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White tie? Black tie? Dressy casual? A Quick Guide to Dress Codes for Fall

After Labor Day weekend, many workplaces (and after-work events) bid farewell to the relaxed dress codes of summer. Now that many of us are preparing to change out our summer and winter wardrobes, it’s a great time to brush up on types of dress codes, too. These days, there is a whole spectrum of dress type on invitations or job offers, and it can get confusing!

White Tie vs Black Tie

white tie

“White tie” invitations are fairly rare these days, but indicate the highest level of formality: perhaps a fundraiser gala, an exclusive wedding, or other VIP event. Women should be in formal, floor-length gowns with gloves and hair in an elegant updo. Jewelry should be minimal and tasteful. Men should have a black suit with a tailcoat, waistcoat, white pocket square, and a bow tie. White tie suits will have a satin stripe down the side. Perhaps most obscurely, white tie formality says you should ditch your wristwatch, no matter how nice it is. This level of dress also used to include a top hat, white gloves, and chained pocket watch, but fortunately these days you can do without these accessories; just keep your (silenced) phone politely tucked away if you need to check the time!

“Black tie” is probably the most commonly used (and therefore most familiar) level of “formal” wear; that is, a classic black tuxedo with a cummerbund or vest and black bowtie with cufflinks. We always recommend treating tuxedos and business suits as investments: if well taken care of, an expensive, well-made suit can last you a lifetime. Get the most out of your investment by taking advantage of the custom tailoring options available at most high-end retailers, or use our professional tailor services to keep you looking your best. Custom fitting does wonders; trust us! “Black tie optional” means wear the most formal suit you own, but you don’t need to wear bowtie; a vest, pressed dress shirt and solid-colored tie will do. For women, a floor-length gown remains the classic standard, but you can ditch the gloves and wear your hair down or partially down, as long as it’s carefully styled.

guide to black tie

Formal and Semi- Formal

For men, “formal” stands below “black tie optional”, but you don’t need the vest or cufflinks; just a well pressed shirt and conservative tie. At this stage, it’s also appropriate to wear colors other than black or navy blue. For ladies, a floor-length dress can still be appropriate but you could also opt for a calf- or knee-length dress (with stockings or hose) if desired. You can also try statement jewelry combined with a classic well-fitting black dress.

slc business casual guide

“Semi- formal” can be vexing! We recommend sticking with formal rules but you can play around more with colors or patterns on suits and dress shirts to let your personality show. Semi-formal still means a suit or well-fit dress. It’s always better to be overdressed than underdressed.

Business Casual, Dressy Casual, and Cocktail

slc cocktail dress

If you are instructed to wear “business casual”, think 9-5 office wear. At this point, it’s best to think about the tone of the event, and dress accordingly. There’s a difference between a consulting meeting or a garden party. Men can wear suits in any color, or regular (but well-pressed) trousers, a dress shirt, and a blazer. At this point the more sartorially-daring might be able to get away with loafers or bright socks with a matching pocket square. Women should consider wearing either a knee-length or lower dress, blouse/skirt, or blouse/pant/blazer combination. Here, you can start wearing trendier cuts of dresses with asymmetrical hems or tasteful cutouts. “Dressy-casual” can be similarly confusing as “Semi-formal.” Again, it’s important to consider the context of the event and what you expect the host to be wearing. 

Dressy-casual and cocktail are essentially similar in direction: this dress code leaves room for dark-wash jeans, a dress shirt, and a blazer, or shorter/brighter dresses for women with statement jewelry.

Hopefully, this little guide will help you take out some of the “what to wear” anxiety out of the confusing mix of directives for office events, holiday parties and gala season. As a dry-cleaning company that has been helping the Wasatch Front look sharp for over 40 years, the professionals at Red Hanger know a thing or two about clothing care, storage, repair, and more! Remember, if you’ve got a wardrobe classic that needs some sprucing up for the new season, we have affordable professional tailors available along with our dry cleaning and free laundry pickup services! Contact us today or stop by one of our convenient locations for more information.