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Dress code (Western): Wikis


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Western dress codes

Examples of some dress codes. Note that the local interpretation of casual codes may look very little as illustrated.

A dress code is a set of rules governing what garments may be worn together. Examples of dress codes are combinations such as "smart casual", or "morning dress". A classification of these codes is normally made for varying levels of formality and times of day. In traditional Western dressing, for men the more formal dress codes, such as "black tie", are highly codified with essentially fixed definitions, mostly unchanged for more than fifty years, while the more casual classifications change very quickly, and a world-wide or widely relevant discussion is impossible. For women, changes in fashion are more rapid.

In practical use, dress codes are either followed instinctively, enforced by peer pressure, so that people wear similar clothing in the same situations. Alternatively, at more formal events where a dress code is specified, invitees wear clothes at the specified level; if some variation is permitted (for example, "black tie preferred"), the host will wear the most formal option to save guests the embarrassment of out-dressing him. Appropriate national dress is generally permitted, and national variations are also widely worn as an exception to the trend of uniformity with peers, often in the form of headgear (see kippa, turban, hijab).


Formal, semi-formal, and informal codes

The more formal dress codes are readily defined and classified, daywear (or morningwear) being worn to events in the morning (that is, before 6 p.m.[1]), and eveningwear to events starting after that. It used to be customary among upper classes to dress for dinner, but this is now less common, and wearing essentially daywear in the evening is normal.

The table below summarises the main codified dress codes:

Formality (descending) Daywear Eveningwear
Court dress country dependent
Formal (or full formal, full dress, formal attire) Morning dress White tie (incl. Ball gown for women)
Semi-formal, (le smoking in French, distinct from a smoking jacket) Stroller Black tie (i.e. prob. evening gown for women)
Informal (or [old fashioned] cocktail, business attire) incl. Lounge suit for men
An historic chart of dress codes from Fashion, 1902

Note that the definitions listed above are the strict, traditional definitions, which may not be followed in common use. For example, formal is often used to mean any of the first three, and informal to indicate what is classified here as casual.



Typical events: Diplomatic receptions and balls; the Opera, often a gala; Mardi Gras, charity, débutante, or May balls; important fund raising dinner

Note that the use of white tie and morning dress has become fairly rare in some countries (such as the U.S.), where black tie or a lounge suit (as appropriate) is often worn to the above events.


Typical events: Weddings, theatre opening nights, débutante balls

There is some variation in style depending on whether it is summer or winter. See black tie for more details.


Typical events: Diplomatic meetings, business purpose, many social occasions, everyday wear

Business wear is included in the informal category, generally consisting of a business suit and tie. Informal dress code encompasses all suits, but not all suits are considered business appropriate in fabric, cut, or color.

Casual codes

The less formal dress codes are more fluid. Their definition varies geographically and may include:

  • Smart casual (or traditional casual, [old fashioned] business casual, [new] cocktail, executive casual, corporate casual)
  • Business casual (or 'dressy', resort casual, country club, casual chic, semi-casual, neat casual)
  • Leisure attire (or Saturday casual)
  • Active attire

The term casual describes a wide variety of clothing, ranging from smart casual to active attire.

Smart casual

Typical events: Business purposes, church events, everyday wear

Smart casual usually consists of a blazer or a sports jacket, a collared shirt, and dress trousers. A necktie is increasingly optional. Although suits technically fall into the informal category, some are casual enough to be considered smart casual instead. Smart casual footwear includes shoes and loafers, but not sneakers (trainers), or men's sandals. Since the 1990s, this dress style has become increasing acceptable in some business situations, though not all.

Holiday Smart is a subset of this, referring to smart casual attire with a Holiday theme, i.e. colors, patterns or prints.

Business casual

Typical events: Business purposes, church events,

Business Casual is among the most fluid and varied of dress codes, with exact standards differing substantially from city to city, industry to industry, and even firm to firm. Generally speaking, ties are not worn with business casual. Most codes require that a collared shirt be worn, but often a polo shirt qualifies. Dress pants or cotton twills such as chinos (khakis) are acceptable, but jeans often are not. Sports jackets are optional. Again, while loafers and other casual shoes are acceptable, sneakers and men's sandals are not. Business casual is now acceptable in some business situations and industries, but not all.

Contemporary business casual

Typical events: Business purposes, modern-style church events,

Ties are not worn with contemporary business casual. Usually jeans are worn with a dressy top or collared shirt. For ladies, heels are acceptable. This is acceptable in some business situations, but not all.

Full dress, half dress, and undress

Before the modern system of formal, semi-formal, and informal was as strictly applied as it is now, the terms were looser. For example, black tie (originally dinner clothes) was initially described as informal, while the "lounge suit," now standard business attire was originally considered (as its name suggests) casual wear. Before this, the principal classifications of clothing were full dress and undress, and, less commonly, half dress. Full dress covered the most formal option: a frock coat for daywear, and dress coat for eveningwear. Since the frock coat has dropped out of use, the term is now only ever applied to white tie. Half dress, when used, was variously applied at different times, but was used to cover our modern morning dress (note that the term morning dress is fairly undescriptive and has not always meant our modern morning dress). Undress in turn was similarly loose in meaning, corresponding to anything from a dressing gown to a lounge suit or its evening equivalent of dinner clothes (now one of the most formal dress codes possible).[2]

See also


  1. ^ The term morningwear stems from an archaic use of the root morning (Oxford English Dictionary. [2009, Draft ed.] morning, esp. 1b).
  2. ^ Kent State University Museum (2002). "Of Men & Their Elegance". Retrieved 2008-11-02.  

External links


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