Dress Code In Effect

It is that time of year again! The Holidays are fast approaching and there are so many festive parties to anticipate from all over the place! This is probably one of my favourite times of the year. There is nothing better than arriving home to find a hand addressed invitation waiting and to see a dress code in effect in bold letters! A quick RSVP YES, schedule a Calendar reminder on your iPhone, and let the countdown begin! Except the usual conundrum of wondering what to wear!

On today’s Top 5, I am going to go over the five common Dress Codes that invitations will usually indicate, and what those ‘dress code in effect’ will mean.

1. Black Tie:
Women have a variety of options from a floor length frock to a cocktail dress but the accessories should be kept rather formal. A clutch, sparkly jewelry or a brooch will help round out a simple dress. Heels are typically worn. And if you decide on wearing flats, be sure they are on the dressier side and in excellent shape (there are so many great options to choose from). If you are opting for a cocktail length dress, rely on luxurious materials like silk to make your attire feel formal.

For Men, this means a traditional tuxedo with black tie or bow, vest, pants, and jacket and a white button down shirt. When ‘Black Tie Optional’ is listed, you can skip the tuxedo for a sharp black suit but stick to a simple dark tie to keep the streamlined feel of a tuxedo.

Like a (rare) white tie event, black tie is typically annotated. An exception is formal weddings, as weddings do not typically note attire on the invitation though they frequently do mention it on wedding websites. A wedding that starts at 6pm or later is safe to default to black tie.

Below you will see some examples of high price attire mixed with low price accessories; and vice versa.

2. Cocktail Attire:
Cocktail Attire can also be referred to as “Semi-Formal”. This often allows more room for creative expression such as embellished separates for Women and more playful tie/pocket square choices for Men. This is especially relevant for non-work events where Cocktail Attire can also imply business formal. If the invitation specifies ‘festive’ or ‘fun’ Semi-Formal then add on more fun or seasonal accessories.

3. Business Formal:
Most often times Business Attire is set by your Company or Field, but there are times you may find Business Formal on an event description, which can lead to uncertainty of exactly what to wear. Suits are the way to go here, always for Men and a safe bet for the Ladies (but this can be boring, so opt for a one-piece dress or an interesting pencil skirt with a blouse) the key to this is the length of the dress or skirt. Knee-length is always a safe way to go. Accessories should be slightly more conservative.

4. Business Casual:
This is where the suits can be left behind. For Men, slacks and a sports jacket with either a button down or dress shirt. Ties are optional. Women can opt for slacks or skirt and a blouse or a more casual dress. Accessories should still be kept to the more modest side, such as lower heels and simple jewelry. The term ‘casual’ can be thrown loosely, or may not at all, so be mindful based on your industry. Business casual for Lawyers can be different than for Fashion Editors; where “Business Casual” can be boyfriend jeans and an oversized sweater paired with 4-inch heels and a statement necklace. 

5. Casual:
Anything goes! Well, not really, I can think of plenty of items that fall under ‘do-nots’ and have guests show up at a casual dinner party in their Uggs or worse – Crocs. (And you may laugh now, but I have witnessed them first-hand!) For any party, we default to “Dressy Casual” or “Festive Causal” to set a party mood. Casual events are typically the least likely to note on the invitation but any invitation received by phone or evite without a mention of dress is a good bet to be casual. If unsure, a quick call or email to the host can clarify without setting off too many alarm bells.

Have you ever got stumped on any of the types of the ‘Dress Code in Effect’ in your invitation? Share below!

My motto is to better be over-dressed than under.

Thanks for reading!


For the week of December 4th, IFB rounded up the best of their 20 links for ‘dress codes’ as we get ready for the holiday season – whether that is a tropical vacation or black tie holiday parties and events, and msyolee.com was selected alongside these talented Bloggers. I invite you to check them out as we can never have enough of fashion advice and inspirations!

IFB Links à la Mode:


Thank You IFB for your selection and including me as part of this week’s round-up. Some of my personal favourites are highlighted in red <3

Yvette xo