The Essential Guide To Women’s Dress Codes

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Is there anything worse than turning up somewhere to realise you’re inappropriately dressed? In an age of evermore casual dressing at work and in our free time, it can sometimes throw us through a loop when requested to adhere to a dress code. Even the most stylish among us mess up sometimes, as is often demonstrated on the red carpet.

For those of us who don’t have a personal stylist who should really know better, here’s our helpful guide to dressing for all occasions.


White Tie

This is your chance to really dress up! The most formal dress code requires a full length dress or ball gown, in any colour of your choice. Note that the aim is to look as sophisticated as possible so avoid garish colours or plunging necklines.

High heels are also necessary and should match the colour of your dress.

Show off your finest jewellery, preferably diamonds, and it’s also an occasion to get out the tiara, but only if you’re a married woman.

Full length, white gloves are common but not mandatory these days.


Morning Dress

This is the daytime equivalent to white tie. Your skirt is allowed to be shorter (but not above the knee), tights should be worn and ideally shoulders should be covered either by sleeves or a suit jacket. Thin straps are not acceptable.

Opt for pearls over diamonds for more daytime suited jewellery and sometimes a hat (not a fascinator) is required, such as in the Royal enclosure at Ascot or for formal weddings.


Black Tie

Ideally for a black tie dress code you should wear a full length dress. However, cocktail dresses to just below the knee are acceptable. Make sure it’s in an evening-appropriate fabric such as silk, velvet or crepe.

Palazzo cut trousers are also acceptable for less formal black tie events, but usually a little tricky to get right, so avoid if possible!

Wear black or sheer tights, fine or costume jewellery and tasteful heels and an evening bag.

For less formal parties, pull on a cocktail dress with style. Knee-length is best, as is a décolleté style.

Don’t shy away from colour or on-trend looks, this is a chance to inject some personality and show the host that you’re here to have a good time.

Flat shoes are becoming more acceptable in cocktail attire but keep them smart.


Business Dress

For job interviews or important work meetings, business dress is required.

A skirt or trouser suit in any colour is acceptable, though if you sense this is a particularly formal meeting, shy away from bright colours.

Heels are often desirable, but after recent backlash against requirements for women to wear high heels, flats are fine too.

Be mindful of showing too much cleavage or leg.


Business Casual

For your everyday work attire, feel free to inject colour or patterns into dresses, trousers, blouses and skirts. Non-buttoned tops are also acceptable.

Any shoes, except for trainers or sandals, are acceptable.


Smart Casual

For more relaxed social occasions, a smart casual dress code usually applies. This can be tricky as there are no set rules and what is or isn’t appropriate is often very subjective.

Speak to the host if you’re unsure what sort of crowd will be attending and what others are likely to be wearing. Remember: it’s better to be overdressed than underdressed.

Jeans are usually acceptable, as are smart sandals (not flip flops), but avoid very flashy jewellery or shiny fabrics.


Importantly, wear what makes you feel comfortable.


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