Belle of the Ball or Ugly Duckling

With the cold weather comes formal season.  Dresses have been frantically scouted for and tuxes have been rented.  The prescribed dress code is Formal.  If there is an element of ‘fancy dress’, then the amount of trouble that goes into finding that perfect outfit grows exponentially.

Dress code titles don’t seem to provide any useful aid when it comes to dressing up for an event or special occasion.  They are ambiguous, and are often left up to wild interpretation.  They range from Black Tie to Casual, with an infinite amount of bizarre variations in between.

To determine what is appropriate attire for a specific event, Google can always provide a helping hand—but to break down the basic dress codes, here is a full guide on suitable dressing.

In the case that the special event is themed, aim to tailor an existing outfit or garments to the theme. If this seems like an impossible task, make sure that what you buy for the occasion is something that you can wear again.

The most intimidating and expensive code is ‘Black Tie’.  For women, opt for a full length or seven-eighths length dress.  Seven-eighths dresses are deemed the ‘new length’ for sophisticated elegance, a tricky fit, and best on taller ladies. (See inspiration from Australian designer Manning Cartell, pictured.)

‘Black Tie’ is fairly straightforward for men: a black tuxedo all wrapped up with a bow tie.

A minor step down is ‘Formal’, and women should wear a gown of any length, or a formal cocktail dress.  The greater variation in length allows for a more playful approach to accessories, especially shoes.  Men should wear a tuxedo in any color of choice, finished off with either a tie or bow tie.

The most commonly used dress code for evening events and weddings is ‘Semi Formal’ or ‘Cocktail’.  Women, adopt a cocktail dress or a maxi dress edging on the formal side.  Men, a good pair of dressy jeans will suffice, and to top it off, pair it with a nice (ironed) shirt.

The last, and one of the most confusing is ‘Casual’.  The ultimate casual ensemble is a balance between looking effortless and being very put together, which often proves to be a challenge. Ladies, to lift a simple tee and skinny jeans pair them with some pumps, or instead opt for some comfy flat sneakers. Guys, any old pair of jeans or shorts will do, wear them with some trainers and a casual tee or slouchy shirt.  (Grab ideas from Lily Aldridge and Caleb Followill, pictured.)

Despite the fact that dress codes can be puzzlingly unclear, they can also be flexible to accommodate for personal style.  If you have something you think would be absolutely perfect, my advice would be to run with it.