning and paying for, only to see Aunty Deb in her jeans and the groomsmen wearing board shorts and thongs.

The fashion items we’ve blown WAY too much money on. Post continues below.

But sometimes you’re invited to an event where you know you need to dress to impress, and that can strike fear into our Converse and jeans wearing hearts.

So to help you out, here’s a breakdown of the most common dress codes and what they actually mean:


White tie

Blair Waldorf would be in her element at this kind of event. Meanwhile, I would be hiding in the corner, readjusting my boobs in that strapless bra I forced myself into.

Basically, at a white tie event, women should wear a floor length formal gown and fancy, fancy up-do hair. And maybe some gloves and a tiara. And men should wear a suit with a waistcoat and white bow tie.

Please never invite me to one of these.

Black tie

Think the cocktail party on The Bachelor.
Yep, even though they call it a cocktail party, our bachelor hopefuls usually don their black tie attire to vie for a rose.

So what should you wear to a black tie event? Your floor-length formal gown, your chandelier earrings and your best resting bitch face, of course. Men (cough, Bachelors) would wear a suit with a black bow tie.

Lounge suit

Nope, this dress code has nothing to do with Harvey Norman and no, you don’t have to wear a three-piece velvet suit Austin Powers style.

Lounge suit is basically a more casual version of black tie – i.e. women still have to stuff themselves into a formal dress, but men can choose whether they want to wear a tie or not. Yay for equality!


Cocktail/semi-formal is code for ‘you might have to shave your legs for this’. You’ve probably got your cocktail party game on point by now. This is the most common dress code for formal parties and weddings in Australia. Women usually wear short dresses, like a LBD, with costume jewellery, maybe a more formal looking maxi, or a jumpsuit. Men would wear a suit, tie optional (those bastards).


Business casual

This is going to depend on the type of business you’re working for. What’s casual for one business might be considered totes inappropriate for another.

The best way to gauge what to wear is to see what others in your department/area/industry are wearing. You don’t want to turn up to your first day of work in a skirt suit if everyone else is wearing jeans and vice versa.

Smart casual

Again, smart casual would depend on the environment you’re in. But basically putting ‘smart’ in front of the ‘casual’ indicates that this person/organisation wants you to put in a little bit of an effort.

So brush your hair and wear your underwear underneath your clothes, guys.

In all seriousness, if in doubt, it’s best to look polished. Clean shoes, clothes that fit right, and thoughtful accessories.


Get out your Converse and ripped jeans, this is where the formal adverse shine. There’s no rules here, but ‘sport luxe’ seems to be the theme at the moment, so maybe work on your active wear collection.


I think the key here is not to wear anything that makes sense. Flower crowns, mermaid crowns and anything from ASOS seems to be popular. If you really tackle a niche theme like underwater cowgirl or milkmaid meets Native American chief, you’ll probably score bonus points.


Case in point: Coachella 2016. Post continues after gallery. 


So basically, you can’t wear jeans to a wedding, but sometimes you can wear them to the office. Who’s going to tell Aunty Deb?