Leonardo Di Caprio The Great Gatsby Leo has unlocked the secrets of the dress code.

How to Decode the Dress Code

People are always organising fun events to celebrate important milestones, such as ‘we work at the same company’ day, or ‘we’re having a baby, please pay for its clothes’ day.

You’ve probably received an invitation to one or two of these yourself.

The purpose of an invitation is to tell you everything you need to know about the event you’re expected to attend and financially contribute to.

But despite how far we’ve come as a species, there’s still one thing we haven’t quite worked out how to communicate effectively: the dress code.

In place of any meaningful explanation of what clothes are appropriate for an event, most organisers substitute a cryptic phrase that can reduce even the most experienced social butterflies to confused tears.

To clear things up once and for all, we’ve decoded the dress code for you. Now you just have to work out what to wear.



A casual dress code is a simple way for event organisers to show how liberated they are from social etiquette and stuffy traditions, but it’s actually a conspiracy to trick you into underdressing.

People are social animals, and if an event is important enough to warrant a formal invitation you can bet your daggiest pair of sweat pants that fellow attendees are going to try and look their best.

So remember this simple rule: truly casual clothes are reserved for events that don’t need a formal invitation.

Smart casual

If you receive an invitation that specifies smart casual as the dress code, you can at least be thankful that the organiser is not out to get you.

Smart casual simply means ‘dress in your best and newest clothes that you probably don’t wear to work’, or in other words, ‘what you would have worn if the dress code wasn’t specified’.

For preppy types, this could involve a garish combination of pastel coloured clothing featuring little men on horses or even big men on horses, plus a Fifty Shades of Beige chino pant or skirt.

Musos on the other hand might pull out their favourite ill-fitting jacket or t-shirt to go with their super skinny dark jeans, while hipsters will choose an ironically patterned dress or shirt. You get the picture.

Business casual

Business casual is a vague dress code best summarised as ‘wear what you would normally wear to work, minus one’.

Traditionally for guys that meant lose the tie and show some chest hair, while for gals it meant drop the heels.

But these days, even in boring banks or dreary accounting firms, dress jeans or chinos have been known to make an appearance at business casual events, along with colours that aren’t grey, blue or white. Settle down please.

Casual Fridays

Casual Fridays are similar to smart casual, except HR has a rulebook about what you can and can’t wear.

And that’s a good thing too; in some workplaces what you wear on casual Fridays can be a career-defining decision.

Your choice of apparel reveals far more about you than a water cooler conversation ever will, and while you might think you look great dressing like you’re nineteen when you’re thirty-three, your boss might not. Middle management it is then.

 Cocktail (the dress code formally known as lounge)

There are no hard and fast rules for cocktail dress, but it’s safe to say you’ll want to shine your shoes and brush your hair before you leave the house.

For the guys, sharp suits or other smart attire with a light jacket generally hits the mark. Ties are optional.

For girls, this means a fancy frock and some heels. Go for wedges if you’re going to be standing on grass all day.

One of the main differences between cocktail and more formal dress codes is colour: as you might expect with cocktail, it’s OK to shake things up a bit.

 Black-tie (formal)

Back in olden times, when men were men and women were, well, women, what one wore to an event was dictated by the time the event began. Pre-6pm was informal, post-6pm formal. What would they think of snapchat?

Anyway, these days black tie events are rare but still do happen. Women will find that full-length, thicker evening dresses go down a treat, especially in darker colours.

Men on the other hand are bound by tradition to wear a black or navy satin-lapelled penguin suit and bow tie.

Formal can even extend further to a dress code known as white tie, but hopefully if you do receive an invitation to one of these events it will come with an instruction manual.

So there you have it folks; we’ve decoded the dress code. Now just print out this article, stick it on the fridge and never worry about what to wear again.

Image: The Great Gatsby